Provide the right tools, bring people together and look after their mental health, writes Richard Ambrose, CEO of Azimo.
The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered businesses from London to Lagos, leaving millions of desks empty around the world. Companies that continue to operate during lockdown now face the challenge of how to run a business without an office.
If this crisis had occurred just 10 years ago, that might not have been possible. In 2010, neither Zoom nor Slack nor Google Meet existed. Skype wouldn’t launch group video calling until the end of that year - not that many home broadband connections were able to support it.
But now that a smartphone can provide faster internet than a landline connection, it’s possible to run a complex business entirely online. Here’s what we’ve learned about running a global fintech company during lockdown.
In 2020, there is a collaborative tool for almost every job that exists - and many for jobs that don’t. The essential areas to cover during lockdown are communications, creativity and project management.
Google Meet can handle most video conferencing requirements, especially now that businesses and schools can claim free access for the duration of the crisis. Our weekly all-hands meeting is attended by up to 150 people without any problems.
For group chat, Slack is the industry leader, but plenty of inexpensive alternatives exist, such as Fleep.
For creativity, the simplicity of a whiteboard is difficult to beat. Miro, a virtual whiteboard application that works in a web browser, allows multiple users to sketch, add sticky notes and create diagrams in real time. It’s helped us to plan together while we’re all remote.
In these times of isolation and distancing, too much communication is better than too little. We encourage all our teams to have a 15-minute call each morning, just to say hello. We also suggest that everybody keeps their video on during calls with colleagues. The simple effect of seeing the face of everyone in a call while you’re talking to them brings a touch of humanity to conversations that can never be replaced by text or audio alone.
We also try to get people together for games, quizzes and drinks. Last week we invited the entire company to join a pub quiz via Google Meet, and this week we will attempt bingo. Smaller teams have also had fun with online Pictionary and the Kahoot quiz app. Workplaces should be fun and engaging as well as productive, and there are a lot of ways to apply that principle to remote working.
Finally, transparency is a very effective way to unite a team and allay anxiety. At our weekly all-hands meeting, we share candid updates about how the business is performing during the crisis, what our plans are for the foreseeable future, and how we’re responding to changes in government policy.
The effects of the lockdown on mental health and loneliness are getting more and more attention. We strongly encourage people to get outside when they can take regular walks and not to feel bound to their desk, especially on sunny days.
In normal times, the commute home provides a natural break between the working day and the evening or weekend, but many of your staff will find it difficult to switch off while working from home. It’s essential that people divide their work life from their home life properly. We do not believe in an “always on” culture, or that constant connectivity necessarily makes people more productive. In the same vein, we’ve urged people to take days off where possible and enjoy family time.
It’s also important to share how we’re feeling. Some people are locked down alone, others in small flats with no outside space, and others have the added stress of looking after and home-schooling children alongside their day job. I’ve been more open about my personal life than usual - sharing the challenges of having three children under seven at home - and encourage others in leadership positions to do the same. It’s important that we can all relate to each other, and recognise that we’re each experiencing this crisis in our own ways.
Finally, make sure that people have access to essential resources such as occupational health or HR staff, and that they always have someone to go to with serious problems. It’s also worth putting out occasional anonymous surveys to see how people are doing and whether you’re doing enough as a business to support them. Even if you’re confident people are telling you how they really are, they’re a good way to hear from large numbers of people at once.
Richard Ambrose is CEO of Azimo. The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of AltFi.