The past months have been unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed. All of us – both in our personal lives and at work – have had to adapt to a set of challenges no-one could’ve predicted at the start of the year.
Looking back from the perspective of September, those weeks at the end of March and early April marked an unprecedented mobilisation of people and resources. The vast majority of coworkers and teams at CDW UK rapidly moved to home-working while simultaneously making sure our customers had the end-to-end IT services and support to do the same. During that initial period, all coworkers had to navigate a rapidly changing environment, while our COVID-19 Incident Management Team actioned plans to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our coworkers and communities.
We’re now at a different stage, with organisations exploring the future of work and a path of pandemic recovery. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to discuss this topic in a recent webinar with Cisco’s Jenn Gormley and Rich Gore and we agreed that workplaces and the coworker experience is going to evolve considerably over the coming months and years. The pandemic has placed culture, wellbeing and flexibility in the spotlight and these elements will be key as businesses strive for future successes.
Dealing with Distance
Many businesses can track their current success and stability to their preparedness for transitioning to new ways of working. In March, many organisations turned to their business continuity policy (BCP) for immediate guidance. In CDW UK’s case, our BCP had been reviewed and updated in February, as we built a specific COVID-19 Incident Management Response to include potential loss of site and a 25% coworker absence. At this time, four key work streams across Coworker Safeguarding, Client Experience, Partner Collaboration and Business Continuity were initiated with phases of Contain, Delay, Mitigate and Recover introduced. As with all incident responses, success metrics were key in focussing our IMRT’s efforts, with metrics set across coworker wellbeing, client service levels, partner relationships and business performance.
The structure and scope was imperative in the success of our execution that followed, however the most important and impactful change was the humanising of our plans. Whilst the immediate priority was remaining operational and providing stability to our coworkers, it was key to my teams and I that we were transparent and open in our execution. To that end, our BCPs were adapted to include a far higher frequency of communication, with a reinforcement on collaboration, connection and community.
During the lockdown period, the most successful organisations were guided by coworker wellbeing and CDW UK’s early learnings from this period have resulted in a new approach to our culture, with the introduction of CDW UK Community. Our guiding principle was to ensure that coworker wellbeing was prioritised at all levels; we informed leadership and management that flexibility was key, introducing a flex in working hours to support and realigning resource where possible to support coworkers in meeting their personal demands. To further support we introduced programmes to encourage mental and physical health, including wellness clinics, yoga, HIIT classes, mindfulness webinars and step challenges. As we were forced apart physically, we found ways to stay connected through company-wide book and film clubs, quizzes and introduced programmes to help parents keep their children active and entertained. Regular communication was and remains critical, it is incredibly important that our coworkers felt connected, possessing a sense of belonging to the CDW UK Community. Daily virtual communications have been rewarding for both leadership and coworkers with strong and authentic connections formed. To further compliment our communications, it was important to check in – everyone at CDW has received a call from one of our Coworker Services Coworkers at least every six weeks. This one-to-one communication has been essential in helping us to gauge how our coworkers are adjusting to new ways of working.
The insights gained together with our Coworker Survey results told us how we could further support, guiding our IMRT on where focus was required. The introduction of LinkedIn Learning is a great example of where our coworkers led the change; we heard from coworkers that personal learning during this period remained important and we quickly mobilised our team to ensure a virtual offering was available for all.
Our CDW UK Community will continue to evolve as we are shaped by our coworkers needs. In the future months, we will be focused on Mindful and Compassionate Leadership Training, as we reinforce that leading diversely includes promoting diversity of thought; a key takeaway from the successes we have experienced in our COVID-19 response.
The humanisation of our plans has ultimately been the secret to our success. Establishing an environment of stability and empathy has left our coworkers feel equally empowered and energised to look after our customers – many of which included key workers who excelled in supporting our country through the worst of the pandemic; we were able to maintain our own resilience, placing us in the best possible position to support our clients in functioning at their best.
Coworkers need to feel like their employer is invested in their wellbeing and this extends to ensuring they have the right hardware, reliable connectivity, and access to remote assistance to be truly happy and productive as they work from home.
As a tech business, CDW UK had previously operated a work-from-home culture across many of our teams, meaning we were probably a few steps ahead of many organisations in terms of the technical requirements. However, many coworkers were experiencing long-term remote working for the first time.
We wanted to help coworkers replicate their in-office working setup as closely as possible, sending out laptops and dual screens to those who needed them. Providing everyone with written content on how to troubleshoot and get the most out of their home workspace minimised calls to the CDW UK Service Desk, while giving coworkers a feeling of control over their working environment.
To further support, in July, we issued additional accessories to support coworker wellbeing and productivity including wireless keyboards and mice, back supports and laptop stands. Throughout, it’s been important for employers to be there for their people, helping them create a consistent workspace where possible, but also show an understanding that no two individuals are experiencing this situation in the same way.
Preparing for the Future
The understanding must be carried forward as organisations start to move to a new phase – whether that’s moving back to the office, committing to full-scale working-from-home, or a combination of both. While some coworkers will be keen to leave their kitchen table behind, others will understandably be more hesitant about returning to a physical workplace. At CDW UK, our earlier mentioned Mindful Leadership Training will ensure our leaders understand all coworkers perspectives are treated equally.
Just as the lockdown period was all about communication and putting people first, the future of work will place a greater emphasis on reaching out to employees and treating them with sensitivity and empathy. Transparency and communication will be key. For example, if you are considering welcoming people back to the office, have a small group of colleagues take part in a trial reopening. They can then share the personal story of their experience, helping inform coworkers who are weighing up the merits of returning to a physical work environment. This will be far more powerful than a facility orientation guide that simply shows the social distancing measures that have been put in place.
My recommendation to any leader is to review your lessons learned and successes, reintroduce a structured response plan, communicate often, be transparent and ask your coworkers to collectively support. Keep in mind that coworker wellbeing, connection and collaboration is what drives your business, so much more is achievable when you have the basics absolutely right.
Throughout everything that’s happened over the past few months, the resilience, care and courage of coworkers has stood out most of all. COVID-19 isn’t the first disruptive event to hit organisations in the UK and it certainly won’t be the last. As a project manager at heart, structure, plans and process are always front of mind but no plan truly gets off the ground or accepted if you are not willing to put your people first.
At CDW UK we have learnt so much that we will take forward with us and I am confident we will be a stronger and better performing business as a result. I hope your businesses have experienced the same.
Grace Mee - Vice President, UK & International Operations at CDW
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