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Maintaining engagement for our teams as we shift to a remote culture

Lucie Cassius

28 May 2020

by Lucie Cassius

( Words)

Remote working is the new normal – at least for now. What does this mean for Analytics teams, now and in the future?

La Fosse were delighted to host a virtual event, facilitated by Dan Gilbert, Director of Data at News UK, where senior Data and Analytics leaders could compare challenges and trade insights on how their teams were dealing with remote working.

We also discussed what impacts this might have on the market and on our own businesses in the short and long term.

There were so many interesting points discussed, but here are a few key takeaways:

How are companies coping with virtual working right now?

Mental health: checking in

"It’s a lot more of a natural process to ask someone how they are when you see them in the office everyday: now you need to be more deliberate about it."

Mental health in the workplace has been receiving increasing attention for some time, and Covid-19 has both drawn on these previous conversations and acted as a catalyst for new ones. 

Many attendees raised the issue of how we “check in” with our team. Without being able to pick up on body language or energy, it’s much harder to recognise the early stages of somebody struggling, with the consequence that managers only realise later on down the line, potentially closer to crisis point.

Leaders are therefore having to be more rigid about the mechanisms they use to support and assess their team’s mental health. One leader described setting up a buddy system across different teams in the business and gaining, whilst some are using anonymous mood assessment tools like OpenBlend and OfficeVibe to gain visibility of the organisation’s mental health as a whole.

Communication: board meetings from broom cupboards

“It’s broadly been positive in giving everyone a bit of an equalising perspective on one another’s lives. Even super senior people look like they’re shoved into broom cupboards to make calls.”

It’s not just speaking face to face vs Zoom: remote working has clearly significantly affected the tone of how we communicate with one another, and what we say.

For some, having a window on each other’s lives – like an insistent six-year-old banging on someone’s door during a stand-up - has made the team feel closer together. In general, managers are setting aside more time to communicate with their teams and putting more thought into how to do so effectively. For many, reporting lines aren’t being as rigidly adhered to, with senior staff making a point of checking in with junior members of the team.

This definitely isn’t to say it’s all been good – informal chats are no longer possible and replacing every two-minute conversation with a half an hour zoom call has felt at times frustratingly unproductive.

However, some felt that concentrating on how to best communicate as a team has taught them some important lessons about how to work together effectively. One attendee observed “for years I talked about cross-functional teams and quoted all the keywords - but it wasn’t until I started working at home that I realised how well it could work when it’s working well.”

So, what might this mean for the hiring market long term?

With the caveat that we were discussing possibilities rather than making predictions, our Zoom guests had some interesting ideas on what all this might mean for the future.

Flexible working: here to stay?

“There are a number of people who have anxiety about going back to the old ways of things. When it gets to the point where people can go back, there will be a subset of people who may struggle if they’re forced to.”

One of the most self-evident points from this experience, is that some people thrive in remote working environments. Indeed, this might particularly be the case in Analytics, where personalities can be more introverted, and the work is intensely focus-driven. Many people are also just appreciating the hours they gain back from their commute or getting to spend more time with their family.

Moving forward it’s hard to see how businesses who traditionally had a tight cap on remote working and non-flexible hours will justify snapping back their old policies, particularly if some employees have found flexibility agrees with them.

Overall, the whole experience has brought employees’ personal and professional lives much closer together, and businesses have had to shift accordingly to accommodate them - whether it’s giving away extra holiday days to parents who are also acting as full-time teachers, or checking in more regularly with a junior staff member who lives alone. It seems likely that this shift will have a lasting impact on the relationship between businesses and employees.

Hiring and recruitment – opening the door to more talent?

“If we move completely towards a distributed model, the nature of how we hire people has fundamentally changed.”

So, with the knowledge that location need not necessarily be a barrier, could Covid-19 open the door to new talent for certain businesses? Some of our attendees thought so.

The experience has taught many businesses that virtual working need not lead to a lower quality of output.  If virtual workers are regarded on an equal footing with an in-person employee, then this gives businesses access to whole new pools of talent, whilst giving candidates the opportunity to work at a broader range of businesses without a painful commute. Many contractors are already asked for reduced rates based on the time they save commuting, and in general it could become rarer for company to pay a premium based on a candidate’s proximity to a London office.

The crisis could also have an impact on the way in which the younger generation approach the job market. With millennials 3x as likely as older employees to have changed roles in the past year, they have been branded the “job-hopping generation.” However, one attendee suggested that Covid-19 has been “an eye-opener” when it comes to the value of job security, in that “anything can change in the space of a second.” This change of perspective might understandably make employees more risk-averse when it comes to changing roles, and more likely to try and grow at one company for the long-term.

I’m Lucie, coordinator of the Analytics Leadership Forum and Analytics consultant at La Fosse. If you'd like to learn more about the meetup please get in touch at lucie.cassius@lafosse.com or call on 07854267552.

La Fosse is open for business as usual and continuing to operate just as effectively on behalf of our clients and candidates.