Coronavirus, covid-19, isolation, lockdown… We are all too familiar with these terms that have become our new normal. They all speak of a stressful and draining situation that has affected how we live, work, and play. In these circumstances, how we react to adversity can say a lot about ourselves. This is not only applicable to people, but also to institutions and companies.
In this sense, here at Polystream we have tried to react as quickly and efficiently as possible to make this situation as bearable as it can be. Bruce Grove, CEO, Michelle Rendall, Head of Business Operations, and Simon Sparks, Head of Talent, are part of the core team behind the company’s initial response and subsequent adaptations. In this blog, they share some of the strategies – and the challenges faced – to make sure that everyone in Polystream feels happy and productive.
“Here at Polystream we have always been an “employee-first” company, we’ve kept the idea that having a happy team enables them to be a more productive team. This affects everything: our office environment, the tools we offer, and the flexibility – for instance giving them the option to work from home if they want to. In short, it is all about how we make things easier for them. I believe we’ve always done a good job at that.
Suddenly, we went from [being] a company that had this huge amount of flexibility, to becoming overnight an entire organization of virtual people. And even with the best will of the world and all the tools we had, a lot of environmental factors kept changing very quickly. We realized in a very short amount of time that this was not about “do we have the technology to work remotely?” but about needing to understand again the needs of the individuals and teams, in order to give them what they need to be effective in a very suddenly changed environment.”
“We focused all of our time [that] first week in making sure everybody had the correct set-up: the right sort of desks, comfortable chairs, the monitors they needed, a decent webcam, and so forth. Luckily, we had done some work around VPN and IT in the weeks before the lockdown, so we were ready for this situation. There was a lot of HR and insurance involved, but it was all manageable!”
“We invested more and more time focusing on communication and the idea of over-communicating, encouraging it. We also worked on the idea of effective communication, that is, making sure that tools are being used efficiently. For instance, we created a group of “Slack ambassadors” that make sure that Slack is used properly (for instance using threads, jumping into calls when necessary, etc).
Our weekly stand-ups are now daily, we make them short and snappy and everybody is encouraged to have their camera on – it is a way of encouraging as much video face to face contact as possible.”
“The thing I think we’ve done well is that people are still working in a routine. We are flexible with our routine but still there is a routine, and that helps. We get up and have our stand-up in the mornings.”
We recently decided to establish the new policy that Zoom meetings are either 20 min or 45 min long. Because now our entire world is around virtual meetings, we found that every 30 or 60 min a new virtual meeting was starting. Just recently I realized why this is hurting so much, and the reason is that when we have meetings in our office, we tend to stand up after a meeting, go get a coffee, maybe walk around the room. By doing so, our brain has a little time to settle before going into the next meeting. But if you start a new Zoom meeting straight away, your brain is still trying to process what just happened. Making meetings slightly shorter – and therefore allowing for breaks in between calls – gives enough time for our brain to settle, to step away from the machine, and get some space. It’s things like this that are such a big shift in how we think and move.”
“It is important to give people the time to adjust [to the new routine], and now it is about reinforcing that. With all-new initiatives and projects, you need to be patient with yourself, give it time to set, and be useful. It takes longer than a week for things to settle in.
We started a wellness budget per person so that people can buy a game or get a premium subscription. This also makes us periodically check on people: “how are you? Has this made a difference for you and your family?”.
We always try to be mindful that everybody has different needs and wants. It is very important to give people freedom of choice. This means coming up with small things that people can choose among, so every day you have a choice: you can join the lunchtime games, maybe participate in our Show & Tell, etc. When you encourage people to do something is about inviting them to do it, not saying you need to do this. You give them an excuse to do something, it’s their choice to join you in the fun things.
One of the things that is very challenging right now is being able to coach people. When you are in the same office space, you see and overhear things, and you see the way in which they progress in their potential. But now, how can you do that with people you have treated a handful of times? You must have another level of honesty, transparency and candour… It’s up to the managers to keep in touch with the members of their team. In order to do that, where we had the informal chat in the kitchen, we now have structured meetings. Scheduling that kind of meeting with managers is very important, as it turns up to them. However, if you are struggling to get someone to turn up to these meetings then you invite them to something else. In that sense, our Show & Tells are really helpful.
Moving forward, it is a constant review process… Is this working from everyone? Are there other things that we could do?”
“At the moment, the main thing is coming up with an efficient return to work strategy – we are not going to all come back at once, it is going to be staggered. We are going to have to think about everything, from the infrastructure to how people work from home with their kids… There’s lot of considerations. We are just trying to keep ahead with that, with lots of communication.
There will be a shift in the way we work after all this. There will always be a need for an office, but we need to measure people’s responses and reflect about how it affects how we operate in the future.”
“One of the things that I think will come out of this – when all this has settled down and we go back to more “traditional working practices” (I hesitate to use the word traditional now), when we can go back to our office – I think a lot of what we learn from this will carry over, and we will be a better company and better at communication than we were before this. Because some of the things that we learn here are actually good practices that we should be doing anyway – why shouldn’t we continue running slightly shorter meetings, if it helps with focus? Why wouldn’t we look at new ways of organisation – if we can do this, why couldn’t we double our headcount and continue with our office the size it is? We can now move to a world where we start to think what can this mean for Polystream – if we can do this, and we can do this well, then we can do anything.
I am incredibly proud of the team and how it is working right now – I think we are doing things really, really well. This is an incredibly stressful situation for everyone, scary, emotional, a disconnect from our normality. We all have had to make huge changes to how we live, breathe. I think this could have been absolutely catastrophic for the company. When this all started we reacted quickly and were ahead, which put us in a good place, but this is a huge shift. And we have to maintain this – we need to continue like this until we don’t, and we don’t know when this is going to be. I don’t feel like I am in a position right now to be upset or angry or say we are doing things wrong, even if I thought we were. The thing I see most is I cannot believe how well we have adapted to this and how well everyone continues to operate. And that’s the bit – I am so proud of the team, of everyone for what we’ve done and how we continue to adapt and operate in this environment.”
We will keep pushing through. It is not down to one individual; it is down to all of us to make this work.