Jan 20, 2022
8 min read
Por Florencia Alcalde
Today, almost 500 days after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 an international pandemic, the world has completely changed: while vaccines have allowed some of us to begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, many people they keep fighting.
Most of us have faced loss and longing, unanswered questions, and new daily difficulties in the most mundane tasks. However, we’ve also broken the rules, abandoned old routines, and rewritten what we thought were the invulnerable rules of the job. Rules such as waking up at 7:30 in the morning, showering, getting dressed, having breakfast, dropping off the children at school, driving to the office for 45 minutes with heavy traffic, arriving at the office, greeting your colleagues, talking with them about the food or event you had yesterday, having face-to-face meetings, walking down the hall and on that walk running into a logistics person with whom you had to resolve a very specific issue, a topic that remained, with the hallway conversation, solved. This leads to a huge matter, informal communication. Because of its invisible nature, very few people thought about it, but one of the most difficult challenges of the post pandemic work model is these one.
A big part of what we mean when we talk about informal communication is the spontaneity that comes from running into and interacting with people in the shared spaces of a physical workplace: the hallways, kitchens, break rooms, offices, and the extended spheres that orbit the workplace such as restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. Not only is the information from formal communication further spread through such informal pathways, but these pathways also facilitate new, innovative ideas and creative solutions to old problems.
Despite this, many organizations with international presence, discovered that their operations continued efficiently and effectively, regardless an unanticipated and almost fully-fledged evacuation from the office.
A year ago, if you asked senior leaders if their company went fully remote tomorrow, whether they’d still be successful, many would have said it’s not possible. Fast forward, and the impossible has not only become possible, but we’ve proved that we can be effective, creative, and productive working from anywhere — even amid a global pandemic.
We’ve adopted alternative working hours, onboarded new employees, welcomed unexpected Zoom cameos, and gotten to know our colleagues on a more human level. People has demonstrated a good degree of receptivity to the substitution of face-to-face daily interactions with online engagement.
However, remote work forces us to be permanently connected, attentive to any call, WhatsApp Message, or email, drawing a very thin line between work life from personal life.
Because of this, the desire for autonomy and freedom has been one of the most defining characteristics of the post pandemic workforce. Exactly what that autonomy looks like for each employee differs, and that is where every organization needs to listen, and open honest channels of communication.
We know this new way of working works, and employees will expect this flexibility going forward. We have a once in a generation opportunity to rethink and reshape how and where we work, even if it is because of a dire pandemic. It is clear that we will not go to the office every day, but neither will we end the time we spend together.
Creating a Collaborators-Centric Employee Experience
The disruption of the pandemic added an additional challenge in that what builds up employee motivations has shifted and evolved. The lost times of commuting from our homes to our workplaces no longer exist in our routines, we have gained an efficiency in our times that was previously unattainable. We can work from wherever we want and spend more time with our children witnessing every moment of their growth.
Change is difficult. Generational change is even more so, as individuals and especially as a society. We are drawn to the status quo and comforted by what we know. However, when we feel forced to change, sometimes a crack appears and light begins to enter. At Virtus Digital, we see it as an opportunity to improve our work lives. The way we work now is accidental, but it doesn’t have to be. We have the opportunity to seize this moment and reorganize ourselves with creativity and intention. When we think about the future of work, we should not think about going back to how things were before the pandemic. Too many things have changed. Plus, it’s not as simple as getting our people back to the office or helping them telecommute forever. We need to meet with our collaborators wherever they are, to help them work in the best possible way with a lifestyle that works well for them.
At Virtus Digital we embraced these changes by starting with a communication strategy that prioritized listening, trusting our people and inspiring them through factors that we knew would motivate them.
For us, understanding how employees’ expectations, wants and needs, as well as the particulars that motivate them, required careful attention.
We are a digitally born organization, with the DNA of a start-up that pivots into different directions depending on how we “read” and “navigate” the market. This unique offer implies a permanent approach towards seeking disruption not only for our clients, but also for ourselves. As such, we defy the experiences we offer to our people, our strategy, our management and leadership models.
However, the fact that we are a digitally born organization doesn’t privet of recognizing the importance and relevance of physical -yet real life, interactions between people. Independent of if is a client interaction or a team discussion, the power of creating true meaningful relations remain at the center of what define us as human beings.
In that sense, we acknowledge that most of our tasks are defined by relational exchanges that encompass innovation and knowledge creation, enabled by technology, and powered by new methodologies such as design sprint, design thinking and agile scrum. Thus, these activities rely on moment-to-moment creative sparks where individuals engage in vivid and spontaneous interactions, which are highly boosted when they are in a real physical and well-designed environment. Therefore, we believe that these relational activities are best performed in the collocated setting of an office, which must include sufficient relational exchanges to innovate and share knowledge, especially around the integration of new hires into the organization’s culture.
On the other hand, as we are an organization that host 11 nationalities across 9 countries on 3 continents and with 6 different time zones, since our inception we have established a culture and operating model that does not consider national borders as a boundary or way to relate between each other. In exchange, we have created a culture around practices and expertise, which throughout a virtual relationship process that contains several rituals, such as a pod cast of our own, called Disrupt by Design, where every month we talk about how to promote business through design with the world’s greatest references. We have designed team instances in which we do a quarterly recap of what we have achieved as an organization and the focus that we will have going forward. Wherever we are, we have generated 100% engagement of our people. Disrupt by Digital is another ritual that we have developed, where every month one of our collaborators trains the rest of the team on a particular topic, with a certain expertise. Therefore, we have been able to create and develop an emerging culture across our footprint.
Hiring new people has been one of our main tasks during the last two years, period of time that meets face to face the start of a global pandemic. We have tripled the number of collaborators in the last year. Our remote work has given us an unprecedented level of flexibility and opening to access employees, which has also allowed us to find rare and specialized skill sets, as well as it has endorsed us to create new clusters of knowledge, or operations hubs, where there is a recognized group of talents focused on a given client/sector. Therefore, this model has also benefit us by easing international collaboration and cross-sharing ideas.
Nevertheless, we are trying to facilitate informal communication within the structure of hybrid work as much as possible. One way to do this has been to designate certain days when all members of a team will be in the office at the same time. This doesn’t mean everyone in the entire organization, necessarily, just all the members of a coherent work unit, at least.
Magic happens when a team is together physically, and once that magic is created it can be sustained during the periods when they are working digitally. But, conversely, you can’t create that magic when some team members are always digital, all the time. Or, at least, it’s much more difficult to do so and extra attention will need to be given to those fully remote employees to keep them in the informational loop.
So, for us, the key is to provide opportunities where interaction and informal communication can occur naturally, not to impose rigid structures and requirements for people to interact.We want to recover what was lost in terms of informal communication with the pandemic and, on the other hand, have the opportunity to reinforce our organizational culture. That is why we have designed an office that contains spaces for meeting and collaboration, where we maintain the flexibility and freedom gained in this time, but we can generate a space for co-creation, innovation and collaboration that cannot be generated anywhere else.
From our perspective, the move to a hybrid model aims to offer all the benefits of working from home/remote, such as collaboration, ease of communication, innovation, and a stronger organizational culture. After all, company culture is one of the most sought-after aspects of a workplace, and we consider that we can make an impact on it, through generating a productive atmosphere, social life, and office amenities to help our people perform a better job.
We are learning as we go, but we believe that having access to the best of both worlds is well worth the effort.
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