As working from home and self isolation become second nature during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have made careful plans to support our employees. This is because, as a business, we manage our global operations in Hong Kong, the US and Europe remotely from our UK HQ. This means that the emphasis is on us to provide both reassurance and the tools that our people working overseas need to uphold a ‘business as usual’ stance during this current crisis.
To that end, supporting our staff, alleviating any concerns they might have and providing them with everything they need to stay safe and work from home is of utmost importance to us. Implementing plans to operate normally means that we can successfully sustain our business model on a global basis, while maintaining productivity.
We apply best working from home practices across our domestic UK operations and this enables us to transfer these methods to manage the business on an international scale. We can therefore protect our brand, while offering first class recruitment solutions to top organisations and the best talent.
Here, we share our approach to supporting staff both in the UK and working overseas to work from home with minimal disruption during the Coronavirus outbreak.
It was a rush to get our people set up to work from home. We planned contingency working from home test days on Thursday and Friday (March 19 and 20) before the lockdown and informed staff on Monday, officially starting WFH on Wednesday, March 25. Conducting the test days and communicating our intentions meant that we could iron out any potential obstacles in advance of subsequent Government announcements. We always carefully monitor the changing circumstances in our international territories.
Many companies will not have planned for a crisis on this scale, but are now discovering that they need to have a policy in place to withstand any further uncertainty. With this in mind, we reviewed our working from home policy and updated it to both reflect these unusual circumstances and ensure that we remain legally compliant.
We are mindful that temporary home working arrangements need to be carefully managed to avoid problems such as our employees feeling isolated or working excessive hours. We also remind workers of the resources available to help them to look after their physical and mental health.
A good policy will cover a number of factors, including procedures around remote working. It should spell out how people should work from home, the tools they need to get the job done and how to handle meetings.
At Claremont, the sales side of the business has historically found that an office working approach is best for reaching targets. As this is no longer an option, we created a policy which will not result in a decline in sales.
All of this should be documented for future use, as it shows people what could happen in a worst case scenario, acting as a guide on how to keep businesses running during difficult times.
We had systems set up already to facilitate a smooth transition to working from home. They included establishing cloud-based IT software and Voice over Internet Protocol, which enables the delivery of voice communications and multimedia sessions. We made sure our staff had enough bandwidth to do office work at home.
We installed any necessary internal communications programs and secure Wi-Fi networks to allow for remote working. For jobs which rely on private or sensitive information, it might prove useful to set up a virtual private network (VPN) to allow secure, remote access. Encryption services enable people to share sensitive information.
Microsoft Teams is a useful collaboration program which allows people to video chat and work on Word files together, wherever they are in the world. Google’s G Suite is another helpful alternative.
We always aim to keep the lines of communication smoothly flowing between our employees. Many are likely to be concerned about their health and wellbeing, their families and how they can continue working as aspects of ordinary life are increasingly shut down. Instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Slack or G-chat enable key updates and notifications to be shared and allow workers to express their thoughts and feelings. These platforms can also eliminate chain email, allowing decisions to be made more quickly. Even a casual, non-business related chat with colleagues over instant messaging can help to lessen any feelings of isolation.
Video conferencing apps like Zoom and Skype let us conduct all meetings as usual. We work out times which are convenient for everyone across the UK, US and Hong Kong and are respectful of any cultural differences. Adopting this global methodology allows us to stay united and strong, while supporting our network of clients and candidates.
Crucial strategic meetings that are essential to the day-to-day running of the business include weekly marketing, finance and operations catch ups. The benefits of our Zoom calls are that everyone is more focused and engaged. We also have daily check-ins, again via Zoom, between our international offices.
Maintaining team spirit is vital for morale and productivity when everyone is working remotely. We set regular activity targets and incentives for the sales team. This included a football competition based on a knock-out with ‘goals’ scored according to sales activity, such as sending CVs, arranging interviews and making a placement, all of which have different values. We have a league table for it and people accrue points for prizes. As a result, our sales activity has gone up.
When working from home, people can be tempted to extend their hours to get things done, especially when they are saving time on the daily commute and the lines between personal and professional space become blurred. However, health professionals advise this is not always good for mental health. We try to set reasonable boundaries for our workers, for example encouraging them to put their email on an auto-response around the normal finishing time.
We finish earlier on a Friday at 4pm and the last hour of the day is dedicated to fun activities, such as hosting a virtual pub, quizzes and bingo.
Onboarding and training
Face-to-face meetings and entering a new workplace are currently out of the question but this does not mean that hiring decisions should be placed on hold. Instead, new strategies need to be devised to navigate around currently redundant onboarding processes.
Now that people are starting new roles remotely instead of in the office, there are a number of onboarding alternative options. Many of the initial meetings and training sessions can be undertaken digitally, using video calls and screen sharing functions.
We successfully hired someone in the UK after onboarding them remotely. The interview process started during the first part of the lockdown on the phone and via video and they are now happily working from home after we made a formal offer.
Any training can be done remotely using CRM platforms, which allow us to implement blanket learning and development policies across all of our territories so that everyone in the business has joined up skills and knowledge.
A well-designed, user friendly website is a vital resource for keeping our international network updated. Bearing this in mind, we will be launching websites to support and provide key information around our four sub-brands. They include:
- Claremont Staffing, focusing on permanent and contract recruitment
- Claremont Solutions, for Recruitment Process Outsourcing
- Claremont Select, dedicated to Executive Search
- Claremont Careers #lifeatclaremont for our internal recruitment needs.
Taking these steps will enable you to maintain operations while putting your business in a strong position to hit the ground running post-pandemic.