I realized something recently: Time flies! More than three months ago, I wanted to publish this blog to share how we have reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic here at Personio.
Today, three months later, COVID is still turning all of our lives upside down and continuing to make us part of the largest ‘working from home’ trial in history. These are challenging times, but they have also come with many learnings and insights along the way. That said, let’s start from the beginning…
How Personio first responded to the COVID-19 pandemic
In mid-March, we decided to send everyone to work from home and switched our recruiting process to a fully-remote model to do our part to #FlattenTheCurve. Even though we had a flexible home office policy in place beforehand, we wanted to make sure that this phase (okay, maybe it’s longer than a phase by now), was going as smooth as possible for our employees.
At first, we wanted to create some easy guidelines for our employees within our People Team, but it didn’t take long and we noticed that guidelines are not enough. Especially since our People Team was drowning in so many COVID-19 related issues.
So, how could we provide the support our employees needed?
We started by asking them! We put together our very own “Home Office Taskforce” made up of interested employees. What at first was meant to be a rather short-term solution, turned out to be a – from week to week – a more structured and cross-functional initiative to make the home office period for our employees as productive, motivating, engaging, and fun as possible.
Very soon, roughly 25 employees from all departments and across all levels of management worked in several streams to create valuable information, training, and inspiration for the whole company. This was #TeamSpirit at its finest! We were working on so many different things: tools and productivity, teamwork and leadership, health and wellbeing, motivation and fun, as well as support for parents.
How did we coordinate everything?
To ensure that we got the absolute best results, here’s how we did it:
To make sure that all our employees knew about recent initiatives, we created a Slack channel and a page on Confluence (which we use as our internal Personio Wiki). This is where our employees could find all the latest information regarding general COVID-19 updates, as well as the latest updates from each of the above workstreams. In addition to that, we established a weekly newsletter with relevant highlights, as well as a dedicated slot to present them at our weekly company kickoff (every Monday).
To fulfill our employees’ needs, we implemented a ‘pulse check survey’ with seven questions and sent them out on a weekly basis. Based on the results we received, our taskforce took up the following initiatives:
- Equipment & Support –To ensure that our employees had the best setup at home, we provided the equipment they needed while working from home (e.g. additional tech or standing desks made out of boxes) as well as different software and hardware (e.g. monitors and chairs from the office).
- Adjusted Meeting Guidelines – Many employees provided feedback about meeting overload, so we came up with new guidelines to facilitate fast and efficient meetings.
- Training & Education – We offered training for our leaders on “How To Lead Teams Remotely” and on “How To Do Daily Updates Right”. We also held group training for the entire company, on things like Zoom and Slack productivity hacks.
- Sharing Best Practices – We published different stories where colleagues shared their best practices while working remotely.
- Mental & Physical Health – We offered a sports and mindfulness app for free to our employees, as well as healthy recipes and meditation options.
- Supporting Parents – We offered a reduction of hours by 25% for all our parents at Personio (without any reduction in salary), as well as financial support for hiring a babysitter up to 200€/week during the lockdown.
- Staying Connected – We tried to keep up the motivation of all Personios and wanted to ensure that we stayed true to our core value #Fun, even when working fully remotely! Besides giving inspiration for remote team events, we organized a (virtual) Personio Remote Pub Quiz, where people from different teams played against one another.
Remote Work? It Works!
One of the key takeaways we found during our working from home phase was that remote work can work well. Even when you have more than 500 employees! We found that, even though our overall collaboration changed, it also improved, and we discovered new ways and tools (e.g., Miro, an online whiteboard tool), that helped us to stay productive while being remote.
Another interesting observation we made was that the way we celebrate success together changed, too. During our weekly ‘All-Team’ meeting on Fridays, where we share our company-wide highlights and lowlights of the week, people came to actively share their feedback by using the chat function on Zoom and wrote really nice comments.
But: sometimes less is more
During our time working fully remote, we wanted to make the best out of the current situation, cheer each other up, and have fun as an organization. One idea was to do ‘photo challenges’ to engage with everyone. Spoiler: It did not work out. We didn’t receive as many photos as expected, and later we learned that many colleagues were overwhelmed by the whole situation and getting used to remote meetings. So, they couldn’t really find the time to engage in the challenge.
In addition, we wanted to add value through our actions, meaning that we actively decided to focus on a few effective ones instead of too many. Therefore, we decided to run our pulse check surveys only biweekly and skipped the weekly newsletter once (because we didn’t have enough new and relevant topics).
What tips do we have to share?
Depending on your company’s unique situation, your response to COVID-19 may be a bit different than the one we took. That said, here are some tips we’d love to share with you:
- Stick to your values: Social Responsibility! Do not rush anything here – make sure that you have a safe back-to-the-office strategy in place. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
- Do what you say and say what you do! Be as transparent as possible and give regular updates on the situation and the status of the company. Especially these days, proactive and transparent communication is key.
- More than ever: employees come first Listen to what your employees have to say, react to their needs, and ask them for feedback on your actions. Find ways to support them in the best possible way because #WeAreInThisTogether.
- Use your reach and be a role model! Share best practices with colleagues, employees, and your network. Leverage your brand to support others because #YouAreNotAlone.
Looking back on these past months, it was and is a tough time for everyone. But I am proud of how we have navigated through the crisis until today.
At Personio, we are truly one big team. It’s great to see how everyone gave their best to make the best out of this situation. Our core values and operating principles are not just words that we write down and forget about, because in times like these we experience what #SeekToImprove, #Teamspirit, and #SocialResponsiblity feels like at Personio!
Since the initial lockdown measures took place, we have reopened two of our offices again and implemented a lot of guidelines and measures to make our offices a safe place to work, and starting from November 2nd on, we have decided to close all our offices for four weeks (again). If you are looking for ways to support your employees, here is some inspiration about what we have done so far!
At Personio we are constantly looking for new and better ways to improve support for our employees and to keep on #WinningFromHome. And after having won the HR Excellence Award as the best #workplacemanagement of 2020 🥳, we are proud to be an organization committed to its employees and motivated to continue building a place where people enjoy working with extraordinary colleagues in an inspiring environment every day.
About The Authour
Cassandra Hoermann has been leading Personio’s Employer Branding & Culture efforts since 2018. In that time, Personio has gone from 100 to 500 employees and her efforts have helped attract top talent to the team. A sports enthusiast, foodie, and a people person through and through, Cassandra is an expert at connecting with people and bringing them together, too.
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