Although the COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a global health crisis, it has also unsurprisingly had significant consequences for the world of work. Nationwide lockdowns forced businesses (where they could) to rethink how they operate and it is anticipated that the shift to distributed teams will likely result in long-term changes in the way we work and the future workplace.
In addition to this, even as lockdowns ease in many countries and some employees return to the office, until there is a COVID-19 vaccine the way workspaces look and operate will need a considerable rethink. We have seen this in the response from enterprise technology vendors, which have released a swathe of solutions to help manage social distancing, monitor the health of employees, as well as procure PPE.
With all this in mind, it was noteworthy to hear how SEAKR Engineering is first and foremost considering company culture and is surveying employees on how they'd like to work going forward, in response to the pandemic. The assessment will likely have consequences for how the engineering company, which builds electronics that go into space, operates in the future.
Sara Green, Business Integration Manager at SEAKR Engineering, was speaking at IFS's MindFuel virtual event, which can be accessed here. For all of diginomica's coverage from MindFuel, take a look at our dedicated resource hub here.
Speaking about SEAKR Engineering's initial response to COVID-19 back in March when the realities of the virus began to grip the US, Green said that the company moved as many people to distributed working as possible, whilst making the necessary changes on the manufacturing site to ensure employees are safe. She explained:
March 13th was the last full day in the office. At that point things really started to escalate here in the US and a lot of companies started to make some adjustments to being on site, versus working remote. So our company was in line with that and we moved forward with pulling folks to a remote work from home environment.
Because of the nature of our work, there was some work that needed to be done on site. And being essential to that aspect we were able to continue to manufacture our products during that time. We limited the on-site access, so we could allow the folks that needed to be there to get the work done. We created two different shifts to ensure distancing and to also ensure everyone was safe and healthy and had the opportunity to clean up.
The rest of the company moved to a work from home environment and that has been progressively changing as the roles have changed and as people have been able to come back into the office. But there were definitely a couple of months where we were working through that and working to be super agile to make sure that we could be as productive as possible.
Culture at the core
As companies shift to working from home and put digital collaboration tools at the centre of their work, maintaining a company culture can feel precarious compared to an in-real-life office environment. SEAKR Engineering has been using video conferencing tools such as Zoom to carry out recreational activities for staff, such as happy hours or exercise classes, to continue team bonding and have some non-work time together.
Green said putting culture front and centre for the company during this time has been a deliberate and important consideration. She said:
Being able to continue to create those relationships and build them up within your team, within your company, and to maintain that culture is something that's going to be really important for the future of any company. That's an important piece.
For example, the team that I am a part of, we had multiple happy hours over Zoom during the timeframe in order to build that team comradery. Just to make sure that everybody is okay, right?
[The happy hours and fitness classes] are just another way to connect outside of the work environment and to keep the experience light and fun outside of work. That's really important at this time. To work hard and get the job done, but also to stay connected as a team.
Green also said that the shift to online meetings and digital collaboration has required new learnings on how to communicate effectively with other employees - but that the end result is probably one where the company is more productive, overall. She explained:
The full adjustment to having those conversations in a remote environment and an online setting is definitely different to how it might be when you are in a conference room. You have to adjust the way you listen to people, the way that you understand what they're saying and how you can converse with them to ensure that what you're saying is landing. I think that's gone very well.
I also think in a way that it's more efficient - sometimes there's that pre-meeting/post-meeting chatter that you don't have as much in a remote meeting when you're online using Zoom. You start your meeting, you have your meeting, you finish it on time, maybe even early, and it allows for some additional time to be productive and get some work done.
Rethinking the future
Green said that the COVID-19 pandemic, whilst presenting challenges, has opened up new, positive communications within SEAKR Engineering about what works for employees in their work life and what work environment people are most productive in.
Ensuring productivity stays high is, unsurprisingly, an important measure for SEAKR, but the company is also surveying employees to get their views on how they might like the future of the organisation to look and operate. Green explained:
I think many of us have been able to prove that [we can stay productive at home]. We are maybe even more productive. We've been able to leverage IFS to measure productivity and measure throughput. I think being able to use the data to make decisions has been one really positive aspect in how we are going to figure what the best atmosphere is for our company moving forward.
I think just like every other company we are in the same boat, analysing our office space, our office management, how we want to handle the future of work environment. We are taking surveys, trying to understand how people feel about coming back, how they feel about being in the office, how they feel about working from home. Trying to figure out what's really going to be best for our work environment moving forward.
Along those lines, if we do continue on the trajectory of allowing a hybrid approach where you work from home part time, then the office space management and optimisation comes into play. What space do you need to best suit the people who are going to be on site? Does that change the landscape and does that change the space you need? All of those conversations are happening right now, just to determine what is best for our company and for our culture and for us moving forward.