DIRECT MEDIA United Solutions
By: Ivana Mihajlović, HR Director, DIRECT MEDIA United Solutions
According to both research and many therapists, keeping a diary by including our thoughts and feelings about things that happen can help us cope with challenging situations. These notes from our HR diary provide insight into the fact that no situation — no matter how stressful — is impossible to resolve and that united together we can power through anything and come out stronger.
March 6: State of pre-emergency
I had the news of the first coronavirus case in Serbia sprung on me while I was knee-deep in HR reports due for submission in February. In a sea of emails pertaining to meetings, coaching, and budgets, what caught my eye was one email from my HR colleagues: What are we going to say to our employees about the coronavirus situation? Being familiar with the company’s FamilyFriendly culture, I knew beyond any doubt that management was going to put employee wellbeing front and center. With a view to preserving health and preventing the spread of the virus, we decidedly started implementing the initial steps already on Monday — we restricted business trips, encouraged employees not to come sick to work, started putting up posters with prevention messages, procured infrared thermometers and limited quantities of masks… In doing so, we had a lot of support from BC Partners and United Group owners, who — long before it became apparently inevitable to most — warned us about probable scenarios and explicitly put employees’ health and safety first.
March 11: Support and encouragement
As the coronavirus situation was getting more complicated by the day, our alertness level also increased. With each passing day, we intensified internal communication and expanded precautionary measures, urging our colleagues to follow the World Health Organization’s advice and promote the message about staying home. All the while, we made certain to communicate messages of support and encouragement, rather than fear and panic. It was important to us to encourage people, to let them know that we are an additional source of assistance and security, rather than stress. Taking into consideration that hearing directly from close coworkers carries more weight than any official company memo, we called on our managers to hold meetings with their employees to tackle the issue of taking action and implementing mandatory prevention measures and to encourage people to be honest about their concerns and fears. Our job as managers was to make sure that people feel supported to act responsibly and in good conscience, to protect themselves and their loved ones.
March 13: Remote work for 250 employees
By the end of the week, thanks to promptly held meetings and conversations, each of our managers had a worked out plan for their organizational unit in the event of switching to remote work and a list of resources that were missing to allow teams to be fully operational (e.g., computers, access to software, exchange, data, etc.). The gathered plans were centralized at the HR department and used to set priorities and provide further guidance to other departments. The HR department zoomed in on quickly prescribing agile remote working procedures, clear, prompt communication, and connecting people. The IT department prioritized providing the technical infrastructure — from setting up Skype for individuals to remote access to software and apps. The General Affairs team partnered up with the Finance division and that same day made a proposal to review the procedure pertaining to billing and document flow.
We laid down the basic principles of working from home — holding regular meetings via Skype (in standard sessions), submitting status and work reports in regular timeframes, 40-hour working weeks with more frequent breaks (3 x 2.5 hours), because it is impossible to sit for eight hours.
March 14: Final preparations
It was obvious that the alertness messages in the previous days had helped managers be prepared for work in the event of the situation escalating. It was obvious that they had already thought through all issues concerning potential challenges of working from home. When they submitted their proposals and plans, it was encouraging to see that everyone was expeditious, serious, and ready to support the transition.
Most of them agreed an internal communication system with their teams (in addition to emails and phones, they set up their own team Skype/WhatsApp/Viber/Microsoft groups). They agreed on holding a minimum of two Skype/Zoom briefings per day (usually around 10 am and 5 pm). In order to provide channels for quickly exchanging news and questions, the HR department set up the DM Remote group on WhatsApp with the managers.
The Corporate Communications, Accounts, and Creative divisions contributed to having a prepared letter of promise for all partners regarding our transition to remote working and an adopted new (directfromhome) logo and email signature as messages that formalize our new way of working. At the very end of the week, before the state of emergency was announced, the company’s CEO sent a personal email to all employees to announce the transition to remote work, send optimistic messages, and shift the employees’ focus from concern to opportunity.
March 15: State of emergency?
When the state of emergency was declared, we were prepared — equipped with company computers at our homes. Already at 9 am, in line with the established timeline, we started holding our (virtual) meetings.
Happy with the speed and efficiency of the entire organization’s transition to remote working, the CEO called a DM Kick-off Remote meeting via Skype on the first day for all 250 employees, with a view to making our collective switch to remote working official by addressing our employees directly, in addition to the already sent email of encouragement. This heightened the sense of community. It boosted flexibility. It decentralized our processes. It motivated our people. Among them, informal leaders and stability factors in times of crisis stand out. Some of them came forward and stood out with their initiatives — they wanted to share their technical knowledge, pointed out the advantages and disadvantages of different digital tools, and independently designed webinars related to the profession, in a desire to be of use to one another, always keeping our clients in mind, of course.
Others sent in their tips and tricks for working from home and suggestions for introducing online education programs. They wrote articles for our first DM Newsletter and submitted proposals for improving procedures, forms, reports… Everyone is busy and up to their necks in work, but they sound pleased because they say that feedback is exchanged faster, everyone is cooperative, and management’s care and support is obvious.
This makes us wonder: If things are running this smoothly now, maybe when all this is over, we should consider permanently switching to remote working?!
March 27: First lessons and first messages
We’re not getting too comfortable because of the positive mood. We know that from week to week the situation will become increasingly difficult and challenging. While the initial enthusiasm is still there, we’re introducing an employee support program called Direct Support, which includes:
DM Family Talk. Families come together in both good and difficult times. The same goes for our Direct family. Every Monday, our CEO invites us to meet on Zoom and share our thoughts, suggestions, and concerns.
Direct Coach. In order to help all of us cope better with the ongoing situation, experts (psychologists, educators, and coaches) will host webinars to help us grow our capacity for resilience (covering issues like overcoming stress, strengthening flexibility, empathy, relationships with others, maintaining optimism…). It is important that we hear advice on how to fortify our immunity and resilience in times of crisis. It’s easier when we can overcome the tough emotions in isolation together.
Direct Share. In our calendars, we set aside time to share important information and new insights and teach and learn. We plan to cover one expert area each week (research, strategy, creativity, data…).
We take care not to overwhelm our employees with messages and events. We are in the process of learning, too — this week we will try out more events, and if we determine that there are too many, we will reduce them. We will be feeling the organization’s pulse and striving to schedule activities in proportion to workloads and current priorities and work processes.
In addition, we also introduced:
- Regular weekly HR team meetings with all divisions
- Workshops for managers to develop emotional intelligence and leadership in times of crisis
- Workshops for working parents — practical ideas for balancing family and business responsibilities
- Psychological support sessions every day from 2 pm to 4 pm, with possible coaching sessions as needed
- Management is available to employees on WhatsApp and Viber
March 30: First lessons and first messages
Our third remote work week is coming to its end, and I came to the conclusion that in organizing work in emergency circumstances, empathy and communication are key and come before technical infrastructure and agile processes and procedures. Talk, talk, talk with people. Today more than ever, it is important to understand our employees, trust them, and support them. Empathy, understanding emotions (fear, anger, anxiety, etc.), and compassion are the foundation of any good team.
People are different in their emotional response, impulse control, optimism, stress tolerance, and resilience — but one thing is the same for everyone, they know to recognize genuine care and understanding (especially in crisis) and know to reciprocate it (through work and results). As we face challenges brought on by a force stronger than all of us, it is important that we not cultivate fear or miss the opportunity to grow together as a team. With confidence in our individual and collective strength, we are able to cope with a situation that is both stressful and uncertain for all of us.
To be continued…