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Feb 15 2021
Feb 15

Last February, we wrote up a draft for an article about employee experience at our company. We wrote in-depth about all the awesome team activities we have and how we’ve opened several offices across the country to facilitate commuting for all employees and help them have a great work-life balance.

Then just as we were about to publish it, the Covid epidemic hit Europe and lockdowns ensued in March. We thought, ok, we’ll shelve it until April, when this whole thing blows over, and publish it then with a minor nod to the remote working adventure.

Yeah, right! Looking back, it’s almost crazy to see how optimistic we were. Even if the pandemic were over in a matter of months, it would have still left long-lasting and significant consequences to employee experience.

With 2021 promising the beginning of a transition into the so-called “new normal”, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to revisit our article on employee experience. But we’ve come up with a twist: instead of giving a more general overview, we’ll focus on the major changes to EE in 2020 and our key takeaways from all this.

So, this article will take a look at 8 employee experience lessons that we learned from 2020 and that we believe will help us have an even stronger foundation for a post-Covid future. 

To better illustrate the changes and the lesson, we’ll compare each one with how we used to do things pre-2020 to determine what we were doing right already and what we managed to improve now.

1. Flexibility in work schedules

If you already understood the importance of flexibility before Covid, then you’re definitely prioritizing it now, in a period where almost everyone is working from home, many having to balance kids and their being homeschooled, as well as potentially taking care of loved ones with a higher risk from COVID-19.

Flexibility has been a long-time key value at Agiledrop. Of course we’ve stuck to a loose schedule, in order to enable collaboration and facilitate communication with clients, but we’ve always done our best to accommodate both early birds as well as night owls.

We’ve also always been very understanding with regards to employees’ personal obligations that take place during the workday; it’s always possible to take care of certain tasks later in the day to make room for everything.

So, in this regard, not much has changed with Covid: we still keep the same flexible schedules, without rigid demands as to when something should be worked on, as long as we guarantee timely delivery and good communication (even if asynchronous).

2. Work-life balance

A key factor of a good work-life balance is flexibility, which we’ve just discussed. This includes the ability to grant time off to employees when they need it, something which has become even more relevant in a health crisis such as the pandemic. 

With major restrictions to all aspects of our lives, even something as simple as going grocery shopping or having a health checkup now requires much more scheduling and typically also significantly more time.

On the flipside, it’s also important not to overwork oneself - but this can happen much faster when you’re working from home and aren’t allowed to go outside. 

At Agiledrop, we’ve always made it a point of never requiring employees to do overtime without prior arrangement. Furthermore, we’ve always made sure that any overtime which is necessary is adequately compensated.

We believe this has helped cultivate a mindset that makes employees value the work they do, but without making them feel like they should be working around the clock. A good work-life balance has been a key value since the inception of Agiledrop and we believe we’ve managed to tame both extremes during the pandemic.

Home office with Netflix

3. Empathy

Being able to put oneself in someone else’s shoes has always been important to good relationships with people and in the workplace, but 2020 has now really accentuated the importance of empathy.

While some were much more impacted by the lockdown than others, it has had at least somewhat of an impact on every one of us. This made empathy more important, but also easier - with everyone knowing that others are going through the same thing, it was much easier to get through the uncertainty of the first few months.

Indeed, empathy is a key ingredient of the employee experience in times of Covid. It has allowed us to adjust our expectations, with regards to both ourselves and others, and not take everything for granted, but instead appreciate each other even more.

At Agiledrop, we’ve always been proponents of empathy, but last year added an additional dimension to this and now empathy is an integral part of our day-to-day interactions, and a cornerstone of our company culture.

4. Digitally enabled

2020 was really the year of large-scale digital transformation. It suddenly became essential for traditional businesses to have a digital presence, while more digitally mature ones were able to take even greater advantage of the plethora of available digital tools.

Not only was this digitalization a necessity for digital customer experience, it was also a huge boon to the employee experience. Efficient remote working is near impossible without a properly enabled digital workspace, and so even the less technically savvy have been empowered to adopt digital means of communication.

As we were already used to remote collaboration at Agiledrop, the transition to fully remote and digital did not represent a drastic change for us. In fact, we took the opportunity to fully leverage digital to streamline the experience of all our employees.

We’ve really started seeing digital as a means to continuous improvement. With the help of capable front-end technologies, we made significant improvements to our internal dashboard, which now provides employees with easy access to time tracking, skills reviewing, holiday management and many more useful features.

5. Connection & collaboration

One major thing that we and likely countless others have noticed is the power of meaningful connection in times like these, especially with remote work and (potentially severe) Covid restrictions. 

Like many others, we introduced more video communications, in our case in the form of daily online coffee breaks, very early on into the lockdowns last March. Although we’re typically very keen on in-person collaboration, we were able to make a seamless transition into digital channels and keep that same in-office vibe.

But, while virtual team activities were fun, we were really excited about in-person activities when we were able to return to the office for a few months in the summer. Taking all the necessary precautions, we were even able to carry out our annual picnic, which was all the more a blast considering the isolation from months prior.

This has really shown that, even in a distributed future (more on that in a moment), people greatly cherish these team get-togethers, and not even everyone working remotely has been able to diminish our team spirit.

Agiledrop Lj office post-lockdown pizza

6. Distributed work

Another big trend that’s pretty much ubiquitous across the industry is that a return to normal will feature a prevalence of “distributed work”, that is, a combination of remote and on-site work.

To us, this also seems like the most logical outcome. As we just said under the previous point, people really value in-person interactions at the office or at a teambuilding - but, now that it’s been proven how effective remote working really is, there’s no going back to fully on-site work.

We made appropriate changes at Agiledrop. As soon as we were able to return to the offices, we gave every employee the choice of going fully remote (including new hires, once they finish initial onboarding). In addition, we upped the number of our “no questions asked” remote work policy for on-site staff from 2 to 5 days per month.

Both of these actions have been a massive improvement to the employee experience, giving employees more freedom and flexibility, and thus underlining the effectiveness of a distributed approach long before most businesses have even implemented it.

7. Recognition

You probably remember a time when you received meaningful recognition at work - so you probably also remember how good that made you feel and how much more motivated you were afterwards.

If getting recognition is so powerful even with everything going on as usual, just imagine how much more valuable it gets during a disruption, when general anxiety and confusion reign even among the most optimistic individuals.

Giving praise and recognition is an important part of Agiledrop’s company culture; management and leadership achieve a great balance between private and public recognition, with a significant chunk of our monthly meetings dedicated to thanking employees who have outdone themselves in the past month.

We’ve also always encouraged giving recognition among employees, and we took that up a notch in 2020. We introduced a Slack bot for giving praise, called AgileKarma, with small quarterly prizes for the top ranked employees, which strongly promotes helping others.

8. Streamlined onboarding process

A final lesson that we learned, which is perhaps less intuitive, is the importance of a great onboarding experience, in particular when someone joins the team during a crisis and can’t have that initial in-person experience.

While we halted hiring during the months of lockdowns, there were a few potential employees with whom we had been talking prior to the Covid outbreak, and a few joined our team just as the pandemic was in full swing and meeting in-person was impossible.

This meant that we had to do our best to provide them with an experience that was as close to what they would get had it not been for the crisis. Our development managers tried to focus even more on helping newcomers, as much as client projects could allow it, and we plan on finding more development managers in 2021.

In addition, we’ve introduced huge improvements to our onboarding processes, which now include a broader range of technologies, plus more specific tasks for both front-end and back-end developers. And we’re constantly improving everything, adding more technologies and resources to ease onboarding as much as possible.

Conclusion

With all this in mind, the number one employee experience lesson that we learned in 2020 was that we’ve basically been doing things right from the very beginning. None of the improvements which we introduced last year were complete novelties; all had basis in existing processes and/or values.

Of course, we’ll still put everything we learned to good use and keep ensuring a great experience for each employee. We know that even a crisis such as Covid can’t break our team spirit, and we know that we’ll be happy to return to the offices and have more in-person experiences as soon as circumstances allow it.

We hope this article has given you some insight on how you can streamline your employee experience for a post-Covid era. If you happen to be looking for a development partner that truly prioritizes the employee experience, drop us a line and we’ll be happy to help you out.

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