Coronavirus has affected all of us, both personally and professionally. Businesses across the globe have struggled through an incredibly uncertain time, and employees have looked to their employers more than ever for guidance and support. Office management has always been a demanding job, with lot's of very different tasks and stakeholders to deal with, the rise of a global pandemic left lots of companies looking at their office heroes to get them through the crisis.
We caught up with some office managers from different businesses, to get a better understanding of how the workplace and the role is changing and adapting to support a world post-COVID.
Managing the switch to remote work
Probably one of the most significant and rapid changes we've seen is a switch to remote work. The idea of a distributed workforce is nothing new to the world. However, it's a concept that many companies have always thought of as something that just wouldn't work for their business model and operational setup. Yet, Coronavirus saw all businesses thrown into the deep end of remote work, with some struggling to swim.
Some companies, like N26, were as prepared as they could be for remote work to come into play. Office manager, Juana Gatti, explained;
"We are a bank and business continuity has always been a priority, so we were ready to work from home from day one. All of our employees were allowed to take their IT equipment home before the lockdown took place."Juana Gatti, Office Manager @ N26
Juana went on to say that N26's main priority throughout this situation was employee health; offices were closed from day one.
Yet, not all companies had as much practice with remote work. Our very own Chief of Staff, Oriol Riera, explains:
"We have moved to a totally remote company during COVID. This, combined with reduced working hours for some staff, posed many problems. But, our workplace management team was on it from the very beginning. In fact, they were able to transition 300+ people to fully remote in about 48 hours; it was truly impressive."Oriol Riera, Chief of Staff @ TravelPerk
Whether the switch to remote work had already been practiced or required agile transitioning from a core office management team, what companies needed to do after the operational shift was to provide at-home support for employees.
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The change has been a toll on everyone, both physically and mentally. It's now the employers' responsibility to ensure all types of support, helping the shift to remote work to be as manageable as possible.
TransferWise’s Head of People Operations in Europe, Jana Padabed, shared how the TransferWise team has been organizing creative events for their employees, in addition to providing ergonomic office supplies to set up a comfortable home office.
The team at TransferWise knows that times are especially challenging for parents and carers, and enables people to work flexible hours to accommodate this. Jana expanded on this, explaining that as well as professional support, companies need to provide emotional and human support for the shift to remote work. She explains that the TransferWise Office team acknowledges that not all staff are able to make the switch so easily and what may be second nature for some, is not as easy for everybody – and that office managers have had to, and need to continue to, see how they can support the team.
“It’s more important than ever to prioritize the wellbeing of our people. To keep everyone connected and positive, we are organizing a series of events, including workshops, gym classes via Zoom, meditation sessions, concerts, and excellently named virtual cooking classes (Desperate Housewise), among other things.”Jana Padabed, Head of People Operations @ TransferWise
In short, the TransferWise team showed that the switch to remote work requires more than just a chair and desk.
Psychological support is key
Leading with empathy first brings us to our next point. Psychological support for employees is in more demand now than ever before. Employee wellbeing is an increasingly large concern for most modern companies and many have wellness programs and strategies in place. However, COVID-19 threw new challenges at office management professionals: just how do you ensure that your employees are well-supported to do their jobs when you lose control over their working environment and the mental challenges of work change?
Office managers have a direct impact on the employee experience and many have found the best way to identify and address new challenges is to simply listen to employees. The psychological stresses of remote work are hard for many to articulate and it can be hard for employees to express themselves only through surveys or forms. To mitigate this, many companies are trying to gather more qualitative data from their employees, to pinpoint where they can help. Juana, from N26, echoes this. "I try to make myself available for them, especially during these difficult times we are living in." N26 has its own ticketing system for employee issues. However, Juana says there's nothing like the human touch to help reduce stress and anxiety.
"We have to be good listeners! Before the outbreak, we were hosting weekly walk-in sessions alongside our People Ops teams to encourage communication. Now we do it virtually, via Google Hangouts and Slack."Juana Gatti, Office Manager @ N26
N26 employees also have private healthcare, which includes access to psychological support.
Juana spoke of how they kept WE26, the N26 intranet, updated with valuable info and advice including health tips, fun lockdown activities, book recommendations, and the latest updates from founders. "During the strictest part of the lockdown, we also had access to free online Yoga classes and a free 3-month trial of Headspace- a really cool meditation app."
Creative initiatives show people they matter
The office management team's philosophy at TravelPerk has been to show employees that their health comes first and that TravelPerk is invested in them. Putting people first has been a necessity for many companies. We've seen some great examples of how businesses are finding innovative ways of showing they are human-first organizations.
TransferWise bought face masks for their employees, back when COVID-19 was a distant fear. “When the pandemic hit and we switched to remote work, we had several hundred face masks left in our Budapest and Tallinn offices,” Jana explains. “At this time, face masks had become hard to get, and hospitals had huge shortages.” TransferWise donated all of their face masks to the hospitals that needed them most.
TransferWise didn’t stop there. As schools closed and education continued at home, TransferWise’s Tallinn IT team donated 100 laptops to Estonian families in need, and gave a number of headsets and other equipment to local schools. TransferWise employees also organized a series of virtual tech classes, sharing their tech knowledge with local children with a new learning program.
Office managers show they are the beating heart of the company
Yes, Coronavirus has changed our world. The way we work, the way we interact, and the way we think, have all been drastically altered. We've suffered significant losses, both financially and personally.
Yet, out of this tragedy, we've been reminded to reconnect and to ultimately stay human. In the workplace, office managers have been at the heart of change and support. They've helped get staff to a place, both physically and mentally, where they can work and bring value to the company. They have been at the vanguard of leading support initiatives which have real psychological and business benefits. Ultimately, office managers have been essential to businesses navigating through these uncertain times, and their acts of kindness and empathy are examples for many.
In fact, Oriol Riera from TravelPerk could not have said it better,
"I think our office management team are the unsung superstars of the company."
- We completely agree.
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