Austrian style incentiveReading Time: 5 minute
The human resources people were some of the most active in the pandemic period, they had to rapidly figure out the work from home procedures, to remotely motivate the demotivated and stressed teams, but to keep the focus on the concerns of the safety and health of the employees. Daniela Berger, HR Manager at Maresi Austria, talked about how she managed to motivate her team and to strengthen the employer brand in the last year.
In terms of human resources, how were the last 11 months for Maresi Austria?
They were at least challenging, but also satisfactory, because the pandemic brought us to the HR roots, which imply helping people to work. It forced us to make a series of adaptations to the administrative processes, to be flexible and creative. It also showed us how many things a team can accomplish and made us appreciate the little things. At the beginning, there was a lot of uncertainty and there were many rumours. Our biggest concern has been our colleagues’ safety and health. So, we had to make sure that we keep the operations on under full safety conditions, which, in fact, meant the overnight implementation of the remote work procedures. Fortunately, this was a practice used in the company also in the last years and we only made sure that the entire IT infrastructure is operational. It helped a lot. Nevertheless, our employees and the IT team worked together, they found creative solutions and worked out the operations in a blink of an eye. If I look back, I get nervous each time because this entire difficult period showed us the real potential of the “Maresi people”.
Which were the main challenges of the period, as a human resources director?
Hard to say. If I look back, the biggest challenge was to keep a balance between the employees’ happiness and health, while all the operations were at full speed. Sometimes, the safety measures we took for the team to be safe were stricter than those imposed by the government. For example, the employees had to wear the mask also outside the office. Moreover, we split in two teams, so that, in case of an infection we could continue to operate. Such measures were not always received with enthusiasm, but they were necessary. Then, as the crisis turned into the “new normal”, the physical distance worn us slowly and even more. If, at the beginning, the online meetings made us more and more efficient, after a while, we missed the informal contact, the discussions and the jokes near the espressor. And it was just a matter of comfort for our employees, but also critical for the business, because these informal interactions allowed the company to go forward, sometimes going over the administrative bureaucratic processes. So, in the second half of the year, we had to find out ways by which we can be closer one to another, even if we work remotely.
How did you manage to motivate your employees?
At the beginning of the pandemic, the employees were very motivated due to the fact that we have mobilized extremely quickly, and we can continue the work and the interactions with the clients from the safety and comfort of their own homes. As time passed, it became clear that the pandemic will not go away so quickly. Then we rethought a leadership programme, by which we ensure that the team is appropriately equipped in order to deal with the “new normal”. We built the programme around the new leadership directions, around trust and around the objectives. We introduced informal contact moments, for example, online cooking sessions each Friday afternoon, led by a very skilled colleague. We made sure that during the daily discussions between the teams we had enough time for the informal conversations as well. We organized all kinds of challenges – for example the coolest work from home clothes – so that we keep being connected even remotely. We made a series of plans in advance for the post-pandemic period, so that we all have a perspective. We started to plan a party AfterCoronaParty and we rethought the Christmas party. Together with the partner company Consentiv we provided psychological support to the employees. And, most important, we tried to keep under control the entire uncertainty by giving clear instructions, by keeping the focus on the safety of the “Maresi people” and by trying to make life as simple as possible.
Which are the most important leadership lessons you learned during the pandemic?
It feeds people’s optimism. Optimism brings opportunities, not threats. People are biologically built for it. Optimism releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter which deblocks the neuronal network and inspires the creative thinking. From our experience, repeatedly, feeding the optimism was essential in order to adopt the innovation and the creativity. In the last months, the leaders discovered that optimism built on actions that help people directly in the periods of crisis generates a common sense of the objective deblocking the ingenuity.
The empowerment of teams.
The era of leadership based on hierarchy is gone. It is high time to face reality, to let experts do their job and give more autonomy making sure, at the same time, that the innovation is happening. This empowerment was crucial for the quick reactions to the current crisis and we cannot afford the luxury to come back to the old practices, when the pressure is down. During a crisis, we discover new better methods to lead. The leaders must recognize the success they had when they gave the employees more autonomy and to build a model based on trust that will last during more conventional times.
They support the agility in the organization.
We transformed the companies over night and made them operate in an extremely short period, that would normally last for months, if not years. As the crisis progressed, we laid the bases of the adaptable cultures and behaviours that were desirable a few months ago, but which today are fundamental for the organizational agility we shall also need in the future.
How do you think we will work in the future and how do you prepare for these changes as a HR person?
Firstly, remote working will be in for the long run. After the pandemic period, there are no more arguments, not even from the most old-fashioned managers that working remotely is not possible. What we must do is to find a balance between remote work and office work, that is centred on the special needs of the employees and the individual requirements of each company. That being said, we shall have to change the focus of the leaders and prepare the managers for the new work method. The presence can no longer be a performance indicator. Secondly, with all these new work ways, we have to make sure that the innovation is still possible. We focused so much on the efficiency of the operations in the past, that today we need to change our focus, to foster the collaboration for innovation and to find the appropriate tools in order to do this, but at the same time, to work to our own mindset. In conclusion, from my HR perspective, the employer branding was reduced to the main values by the current crisis. All the films and the coloured papers were being put to test and only those genuine valuable will resist and will win “the talent war” in the long run.
Translation Supported by AB Traduceri