How to motivate a remote workforce: from Zoom to virtual care packages

In an interview with Information Age, Ellen Petry Leanse, chief people officer at Lucidworks, discusses how utilising video conferencing platform Zoom, structuring workdays and allowing employees to relax, can create a thriving remote workforce. 

Q: Times are crazy. How has the situation changed your priorities?

A: Yes, let’s actually take a moment to acknowledge that. What a time we’re all living in. The situation around us is changing day by day, leaving many of us feeling uncertain and off-balance. This is bigger than any one business.

Now more than ever, with companies going remote with no real infrastructure in place, employees everywhere are nervous about changes that may come. We’ve really made it a priority to maintain our work culture through this situation. 

Our internal priorities haven’t changed. What has changed is perhaps how we get our goals done now. We have to think about how we can help those uncomfortable with remote work adjust to this new context. We’ve always prioritized the physical and emotional wellbeing of our teammates, now we have to figure out how to continue making sure our employees are thriving in their individual settings. 

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Q: What are some steps you took to help workers transition into remote roles?

A: The Lucidworks People Team is preparing a “Virtual Care Package” containing resources for keeping balance and perspective at this time – maybe even finding a bit of silver lining as we all “reset” to these circumstances. It includes a list of tips for WFH, online resources for emotional support, live stream fitness and dance class schedules, family fun activities, and more. We hope to open this to the public soon and continue to update it regularly. 

Q: How do you address new concerns about available health care benefits?

A: We’re offering “Virtual Roundtables” on Zoom to review company benefits, with a focus on offerings – including telemedicine and mental health support – that may be available. We’re also using this forum to help people understand sick and disability options available to them so they use their leave options appropriately. 

Q: Do you worry about employees losing access to each other?

A: We’re trying to work around the distance. We’re hosting loosely structured drop-in “hangouts” to connect employees over video, maybe have those ‘water cooler’ chats that we’ve been missing. We’re also scheduling an “opposite hours” hangout for global team members who are on a 12+ hour time difference from HQ. In this session, we’ll assess how those team members want to continue any gatherings going forward. 

(Those drop-in sessions, by the way, aren’t all that new at Lucidworks. Some of our teams are distributed across various regions and time zones. We’ve already found that these folks enjoy coming together on Zoom for co-working sessions: simple drop-in times where they can all sign into the same “virtual cafe,” so to speak, wave hello, and drop into working together. So simple – yet surprisingly unifying.)

Q: What problems are you anticipating?

A: We expect there to be hiccups, we’re trying to plan ahead. We’re harnessing the expertise of knowledgeable people across the company to relaunch our “LucidTalks” initiative in a virtual format. We have weekly insight-sharing by subject matter ninjas from across the company: short talks followed by discussion and Q&A. Topics will include things relevant to our business – reviews of training and educational materials about our product, new demos, deep dives into AI, machine learning, search, and our product – as well as the occasional “general interest” topic. I’m looking forward to sharing a neuroscience-based talk about stress management and recruiting our retail lead to share one of his jaw-drop fascinating explorations of digital commerce. 

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Q: Is this harder or easier to work with a distributed team, some of whom are used to being remote?

A: Change is always a challenge, especially when many things around us are in flux. However, change is the only constant. Especially now, we’d all better get good at agility and adaptation. When I think of change, I see two aspects: the “what” and the “how.” The “what” is the obvious stuff: staying at home, virtualising meetings, missing the usual serendipity of in-person conversations and what inevitably rises from them. We want to continue to focus on the “how.”

We’re, also, encouraging employees to network with friends and former colleagues with similar job titles to exchange ideas about how they’re approaching the situation and dealing with this unanticipated change. 

Q: Anything else that you have found works?

A: Yes, a little bit of humor goes a long way. Our in-house Creative Director shared Zoom background screens branded with our color and logo, ensuring that our video calls look more professional than, say, the classic “cat walking across the sofa” would. That said, I loved seeing my teammate Bill virtualise a swirling Aurora Borealis as his background on my team’s weekly all-hands (easily added in Zoom). Humour, it turns out, helps boost the immune system – so we welcome any opportunity to laugh and let the stress levels dissipate. Great to know it’s possible even across the airwaves.