We speak to Viona Young, Chief People & Culture Officer at eftpos Australia, about the impact of the COVID-19 and what business leaders can do to help their team thrive in a more isolated environment.
These past few weeks have been a challenging time for everyone, both personally and professionally. Here at Daltrey, we believe the safety and security of your business begins with the wellbeing of your team, which is why we sat down with Viona Young, Chief People & Culture Officer at eftpos Australia, for a Q&A about how to manage employees during uncertain times.
So many companies are working entirely remotely now. How can businesses scale what their team does on a daily basis, especially for departments where it may not come naturally to work remotely?
There are a couple of different levels of ensuring your people are okay. The biggest is health and safety legislation, so making sure people are in a safe environment at home. For companies that haven’t offered working from home previously, they won’t necessarily have checklists to help define these measures. Then there’s the issue of relationships – if you don’t already have good relationships with your people, then that’s going to become very clear and it will be super challenging.
On that point, this situation will undoubtedly highlight the problems between management and their teams if there’s a failure to communicate. What should companies be doing about that risk?
For people that already have good relationships with their team, there will be an element of ‘business as usual’. With my team, for example, we chat throughout the day and don’t hesitate to pick up the phone. We have more formal check-ins three times a week, but we haven’t had to put strict disciplines into place. That’s the nature of our relationship already. For others, putting those disciplines into place will be the most critical thing.
You mentioned formal business catch-ups, but is there also a need to block out time for social catch-ups, where people can get together to not talk about work and the pandemic?
That’s the biggest challenge: trying to acknowledge that this is what life looks like right now. Across the whole eftpos Australia organisation, we’re sharing tips on working from home as well as keeping active.
I know personally I run the risk of just working all the time now because I don’t have to be at the gym to train; I’m not meeting someone for exercise or catch-ups. So it’s a whole new way of working and I think you need to be really aware of that with your teams.
Should that responsibility fall back on the organisation because of their commercial goals and their desire to keep moving forward? Should they be buying digital gym memberships to support their team members, for example?
For me, the most important thing is to allow people to settle into this new way of living. It’s about understanding that people will block out times in their calendar that suit them to be active, and that may be different times for different people. In my mind ‘nine to five’ no longer existed anyway, but that’s even more evident now that we’re all comfortable with the fact that ‘nine to five’ office hours literally don’t exist anymore.
We need to start having really open, honest conversations with our teams and our managers about what works best for us, and that has to include flexibility. What I’m seeing across many organisations is panic: “Oh my god, we’ve got to keep things normal!” But there is no normal anymore. Yes, we still have to do business. Yes, there are things we need to achieve. But we will all settle into it if we just give it time.
What would your top tip be for leaders who are trying to operate while dealing with panic?
Be human first. More than ever we need to connect, build relationships and show understanding. The world has changed and everybody is reacting in different ways. Some people are in a complete panic. People are grieving. There’s a grief process that has to go on because suddenly we can’t see extended family or friends. People have lost their social lives, their social connections. You have to allow that level of grief.
Our leaders right now are the ones who need to be calm. And I know that’s really challenging, but maintaining your own mental health first is critical. Leaders have to figure out what works for them and then help their team look after their own mental health. For me, I have to get my home gym set up. If I don’t exercise every day, I’m just not great.
How do you navigate a mass grieving process when people have never felt like this before?
In any deeply emotional process, it’s once again about being human first. The worst thing we can do right now is assume everybody is going to respond the same way, or that just because one person is okay then other people are okay. It just isn’t like that. And if you’re running a large organisation, supporting managers so they can support their people is really critical.
Middle management is the key. So doing whatever we can to support them is going to be really important because they’re going to come across all sorts of challenges and those will be very individual challenges. Everybody is going to respond in a different way. Some will panic. Some will be fine. This is going to bring out the best and the worst in everyone.
Do you believe businesses should have a dedicated strategy for enabling middle management to support their teams during this crisis?
I think so. When you are leading an organisation, it’s very difficult to be in contact with everyone. We’re lucky that technology allows that to some degree, but it’s never personal contact.
I feel like all I ever do is talk on the phone in my role, but for a lot of leaders that’s their new norm. Having conversations on the phone is how we are going to communicate for a long time. Yes, chatting on Teams or Messenger is important too, but it’s not really connecting. In a time when we can’t connect person-to-person, voice is critical.
Within many leadership teams right now, there may be some cognitive awareness that perhaps they shouldn’t be pushing their people too hard because they’re isolated. While I don’t necessarily think that’s the right approach, it’s something that sits within our consciousness as humans. How do you combat that feeling?
That awareness exists all the time. Everybody has stuff going on. And even the most ‘together people’ normally have things going on in the background that we don’t know about at work, and for a lot of people those things are going to feel worse.
Balancing that with the commercial reality of business will be the greatest challenge for managers. Many will find themselves as the go-to person to handle those issues because they have the most interaction with staff. So being really clear on what a manager is capable – and not capable – of having a conversation about will be really important. Then you need to offer alternative support, so employee assistance programs are critical if we want to maintain any sort of BAU and commercial focus.
There has to be a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of our thinking. How can business leaders answer questions like: what can we do as a company; what do we do as people; how do we reconnect?
It’s really challenging because never before have we been so unclear on what the future looks like. Nobody knows what’s going to happen or how long this will go on for. But shining a bit of light where you can on a day-to-day basis is really what’s most important. That means sharing stories of what people are doing to keep themselves active, how you are keeping your kids entertained – whatever it is, anything that’s interesting and fun or funny is how we’re going to get through this.
Can you provide any insight into how you’re going to re-establish what sounds like a very good culture within your organisation if it isn’t the same after all this is over?
That’s a really interesting question. There are so many organisations that have needed a major shift to become commercially viable or sustainable. That’s not an unusual challenge for a People & Culture person like me.
But I do think this is going to completely shift perceptions. What I hope – and I’m just being hopeful here – is that people have a lot more appreciation for each other, for being able to do very normal things.
We have become a society that takes things for granted. I have to go to the supermarket today, for example, and I’m thinking to myself, “I just don’t want to go. I don’t want to go into that environment.” So I’m really hopeful that the future will hold great positivity around our workplace culture.
I believe people will have a whole new level of appreciation for each other. And I think we’ll find there’s a better way of coming together to achieve that in the workplace. I think we’ll actually build quite different cultures going forward.
Want more insight into the world of security, identity access management, biometrics and more? Get your weekly fix with the Identity Today podcast, hosted by Daltrey MD Blair Crawford. You can start on Episode 1 here or listen via Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app.