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50 (145) 2021

Lessons from the Pandemic

Five values needed to create a friendly and effective hybrid work environment

By Albert Cenkier, technology director, Wunderman Thompson Technology
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There’s no coming back to the old ways of working. How do you create a friendly workplace and develop your team in a hybrid setup?

We should supposedly already be used to constant change. For a year and a half, we are unable to predict many things affecting our lives. We are uncertain about our holidays, we can’t factor in or out the possibility of another lockdown, or how governments, the economy, and businesses will react in the next couple of months. Certainly, a year of pandemic taught us a lot. The business landscape has changed. The physical dimension of work happens to be not that crucial to reach targets, revenues, and growth. According to a McKinsey report1, the pandemic has accelerated existing trends in remote work, e-commerce, and automation. E-commerce has grown two to five times faster than before the pandemic. Based on how we work today and our internal surveys, work teams will continue to consist of people working from various locations and on different schedules, cooperating in most part remotely, for the foreseeable future. I see a tangible need to support the new, hybrid setup of work to run the business efficiently, because there is no coming back to the old ways of working, where everybody was in the office.

Inclusion

If we were about to talk about the positive changes that the pandemic introduced to our business, inclusion would hit make the Top Five. Sure, the IT sector might differ from other branches of industry. It was relatively easy for us to transform our physical office into a remote one and not to lose even one day to do that. We were used to working remotely in distributed teams with clients, other agencies, and between our offices. But was that collaboration designed to include everyone? No. Together with remote meetings and work, we have learned how to use old tools in new inclusive ways; we have started recording calls and making notes; we have started sharing the documents via available channels. More importantly – we all participate in teamwork in a similar way; we all meet remotely. We are all in one room metaphorically, whilst not even being in the same country sometimes. It is easier to reach out to anyone from the organisation because everyone is using the same communication channels. Right now, distance or physical absence in a meeting is no longer a problem. The mission is to maintain this value despite how future may unfold.
 
Equality

Feeling equal is the foundation for building relationships at work; equality is strongly connected to inclusion. Remote work ensures all people are treated on the same basis. It can make access to information a bit harder, but at the same time – equally hard for everyone. We should take proper care of our communication style; keeping it transparent, frequent, and approachable for everyone. The key is to treat people on the same principles, and always try to see their perspective.
 
Relationships

Working remotely definitely is a challenge. We do not have many opportunities to spontaneously interact with our co-workers and colleagues. We used to collide our ideas over a coffee in the social spaces in our offices. We have been building our stories and our relations in social interactions. It is always better to ‘connect’ with someone, not only to ‘work’ with them. We should ensure that we have time and the possibility to interact freely with others; to get to know actual people, not only their e-mail addresses. At work, we do not only achieve daily tasks and cross off things from our ‘to do’ lists. It is an important part of our lives – we spend a third of our day there; we have personal goals; visions of our careers; we want to develop our skills and hopefully, we work on things that are interesting for us (if not, I’d consider changing your career path). Naturally, we want to be ourselves there – not only cogs in the machine. Feeling the connection is necessary. And yes, during pandemics it is hard to meet with others face to face, but we need to experiment on how to build relationships, because without relationships, there is no connection, no team, no company.
At Wunderman Thompson Technology, we might not be physically in the office today. Still, we value face-to-face contact as a relationship builder. That is why we have extended our integration programme. We have designed social events based on people’s interests and passions to let them interact more personally than in projects at work. During the summer, our people had strengthened relations in small groups (around 15-20 people) by going to the cinema, playing RPGs, doing some yoga, kayaking or even pottery.
 
Wellbeing

What we feel and how we feel have a massive impact on how we behave and perform. Our wellness and wellbeing affect many aspects of our lives – starting with health, sleep, nutrition, and physical and psychological condition, ending with relationships and work. As individuals, we are responsible to take care of ourselves. Sure, the business has its role in that. To provide efficiency and to reach set goals, business is obliged to invest in people. But apart from offering a full range of development opportunities and wellbeing support (from comfortable offices to psychological help), an important function of business is to educate employees on how to look after themselves. This relates to personal and organisational success. A business does not have the means to take care of people’s wellbeing directly. It can and should support them, but the responsibility is on people. The company should implement policies that ensure people do not get exploited, and feel they have the right and even the responsibility to take care of themselves, and be able to say ‘no’, when otherwise they would cross boundaries of their resilience.   

Experimenting

In March 2020 we faced the big bang then we started to transform ways of working that we knew into something that corresponds with the situation better. We have produced plenty of innovative ideas, from online knowledge-sharing webinars to using virtual whiteboards. And yet it is only the first year of working in that manner. Some things work well right now but will not be good in the future. Maybe some of them will simply wear out? Maybe our needs will change again? We do not know. In these unsettling times, when the only certain thing is the uncertainty, we must experiment over and over. There are no longer bulletproof solutions, and there is no longer time to create ones, as the environment is constantly changing. We need to experiment, then fail, then learn from it and try again. We need to change our mindset and not to be attached to one/old solution. Embrace the risk and move on. Some things may not work for us. But could it work for others? Just try it – and share your solutions with others!

...and last but not least

If you work with a diverse, passionate, devoted team of individuals there is one more component that makes that organism thrive and grow. That thing is trust. There is no proper work environment without trust. Greater control usually means more work, resources, and money spent for the management team. On the other hand, trust works as a self-fulfilling prophecy. People observe business values, integrity, and the company’s mission. If they feel respected, well-informed and they see transparency in processes, they will bestow the company with their trust.

According to a report from Pracuj.pl2, 90% of people working remotely would like to continue with a similar approach after the pandemic. Our strong relations, built on equality, inclusion, and trust; our flexibility and openness to experiment; our care about ourselves – those things I believe will help us to endure the pandemic. And it will create a workplace where people feel good, and have a real influence on how they work.


1.    McKinsey, The future of work after Covid-19, https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/the-future-of-work-after-covid-19
2.    Pracuj.pl, Rok nowej normalności (‘A year of the new normal’), https://media.pracuj.pl/134158-praca-hybrydowo-zdalnie-i-z-biura-badanie-pracujpl


Albert Cenkier, technology director, at Wunderman Thompson Technology

Since the very beginning of the company (originally Cognifide, now Wunderman Thompson Technology), Albert has led the engineering department, deepening technical partner relationships. He has 18 years of experience in content management systems. His primary focus now is the opportunities related to the use of artificial intelligence in business and society.

 

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