June 24, 2021

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    This is the fourth chapter of our 10 part blog series, for more chapters please visit Microsoft Partners Insights

    9 ways Covid impacted workplace wellbeing

    In this blog we continue with the topic of people and culture. We let you hear it from the horse's mouth -- using direct quotes from the leaders of Microsoft Partners.

    1. Senior leaders recognised the potential mental health crisis
    2. Employee wellbeing now the top priority
    3. Rapid innovation to improve communication and 'contact'
    4. A positive response to initiatives
    5. Recognising the unique pressures on younger staff
    6. The erosion of office culture
    7. Less collaboration = less creativity
    8. The crisis "brought us together"
    9. Goodbye "command and control", productivity is the priority

    1. Senior leaders recognised the potential mental health crisis

    Throughout the hours of interviews that were conducted with the senior leaders of Microsoft Partners it was clear that that the COVID-19 pandemic, and specifically working from home, had taken its toll on the wellbeing of its employees, both physically and mentally.

    “It has been a real struggle, keeping people together. We've had such a hard time. We've had more people off with stress and mental health issues in January 2021 than all of the last year. People wake up and they are at 100% capacity before they even get to their desk. There is no resilience. And our clients are experiencing that too.”
    “There has been a general reduction in people’s mental health.”
    “This has been the toughest thing. Taking care of staff mental health.”
    “We have had to be a lot more thoughtful about the people side of our business, there have been huge impacts on people working at home with no let up.”
    “Purposeful support to the team, and trying to help uncover issues early on, has been key. In terms of the way we work, we have regular meetings, communicate a lot, send goody bags.”
    “People feel they need to work more, and as much as I try to reiterate the message that we don't want them to burn out, they keep going. We are having to actively force people to take time off.”
    “We have people we've identified might need extra support and check in. Some of those who are naturally very introverted have really become very isolated - too much. People have missed company events and just being together.”

    “We were 100% working from home before and still are, but everyone is feeling more anxious, isolated, because their personal lives have changed.”



    2. Employee wellbeing now the top priority

    The leaders realised the impact of lockdown on employee wellbeing and were quick to implement new ways to support them. They made addressing the issue one of their highest priorities “materially increased focus on mental wellbeing”  with a variety of initiatives. They said they were "paying a lot of attention to OfficeVibe and follow up”  to track morale, and "creating touchpoints” to support them through this difficult period.

    “Big focus on employee wellbeing and mental health – we significantly upped support and communication. A range of new touch points and access to external expertise. We are having to work things out as we go, and how to adapt to this strange environment. There are much more frequent check-ins, scenario planning, being more agile - knowing that things can change in an instant.”

    “We have more regular company meetings, and I am making the effort to call every employee every month to keep in touch. We’ve allowed complete flexibility with times worked and allowed people to use holiday creatively and reduce their hours to help with home schooling etc.”

    “We’ve developed better cross organisational engagement. It has been mostly about trying to keep people confident, engaged and feeling supported. We've done a huge amount around that. A lot of time and energy - in the first lockdown we built a lot of wellbeing linked activities.”

    “We've moved beyond the trivial stuff in the first lockdown, like baking, to more well-being focused initiatives, trying to encourage people to get out of the house each day.”

    “We have introduced an Employee Assistance Programme, a buddy system, daily all company stand-ups, monthly socials (we pay for a takeaway), and we trialled Friday afternoons off for the school holidays.”

    “We are trying to make sure that people's wellbeing is taken care of with providing counselling services etc.”


    3. Rapid innovation to improve communication and 'contact'

    It was evident that without the regular contact that came with being office based there was a need for "better and more frequent communication across the business." 

    “Internally, we were quick to recognise how important it is to keep people in the loop. Greater communication.”

    "There have been more frequent, shorter internal meetings and regular online socials. We are giving more social ‘down time’ during business hours. Also, regular recognition - this has been huge - it's been so important. We buy small gifts and send them to people. General over-communication.”


    4. A positive response to initiatives

    Over time the trickle-down effect of the increased focus and implementation of new initiatives started to pay dividends.

    “We have regular calls for people to bring issues to the fore. Providing that forum has been really helpful.”

    “People have become more comfortable about talking about wellness and checking on each other.”

    “We have also reduced the number of hours that someone would work on a project, i.e. from 8 to 6 hours. That has been met with real positivity.”

    “Employee engagement scores have gone up, which is partly hopefully down to things we've done but also work has become more important to people.”

    “Interestingly, in the third lockdown people were actually now spending a little more time checking that people are OK and having a laugh and a joke, more bonding and rapport.”

    “We have become better at doing a lot more checking in with each other on this stuff. Trying to get people to talk about their families. It is important that leaders lead on this.”


    5. Recognising the unique pressures on younger staff 


    There was a general consensus amongst the senior leaders that there had been a demographic split amongst employees regarding how their experience of working from home had been in the last year.

    Most felt that younger members of staff found the situation extremely difficult due to social isolation and many not having a suitable home office set-up (i.e. having to work in their bedroom due to lack of space).

    However for older staff members and those living at home with families, this period had been slightly easier and in some areas relatively positive e.g. being able to spend more time with family, less time travelling.

    “The younger people have found it harder - more complaints, less satisfaction, more mental stress - possibly not having a good home office set up. They are missing out on socialising more. The married with kids have more room, are more established, working from home is easier.”

    “It has felt like we have been in a prison cell working from the apartment and having just video calls.”


    6. The erosion of office culture


    A recurring topic during the interviews was culture, or rather the battle to maintain office culture.  Along with employee wellbeing it was the most discussed subject. The majority of Microsoft Partners surveyed seemed to be continually wrestling to find the equilibrium between the safety of working remotely versus the erosion of a culture that had been built up over years.

    “Initially, people really liked working remotely, then they got fatigued by it. How to manage and keep people motivated has been hard.”

    “Trying to maintain culture is hard.”

    “We've always worked hard at our culture. It has been difficult to keep it going, all the fun things we do. The cultural events have gone and it's left a gap."

    “We had a very active social scene. Our younger team members would have been very impacted, we used to do social stuff a lot.”

    “I’m having to take out more time in the day to talk to everyone, as we haven't got the natural rhythm of being in the office.”

    “There has been so little of getting people together, they've taken on training, but I think there will be some job movement.”

    "There has needed to be a blend of being in the office and keeping contact with people where they need it.”

    7. Less collaboration = less creativity


    Facilitating collaboration between employees while working remotely was a major challenge.  It was also felt that working remotely had stifled creativity by virtue of not being in a collaborative team environment and having regular contact with others.

    “The biggest problem has been the breakdown in relationships between the team. Most people were used to working in the office, most of us able to collaborate. People have missed the human connection."

    “People felt they could do they jobs functionally perfectly well from home, but they missed the team and interaction.”

    “Those that have worked together and met physically have a distinct advantage over those who've never met.”

    8. The crisis "brought us together"


    However, it was refreshing to hear than in other cases the last year had galvanised teams, created stronger bonds, and been viewed as a positive for culture.

    “The pandemic has made our culture stronger. We have a growth mindset and that has really been embedded during the pandemic ”

    “We are a communicative management team and have managed to turn the tide on people who weren't pre-COVID-19, very engaged."

    “Ironically it’s been quite positive. There’s nothing like a crisis to help people pull together and feel closer. I would say the team is closer now and talks more than it ever has. We have developed more of a family atmosphere by pulling together. We agreed from the start that we would preserve jobs over profit and would not be a drain on the country. That had the effect of generating more good will from the staff than any number of away days or team building exercises could have.”

    “Relationships for people who worked together have got stronger.”

    9. Goodbye command and control, productivity is the priority


    It was also interesting to see how being forced in to this abnormal working scenario had ultimately lead to "more focus on productivity and less on hours worked.”  This permanent shift away from how things were being done prior to the pandemic was seen as hugely positive, as well as more “regular recognition, this has been huge - it's been so important."

    “We were far too command and control, whereas the pandemic has driven us to let this go.”

    “We've given people even more autonomy; some people love this, and some people want more hand holding.”


    This is the fourth chapter of our 10 part blog series, for more chapters visit, Microsoft Partners Insights.

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