How Union Bancaire Privée, Nexthink, Societe Generale, and Slack are adapting & managing a return to work in a COVID world

Stéphanie Grawehr
Stéphanie Grawehr August 20, 2020

Adapting to a new normal

By now, it’s clear: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to humanity and organisations. As lockdowns and restrictions change with the virus’ evolution, adapting and managing a return to work creates a new set of challenges and considerations.

That being said, many companies have risen to the occasion to keep their employees safe, enable productivity, and maintain a positive, purpose-driven work culture. From solidarity initiatives to support communities to swiftly going virtual with key HR processes to getting creative and boosting employee morale, employers have shown their resilience in adapting to the situation to support and engage their people.

While the situation is changing quickly and some offices will remain closed, in places where a return to work is possible or where physical presence is key, adapting is essential.

With guidance from authorities and experts weighing in with recommendations, it can be difficult navigating and implementing practices.

In this post, we’re sharing examples of how companies have approached the return to work and the adaptation that comes with it.

1. Union Bancaire Privée doubles down on internal communication

In addition to protective measures, internal communication has been key during the Covid-19 period at banking group Union Bancaire Privée (UBP). They launched a weekly Covid-information circular to all staff and a dedicated intranet page, as well as a fully digital special issue of their internal magazine.

The magazine gives employees a behind-the-scenes look at the Bank’s Business Continuity Plan and introduces the people who made a success of putting the plan into practice.

Another initiative to encourage colleagues and keep morale up was a series of posts on the intranet featuring staff describing their own experiences of lockdown and working from home.

2. Nexthink supports employees with choice

Source: Nexthink

At Nexthink, an IT solutions company, employees health and safety is also their top priority. Returning to the office is strictly voluntary and they strongly encourage employees to continue working from home for the foreseeable future, until a vaccine is in place or the risk of infection is otherwise mitigated.

They have opened offices to accommodate a small number of people who really struggle with working at home for personal reasons (small living quarters, children at home, insufficient home office setup, etc). Currently, less than 10% of employees use this option. As a first step, to adapt their offices in line with the authorities’ requirements, the Workplace Team:

  • Installed clear, compliant, and fresh signage to help employees respect the new requirements and protect themselves.
  • Implemented a training program that all employees must complete before returning. A detailed response plan is in place to activate in the event an employee becomes ill as a result of COVID-19 which includes notifying all others that may have come into contact and closing the office for a deep cleaning.
  • Prepared a special kit to welcome back employees, which includes individual packed snacks, juices, a welcome note and bottle of hand sanitiser.
  • Set up a checkpoint desk with the necessary personal protective equipment, instructions, protocols and thermometers.
  • Provide dedicated support from one of their team members at the checkpoint desk to welcome and guide Nexthinkers (employees) on anything they need.

“We’re adapting our practices as the situation changes, so while many of our offices will remain closed until the end of the year, our Workplace Team is continuously working to offer Nexthinkers a great office experience, in any circumstances” — shares Nina Zellweger, Employee Engagement Specialist at Nexthink.

3. Societe Generale prioritises safety while maintaining its high-quality services

Source: Societe Generale

Societe Generale’s Swiss offices have also focused on the health and safety of their employees and clients, while ensuring business continuity. In addition to following local authorities’ instructions, the financial services group has adopted specific measures related to hygiene, distancing, rotations by sub-teams and working from home, to reduce risks for their teams. For example, they adapted their working time policies to offer more flexibility so their employees could avoid rush hour in public transport.

As lockdowns were lifted, Societe Generale provided each employee with sanitary kits with masks, hand sanitizer, and communication materials on how to use them properly and the measures taken at their offices. This enabled the staff to feel safe in their working environment.

To stay connected and responsive to their employees, the company also launched the following initiatives:

  • Regular online information sessions for all employees informing them of the evolution of the situation and the measures implemented by the bank (reinforced cleaning of the premises, floor markings, social distancing between colleagues, unlimited provision of masks and gel, travel instructions, etc.).
  • A dedicated Intranet page with all the information concerning the health crisis and internal measures.
  • A social network allowing employees to exchange information on individual issues such as best practices for keeping children occupied during lockdown.

4. Slack moves away from its “office-centric culture”

Source: Slack in Harvard Business Review

Slack’s offices have been closed since March and recently announced that it would keep its offices closed until June 2021. They join other tech companies that have made similar announcements, like Google. For these companies, shifting to remote-first work could be easier than for others.

After closing offices and deep cleaning at the outset of the pandemic, they shifted their practices to facilitate a remote working environment, launching resources like webinars for their employees. They relied more heavily on their internal messaging tool to facilitate all-important communication and collaboration, specific channels were created for different workstreams like new employee onboarding.

Moving forward, with a formerly “office-centric culture”, the technology company is “using this moment as an opportunity to try new things and question long-held assumptions about nearly everything,” according to Robbie Kwok, Senior Vice President, People at Slack. This has included revisiting hiring policies to accommodate remote candidates, moving to an asynchronous working rhythm through more written communication, and in the longer term, finding ways to create a culture of belonging and inclusion in a remote-first world.

Going beyond the requirements to support their people

The pandemic has called for adaptation and agility from employers around the world. HR teams everywhere have come out as an essential function to support employees and the business, to ensure health, safety, and business continuity.

And in places where this is possible, welcoming employees back at the office has not been easy and took planning, communication, and a whole lot of empathy. As these examples show us, it’s about remembering your company’s purpose and values, and putting employees first to help them feel safe to be their best on their return to work or in a new remote environment.

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