Marina Alekseeva, Chief Human Resources Officer at Kaspersky, shares how the organisation adapted to remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic, from getting tech-ready to the kind of support leaders needed to provide employees.

The coronavirus pandemic is changing every aspect of our lives. We are having to adapt to the new norms of self-isolation, remote working, and staying as productive as we were before the pandemic began. However, it is important to understand that the situation we’re all in is far from normal – it is a crisis situation and we have to adapt quickly and make decisions that will significantly influence our lives and businesses.

Implementing remote working is one of the most challenging processes that organisations face today, from both a technical and human standpoint. But with the right strategy in place, the process can be made less painful and more effective. At Kaspersky we are used to working semi-remotely, as we have more than 4,000 employees that work in over 30 different countries, across various time zones. However, due to the current situation, many staff have moved to working remotely all at once, which has posed some challenges. We have been working hard over the past month on some key measures aimed at helping our employees work effectively and comfortably at home. We want to share our best practice guidance on moving a large team to work remotely, in the most beneficial way for employees and the entire business.

Getting tech-ready

With every company moving its employees to remote working as fast as possible, it might feel like we are all participating in some kind of global experiment to test how well prepared we are for such a situation. If it really was an experiment, no one would have ever agreed, but as this is not a test we have to adapt fast. For some companies, like IT ones, the process might be easier, but despite this, we are all facing some form of technical issues that have only come to light due to the magnitude and mass nature of the challenge. For example, does everyone has a laptop? Are all security settings for remote work in place on these laptops? Do we need to change our information security policies to enable everyone to work efficiently from home? Another important thing to consider is the adaptation of employees to remote working, with some people needing additional help and support in using some apps to carry out their roles and communicate with others.

No matter what your specific challenges are, to make everything work and ensure a smooth and comfortable transition, a united team and approach is needed. During the pandemic outbreak, Kaspersky’s IT team has worked tirelessly to ensure that the infrastructure is ready and robust, while our HR department has been working hand-in-hand with IT colleagues, providing guidance for all employees, conducting webinars on how to use Microsoft Teams and creating HR and IT online communication channels so that everyone can easily ask and get questions resolved. But that’s not all. Along with providing technical support to company employees, psychological support is vital during the crisis.

Leading teams during a crisis

Working from home can present a big change in the working day, as many people are not alone but with their whole family. In addition to doing their job they have to take care of their kids, parents or other elderly relatives. Moreover, our experience at Kaspersky shows that the majority of employees don’t have a proper work area organised in the home to be able to concentrate. All of this demands more resources from people as they rearrange and get used to their new daily routine.

In these circumstances, psychological and emotional stress is the biggest challenge for people, especially the company’s management team. In addition to the stress of re-organising our lives, we’re constantly bombarded with information about COVID-19 but no one can say when everything will get back to normal. This makes people even more worried about their families, jobs and financial stability, which in turn can lead to burnout and depression.

We help our employees manage information overload and the feeling of being overwhelmed at this uncertain time. Information from trusted sources is hugely valuable so to ensure that our employees can make sense of the sheer amount of media articles and different kinds of information about COVID-19, we keep them informed of the facts and current situation by organising podcasts with doctors and useful webinars on how to stay safe and healthy at home.

This situation demands more flexibility from the company’s leadership team, as it needs to provide the right support for people, to help them combat their fears and mobilise them for action. Emotional intelligence is becoming a key skill in managing organisations and teams in the face of remote working, and the success of companies will depend on the quality of communication with employees.

At Kaspersky, we have launched a series of ‘Ask Me Anything’ sessions with the company’s top management so that they can talk to employees about how we will continue working in the new circumstances; what our priorities are since we all moved to online communications; and how to keep supporting our clients all over the world, who expect the quality of our products and services to remain unchanged. We have always had open communication with our top managers but at times like this it is even more valuable for employees, as they will always seek cues from their managers on how to react to crisis situations.

As well as senior management support, we work with team leaders across the company to guide them on how to support their teams and organise work. Indeed, working in teams is one of the key principles of our company and it is critical for us to stay connected and productive no matter what. For some team leaders, the fact that they cannot see their team and are trying to control it remotely can become a serious issue. In this situation, our main recommendation is to communicate more with your team and put trust in your people. We all need to go through a transition period and the ability to support and motivate a team, united in their efforts to reach a common goal will be a defining point for leaders today.

However, we also recognise that different teams need different levels of support: our R&D, antimalware research, global research and analysis teams, for example, are used to communicating online, so today we mostly support them from a practical point of view, helping them to better organise their workspace at home. We are also seeing a different dynamic in teams including sales, marketing, communications and even HR, because people working in these departments are used to meeting people and building key relationships as part of their role, so face to face communication is crucial. We understand that the adaptation process for them can be more difficult, and in order to specifically support this group of employees, we’re organising webinars on how to stay productive and efficient, and how to keep the team atmosphere and culture thriving via various online communications channels.

Of course, we’re encouraging everyone to be physically active as well, as it is scientifically proven to lower stress levels and help people concentrate better. To do this, we’re organising online fitness classes and launching some fitness challenges.

The future of work

Although there have been many discussions about remote working in the industry over recent years, the percentage of people working from home is still low. For example, in the US only 5.2% of employees work completely remotely today. However, after the coronavirus pandemic is over we will see a big change in peoples’ mindset regarding working from home – they will understand that it can be as effective as working from the office and brings more benefits in terms of work-life balance. As a result, companies all over the world will have to adjust their policies to include flexible work arrangements as a key benefit to help them stay competitive within the market. It’s important to note that we won’t see a total shift towards remote working as it will still be important for people to come into the office and meet with other team members and clients.

The current situation should also positively change the dynamics in teams, as employees will be trusted more on how they organise their working day. There will also be a change in how managers set tasks and control their staff, as the focus shifts to more human communication and addressing an employee’s needs, which brings us back to the critical importance of supporting emotional needs during this time of crisis and beyond.

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