The Great Unlocking: how Skynamo re-entered the office space
Sarah Rice, our Chief People Officer, shares how Skynamo employees transitioned back into their offices after an extensive period of remote working, revealing something significant about our company culture.
Earlier this year we chatted to Sarah Rice (Chief People Officer) and Sam Clarke (CEO) about how Skynamo made working from home, “work as usual”. Figuring out how to help a team of employees settle into home offices without letting your company’s productivity and performance drop was one thing. Herding that same group – who miraculously grew in number (we were fortunate enough to employ new Skynamites throughout the lockdown period!) – safely back into a ‘new’ office space is quite another.
We checked in again with Sarah to hear what Skynamo, as a company, learnt from the sudden lockdown that interrupted normality, and what insights we can use as we move forward as a growing business.
What was the most challenging aspect, for you and the People Team, of nearly all Skynamo’s employees working remotely?
The most challenging thing was to keep our culture alive. Our culture is based on conversation, shared experiences and doing things together, from Friday afternoon drinks to cross-fit classes and triathlons. This highly interactive and high-touch culture needed to be translated into a remote and digital experience. We had to find creative ways to keep people connected and feeling like they were still part of a single company of people who really care about each other and want to connect and have fun.
We used a number of different interventions to make this possible. We used a Slack (our work messaging platform) plugin called Donut. It connects four random people from the company together for a ‘virtual coffee’ each week. This gave us an opportunity to have weekly non-work conversation with different colleagues.
Zoom calls tend to be very work focused, with little time for casual chatting. This virtual coffee is all about the casual conversation and is a great way to get to know co-workers. The unexpected benefit was that people got to know teammates from other offices, which would not have happened if everyone was in their own office and only talking to people geographically connected to them.
We also created a Zoom-based social (half) hour each Friday. It’s hard for 60 to 80 people to have a conversation simultaneously though, so to counteract the digital awkwardness, we arranged for stand-up comedians to do 20-minute online performances during those meetings. This created a single shared experience for everyone and helped us feel connected to each other. We also used the Kahoot! Quiz game platform to create games for us all to play, which is a fun way to connect.
Lastly, we have run daily games on Slack such as ‘Match the baby’, which had us matching baby photos to our colleagues, ‘Spot the Lie’ which had each person put forward two truths and a lie about themselves and the company trying to identify the lie. These games have worked to keep us feeling connected and having fun.
Another challenge was managing people’s levels of exhaustion. When you are working from home you are also living at work, so it’s hard to disconnect and hold a boundary between work time and home time. Many of our people were overworking and getting tired and frustrated.
We addressed this in August by running a competition to win money to spend on your next holiday. The only way to get an entry was to take five days’ annual leave in August. This competition did two things – it encouraged people to take time off and gave us all a permission to take a proper break.
Which one thing stood out to you as surprising, in that you didn’t expect it to be such an easy transition for employees?
The practicality of moving home seemed seamless. Our CEO announced on the Friday that from the Monday we would all be working from home, and on Monday we all were. There was so little technical drama and what little there was, was addressed quickly and well by our internal IT team.
It turns out that we were digitally prepared for a work-from-home scenario. The biggest challenges were emotional and behavioral, not practical.
Give us a quick summary of The Great Unlocking, the process of some returning to the office space, while others still work from home?
Coming back to the office required us to change how we thought about our office space and what was ‘normal’. Nothing that we did was difficult in itself, it was just challenging to think it all through. Some of what we did included:
- We more than doubled our housekeeping staff and have them working in week on/week off shifts so that if one shift happens to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2, we can bring in the alternative shift without a break in office accessibility.
- We used our visitor sign-in app as a staff sign-in as well, to comply with regulations around access
- We put up protection screens on desks and in the front office
- We used only sealed and disposable utensils and coffee cups
- We increased cleaning cycles to three times a day
- We stopped all popcorn and other communal food options
- We put disposable masks at reception for anyone who had forgotten theirs
- We placed hand sanitizer all over the offices
- We opened up the office in phases to give us time to test if our interventions were working and keeping people safe.
I imagine it’s challenging to think through day-to-day operations in terms of both on-premise and remote workers, now that a critical number of employees are still working remotely on any given day?
We have become really good and working with remote colleagues in the last six months. It’s heightened our awareness of what being remote is like and we now prioritize the remote experience as opposed to the in-office one, which make a huge difference to our colleagues in Atlanta or the UK.
We talk a lot about company culture at Skynamo. What did these past six months of going into lockdown and slowly unlocking and returning to the office reveal about Skynamo’s company culture?
Most significantly it revealed that we are not a remote company. We need each other and need to spend time with each other. Although we are distributed globally, the in-office, in-person experience is critical to us.
We will see more travelling between offices, rather than less, once this is over as we have come to really value the benefits of seeing people face to face. We are planning a big company-wide get together in early 2021 and really looking forward to having everyone together in one place to experience what a full Skynamo team feels like.
About the Author, Servaas Hofmeyr
Inbound Marketer and Analyst at Skynamo