Episode 2: Working From Home Realities: Adjusting to the New Normal

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As the dust settles on Coronavirus Business Continuity Planning, the world at large is facing a new challenge – adjusting to this new normal. For most of us in the service industry that means working from home. Which brings with it a whole new set of challenges. While we are all individuals, many of these challenges are universal.

We have analyzed our learnings across our 5 global offices’ 1,000-man team and we have found some key themes that we’d like to share:

Start with the Basics

At Theorem we really find ourselves at the forefront of this new world. Namely because we run managed services for clients who largely need the same outputs during COVID-19 as they did before it hit. During initial BCP, we could rely on our PACT (Policy, Agility, Communication and Transparency) guidelines to get the business set-up for this new world. 

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But now the reality of working from home is here. Today we rely heavily on our core principals Be Expert, Be Transparent, Be Direct, Be Effective – as the guiding pillars to help us work most effectively as one team.

A Three Pronged Approach

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  1. Supporting our people.
  2. Optimizing our communication. 
  3. Living a hyper-agile approach to client work.

1. Supporting Our People

Our top priority is our people. As a services business, we are our people. Supporting them first, ultimately supports our clients. Helping our teams to face and adjust to the realities of working from home is a key element of maintaining our business.  But supporting and guiding our teams through this change is not just about work related issues.  

It is important to recognize that working from home, so completely and so suddenly, presents a whole host of professional and personal challenges. Each of which must be addressed, to ensure the optimal safety and stability of each and every Theorem team member.

Family Time vs Work Time

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While working remotely does have its perks – no commuting for a start – it also has its difficulties. Especially for those who have family dependents (older or younger), are family caregivers or have children at home. Mass school closures due to COVID-19 amplify those challenges on a daily basis.

With no real boundaries between home life and work/school it can be difficult to manage time appropriately and make a success of both sides. Feedback from our teams has given us some insights that might help:

Establishing Effective Boundaries

Working from home blurs the lines between family space and work space. Confusing how our mind deals with both environments.  It requires a certain level of mental discipline to separate work life from family life. Specifically when they co-exist in the same environment.  

Many of our team members are facing the challenge of adjusting to work from home life for the first time.

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Add in different work-loads, new ways of working and an uptick in virtual meetings and it is clear that balancing work/home life is something we need to support as a priority. 
 
We have not found a silver-bullet solution that works for all our team – but the defining factor for a successful outcome is to define boundaries between both.  

Lighten the Mood & Encourage Variety

To address this, the management team at Theorem is going above and beyond to check in with employees. Helping the team begins with over-communication.  And most of our managers calling each of their team members individually daily, while also creating weekly team check ins.

We do everything we can to help our teams to manage stress. 

Management had also initiated regular team virtual happy hours to encourage breaks and enable socializing.  Each beginning with some laughter and light hearted banter. 

One thing most people miss during working from home is the office banter and light-hearted conversation. They just don’t realize it until it’s gone!

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Mental Health & Support

Balancing the demands of everyday life can be a challenge under normal circumstances. Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have created additional levels of stress to our lives. 

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“We provide counseling for employees to overcome stress either at work or for personal reasons. Anonymity is maintained with regards to the problem & the treatment that one may need to take.” - Theorem HR Team

Furthermore, we are all worried about the health of our families, the economy and the wider global situation. Most of us are in a state of constant adjustment to the rapid changes to our work and life schedules. Pile on the constant news and social media stream message overload with time sensitive work-loads and you have a recipe for a very unhealthy level of stress

Maintaining Emotional Well-Being

Awareness of your mental health and well being, as well as that of your family members is a crucial element to maintaining a healthy mental state. 

There is no wrong or right way to do this

It is important to practice safe social distancing and follow the regulations that have been put in place to keep us safe. However, it is also critical to find ways to maintain a clear mental outlook.

Theorem's Approach

With all of this in-mind it is important for us as individuals, teams and companies to do whatever we can to maintain our mental health and provide support to those that need it. 

To encourage mental well being, business partners and HR managers are in constant contact with team members.

The nature of our services means we have employees working with high priority deadlines and unconventional work shifts. As such, we promote mental health and offer support to our teams as a regular practice. Considering the unprecedented stress levels of our lives in the current state of the world, we realize that this is more important now than it ever has been before. 

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"We have provided our staff with information regarding our mental telehealth programs and encouraged all members of our teams to take advantage of these services if needed.  " - Jay Kulkarni, CEO

Everyone of us has a mental-health and what we can do as responsible employers is support our teams and encourage them to focus on their own needs, and give them the space to find the right balance.e promote mental health and offer support to our teams as a regular practice. 

2. Optimizing Our Communications

Theorem has always maintained a high level of communication and transparency across the organization. In order to properly tackle the challenges being presented, we would have to pump up the volume on our existing communication practices and create some new ones. 

"The standard routines of working in a physical office can often actually hide poor communication behaviors. In the working from home world these hidden behaviors are taken out of the equation and new ideas emerge." - Henry Rowe, CSO

Increased Communication Through Separation

Achieving this meant we would need to increase the frequency of our virtual town halls where execs discuss the impact on the business and offer transparency.  

Currently, a recording of every town hall is made for those who cannot join and the management team has enabled an open forum for all employees to pose questions.  All of which are addressed with complete transparency.
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We have found that if we encourage over-communication, then the physical separation has actually enhanced the way we communicate, for the bette. From the top of the organization down, people are forced to ensure everyone is up to speed. 

Teamwork in a Crisis

The way that your team handles a crisis says a great deal about your business. Strong teams stand together and work with each other to face challenges head on. Challenges we are facing today are unlike those that have ever come our way. 

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Business that want to thrive through this crisis need to inspire their staff to unify. Promoting teamwork across all levels of the organization is a sure fire way to accomplish difficult tasks and overcome obstacles more efficiently. 

Unity With a Purpose

One thing that this crisis has proven, is that having a clear company vision and strategy really helps galvanize a team. 

"We had recently under-taken a complete re-assessment of our culture and goals, and we found that this clarity has really helped the teams cope with the changes." - Henry Rowe, CSO
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Teams from some of Theorem’s offices have asked if they can start their own COVID-19 task forces to help their local communities.  A focused workforce has the headspace and the inclination to contribute to overcoming the pandemic by providing support where they can.   

This sense of community goes beyond working hours or business related issues. Carrying over into the personal life of our staff.

3. Truly Agile Working

‘Agile working’ has long been a staple of management speak across the industry. In reality many working practices and processes remained very ‘un-agile’! The key to our operational successes has been to genuinely live an Agile approach. Thus, allowing us to maintain maximum delivery of  all client work.

Enabling Connectivity & Optimizing IT Support

Our global footprint created some significant obstacles when it came down to creating connectivity for a 100% remote work force. There was a global scramble to optimize home broadband and source dongles. Not to mention distribution of that connectivity once lock-down was announced.

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Updating software and getting nearly 1,000 computers into the hands of our staff during a lock down was an epic feat. But learning a new reality of what connectivity looks like in various at home office environments around the globe is quite another. 

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From a best practice perspective, you have to drastically change your planning to adjust from managing 5 head-offices to coordinating 1,000 home offices! - Manny Triggiano, COO

Adapting to Achieve Results

Once team members began to plug in and get to work, it became apparent that the reliable continuous connections upheld in our office environments were no longer the norm.  But this was not the time to panic. IT teams responded quickly to provide support to those who needed it. Working diligently to create solutions and help bolster connectivity where possible.
 
Team members worked together to assess the time it would take to complete projects. Diversifying workloads to meet delivery timelines.  This was a prime example of our ability to adapt to the arduous tasks of this new normal. 

Optimizing Client Work

Client work is the core of any services business. It is important that we maintain an open line of communication between clients, account managers and team members. Specifically in order to properly prioritize client projects, meet deadlines and create realistic expectations.  As we shifted from implementing BCP to actually living and breathing them, the adjustments needed to manage and complete work became apparent.

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Proactive Management is the Key

Of course, managers are constantly working diligently to monitor their teams capabilities and maintain proper work volumes. But adapting to this new version of remote working meant increasing the proactive element of their approach. 

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From an operational standpoint, business partners and team members would have to band together. Working as one to recognize restrictions of capabilities, plan for foreseeable complications, create resolutions and provide reasonable workloads to enable successful and consistent delivery.

However, our greatest successes were achieved because we over-communicated with clients. Involving them in all decision making processes. Most importantly asking them for their active input to help prioritize work towards the most pressing needs. 

The Takeaways

The road so far has been more of a challenge than we could have predicted. But we have managed to get through it with teamwork, communication and agility.  As we all adapt to our current form of normal, in both our work lives and our personal lives, a few things have become clear.

At the heart of our strengths is putting our people first and supporting them, enhancing our team work skills and values and openly communicating with team members, clients and partners. All with the purpose of maintaining optimal delivery for our clients.
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New challenges and realities are manifesting every day. And that is daunting. However, it is important that we recognize our achievements and take time to celebrate the things we have overcome. 

We hope that sharing our realities of adjusting to the new normal of working from home will help others with their adaptations.

Be Well & Stay Safe

Be on the look out for Episode 3 of our Marketing During COVID-19 Series where we will focus on The Future of Direct-to-Consumer Marketing
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