Toward the end of February, the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic was becoming more evident to the Softchoice leadership team. Our People and Growth leaders knew they would need an agile response to keep our people and our customers safe.
Our business continuity plans to address technology redundancy were in place. As a result of processes that had been in place for 3 years, we were perhaps ahead of most in our ability to move to a full remote work environment. Our workplace safety guidelines and operational crisis plan also helped us to address the most common emergency issues.
However, we had never been challenged to have a plan that would need to accommodate both our technology business continuity and workplace safety plans in such a pervasive way. As we entered the unchartered waters of the COVID-19 pandemic, we found that our core values served us well. Because our leadership team kept these values at the forefront of their expedited decision-making, the result was an agile response appreciated by our people, partners and customers alike.
Our Softchoice values support our human and inspiring culture, beginning with growing our people first. We recognize the need for overall personal growth and having fun while we’re doing it. We follow that with customer passion. Having deep customer relationships is a cornerstone of our organization, and we are dedicated to our customers’ success. To build and sustain those great customer relationships we need to take care of each other. This includes the Softchoice family as well as the communities we serve, work and live in. Lastly, owning the result, delivering on our promises is critical to our customers’ success.
Guided by Our Values
The pandemic forced an all–remote work environment. School boards closed, sending kids home mid-March until further notice. Employees now faced working at home, often with their families, full-time. Our customers and partners all faced similar challenges and needed help in responding quickly to the crisis.
Three years earlier, we recognized the need to support a growing mobile workforce and we made the investment to make laptops standard–issue for all employees. This financial investment was hard to make at the time but supported our core strategy. We had also been migrating to a fully operable Microsoft Teams environment, meaning that modern collaboration technology was already embedded in our culture.
This strategy paid off when we decided to test our all remote work capabilities on March 12, having all 2,000 employees work remotely on a single day. The test went well, as expected knowing our employees had the access and tools to work effectively. This gave us the green light to have our entire workforce fully remote by March 16. By coincidence, March 12 the government of Ontario (where Softchoice is headquartered and a majority of employees are located) announced that all schools would be closed for 2 weeks beyond the March Break. By this time, similar closures were happening across North America. Many of our people would now be challenged to work from home, often alongside other household members on a full-time basis.
“Guided by our culture and values - taking care of each other and putting our people first – and supported by the crisis plans we had in place allowed us to swiftly enact full remote work effective March 16th until schools would be able to re-open,” says Karen Scott, the SVP of People & Growth at Softchoice.
We also implemented personal hours, 3 one-hour blocks per day to allow our employees to take time for themselves and their families and adapt to an unfamiliar new work from home environment.
Taking care of each other also meant taking care of our customers who were going through the same things. We needed to ensure that the organizations we work with had the technology and the services to support their own efforts to mobilize remote workforce capabilities. This was brought to life by our Rapid Response Services a suite of turn-key services designed to address the most immediate requirements organizations faced as they sought to enable remote work and stabilize their operations in a virtual environment.
Our employee communication strategy was another key pillar supporting our move to all remote work. Regular, transparent, and centralized communications kept employees informed and helped address some of the anxiety of the situation.
Adjusting to the New Normal
Remote work was once considered a perk. Now many workers will be outside the office indefinitely. Adapting to the future of work begins with removing the barriers between physical and digital workplace along with a change of mindset. Many businesses paused hiring and recruiting in the new all–virtual world, and all remote work presented new challenges to employee engagement and emotional well-being.
Putting our people first, we adopted the mindset that people can be equally productive while working remotely. We used the opportunity to challenge ourselves to deliver great recruiting and new employee onboarding experiences. We continue to recruit by hosting our interviews via Microsoft Teams and onboard new hires by sending technology and welcome packages to their homes, ensuring safe delivery and acceptance of these orders.
It’s been tough for some of those employees who live alone and are isolated, or others who are overwhelmed by having their work and family life meld together. We made a deliberate effort to bring employees together by dialing up our employee engagement activities – virtual coaching, virtual after-hours events such as comedy and talent shows, wine tastings and a few children activities focused on our employees with young children.
Rethinking the Future of Work
There are still many unknowns: What will “back to school” look like in the fall? How will new health regulations for indoor spaces/gatherings strain existing workspaces? As COVID-19 infections rise in some parts of North America and a proven vaccine is still a long way off, we know there will be continued uncertainty amongst our people our customers, our partners and the communities we serve.
For the moment, we have extended our remote work timeline to October. At the end of the day, our priority is and will always be keeping our people safe. We are planning a concept space in one of our sites in Toronto to test the notion of bringing people together physically in a way that helps them collaborate as well as remain safe in a controlled environment. Once we have these results, we will evaluate and determine how best to expand and re-open other locations.
Our Future of Work Group continues to contemplate the changes affecting how we work, show up, and be there for our customers. The world around us is changing, technology is changing and people are changing. How we work in the future will change, too, but the things got us here, our Softchoice values, will remain the same.
As we progress on the road to recovery and new best practices and learning emerge, we invite you to explore our Business Continuity solutions and resources.