With nearly 15 million of us still working from home, keeping employees connected while we are physically apart has become one of the most crucial tasks for HR leaders across the country. While some businesses may have been largely remote in a time before these prolonged periods of lockdown and able to readily adapt to working from home, others may have found it another hurdle in an already challenging year.
In our quest to find out exactly how HR leaders across the nation are achieving connectedness and engagement, we were lucky enough to interview Mona Akiki, who is the Chief People Officer at employee experience platform, Perkbox.
Working for a company that was created to boost employee engagement and experience, Mona is uniquely placed to share her advice and tips for keeping employees connected during this time.
NHR: Mona, tell us a bit about Perkbox and how you have been working throughout lockdown?
“We’re an ‘employee experience’ platform, which means we help growing and established businesses motivate their people and create a unified culture. Our product is designed to help organisations reward and recognise their employees and harmonise employee benefits across multiple teams and locations. This has never been more important in the new working world, where many organisations have shifted almost completely to home-working because of lockdown restrictions. But even as the world slowly returns, ‘normal’ hybrid and flexible working practices are here to stay.
We have a workforce of about 150 people across our UK and Australia offices. Australia have had to adhere accordingly to the restrictions set by the Australian government. In the UK, shifting to an exclusive work from home model during lockdown has been relatively seamless, given that we use digital tools to manage workflows, communicate between colleagues, teams and company-wide.”
“We are very proud of our office space, which is fun and facilitates team bonding. We are a very sociable company and many of our employees don’t just view their team mates as simply colleagues, but friends. Our work culture is definitely our strength and undoubtedly it has helped us, as a business, survive the challenges posed by the pandemic. Maintaining work culture and team camaraderie when we are no longer in the physical space definitely has its challenges. We’ve had to be creative in using tools like Zoom to nurture that culture and ensure that, as a workforce, a sense of mutual support and collaboration endures.
In the times when lockdown was lifted but restrictions were still in place, we implemented a system where employees would book their desk at least a day in advance before coming to the office. But, largely, employees only met in the physical space if it was completely necessary.”
NHR: How have you kept employees connected during this lockdown?
“Nothing replaces face-to-face meetings, but we use video conferencing and instant messaging tools to foster a good ‘second best’. We have a dedicated Slack channel that ensures that all staff – no matter what team or office they’re in – stay connected and feels very much like they’re a part of the company. Since spring last year, we ran a series of benchmarking reports that analysed the emotional, physical, social and financial wellbeing of over 13,000 employees and business leaders, and loneliness was a huge factor that impacted wellbeing in every sense. So, we’ve really doubled down on our efforts to ensure that every team member feels connected and contributing to the company’s success. Each team (such as customer happiness, sales, marketing etc) will have their own processes for team check-ins, which happen regularly and the digital tools we have in place ensures that conversations between individual team members remain seamless. ”
“Obviously, connectivity has its down sides; we can constantly be in communication with someone in the online space for work, but it doesn’t mean that it is balanced by personable connectivity, which can be quite isolating. The boundaries between work and home have been blurred, causing burn out. So, if anything, we’re conscious about establishing boundaries in order to maintain connectivity but safeguard ‘down’ time. In the winter months, we accommodated later starts or extended lunch breaks in order for people to have a break from the screens, to go outside for a run or a walk.”
NHR: And how are you maintaining Perkbox’s company culture away from the office?
“All of our internal events and socials have been undertaken online. Every month, we always have something happening. We invite external speakers to do motivational talks about wellbeing, career, personal development or encourage debate around social issues. We run book clubs or organise team quizzes such as Bingo or Would I Lie To You? And sometimes do team yoga classes.”
“We also have a quarterly award ceremony which we call We Are Perkbox where the People Team announce team members that have been picked out by their managers for outstanding work – again this is now done via a video call.
Back when we were all in the office, employees could help themselves to a bounty of snacks, drinks and treats on the company. These days, we reward staff with a mailbox hamper of food and a personal note letting team members know that we are holding them in mind and that they are valued and appreciated.
And, of course, our employee experience platform, with all the company perks, benefits and other tools to manage learning and development, mental and physical wellness is available to everyone in one central place. We give our teams access to premium subscription services for mindfulness apps like Aura, encouraging people to take a little headspace and attend to their wellbeing.”
NHR: Have you made any changes to your employee engagement strategy due to remote work?
“The main thing that we will be trialling is a flexible working model, whereby employees will have the option of working flexibly from home 50% of the time in any two-week period. It’s a happy medium so that people don’t lose that sense of connectivity or unity. Given that we made this announcement before the end of 2020, we have not been able to implement this because of the current lockdown restrictions. Post-lockdown, once the system has been in place for a few months, we will be able to better assess if this works.
Another notable change is improvements to our communication. We have put a much bigger emphasis on communication – as we realised that communication flow somewhat suffered at the beginning of lockdown. This has now been reinforced by more frequent communications to the company from executives; we have a Let’s Talk session where senior leaders discuss company updates and our employees have the opportunity to ask anonymous questions to the senior leadership team on anything they want to know. Strong and frequent communication helps to boost engagement as employees are aware of the exciting progress and feel energised by different developments. Furthermore, when they get updates on how the company is working to improve their employee experience, loyalty and commitment grow. This supplements our Slack channels that fostered greater communication between individuals and teams.”
“Rave (a monthly meeting Perkbox undertakes where people from different departments share what they have been working on across teams), has also been an important part of this process because it allows employees from different departments to update each other on their work to reinforce a sense of unity and collaboration. Our Unity channel on Slack was also incredibly important during lockdown, especially for those who found it difficult to ask for help. The channel was created to highlight interesting projects, ask for help in those projects and give people a sense of what is going on in other groups…. it gave employees a less formal place to do this versus only having to communicate via their managers.
NHR: How have these practices been received by Perkbox employees?
“The flexible working practice was an initiative that arose from listening to what our employees wanted. As a company, we want to ensure that we stay attuned to the wants and needs of each individual, especially if it means that they are able to manage work and personal responsibilities better and this results in better engagement.”
“We constantly consult with our employees to gauge their opinions on any initiatives, events and engagement practices we implement to ensure that it really does have a meaningful impact on their employee experience. I’m pleased to say that our insights engagement score has actually increased since the beginning of the lockdown.”
We woud like to extend our huge thanks to Mona for sharing such brilliant insights into how Perkbox are managing and engaging their employees while we continue to work from home.