6 Months Later: How We Are Coping With Remote Work

24.09.2020 news

By Inez Schmitz – Insights Manager at UNGA


Like many companies around the globe, UNGA had to adapt to the new normal imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. From the middle of March, we who were all so used to going to the office every workday all of a sudden found ourselves working from home—with all its concomitant challenges and unexpected positive effects.

To find out how everyone was feeling and coping with this new situation, our HR department initiated the Vitality Scan: two online surveys were sent out to all the UNGA employees. The first wave was conducted in April when we were all still getting used to working from home; the second wave was held in July, with some of us already working in the office again, at least parttime.

As the Insights Manager of UNGA, I helped our HR department to ask the right questions and to analyze the results. This was a very insightful journey that other companies or employees might relate to, so we wanted to share it with you.


We like working from home and working in the office, but for different reasons

While some UNGA employees have returned to working part-time in the office, we have grown to like working from home in the past few months. This was obviously challenging in the beginning—especially for parents who had to homeschool their children at the same time—but the longer it lasts, the more most of us seem to like it.

When we work from home, many of us feel like we can focus on our work better since we are not distracted by others’ conversations and other office noise. I fact, a quieter work environment, it was found, helped increase our productivity.

Staying home also saves us a lot of time since we don’t have to travel to work anymore. Moreover, we really like the increased flexibility this situation gives us: it is easier as we can craft our timetable in a way that fits our personal and professional organization, which is not possible always during office hours. This has led to an overall better work/life balance.

On the other hand, working in the office has clear benefits too, and this mostly has to do with the office atmosphere. We like to work, talk, and have fun with each other. Although we have been using great tools to make communication smooth and practical, face-to-face communication still works better.

We do miss the fun Friday afternoon drinks, during which we often celebrate a birthday or another event. The gourmet lunches our great chef prepares for us in the office are also greatly missed at home. All this feels like a distant memory when we prepare our humble cheese sandwiches ourselves.


Going back to the office, step by step

Although we like working from home, we actually feel comfortable about the idea of going back to the office at one point. UNGA has been following the guidelines of the RIVM since the beginning of COVID-19, and precautions—like dividers and floor stickers—have now been installed by our wonderful Office Manager, and there is enough space for us all to keep the 1.5-meter distance.

“During the last couple of months, we’ve made changes around the office to create a safe environment for employees wishing to work at the office,” says Iduna Loing, our Office Manager. “Besides all the typical measures like installing dividing screens, providing disinfecting gels, and setting up a mandatory registration, the most important thing is to make employees aware of their responsibility to one another, and the importance of applying the new hygiene rules.”

We do feel comfortable enough to work in the office again, but our team would appreciate to not go back full-time and all at once, and to choose the days and hours we want to work in the office. Quite a number of people would like to keep working at least part-time from home in the future as well—a mindset evolution that our management team is paying attention to since we’ve already adopted this new way of working for six months.


The UNGA family spirit has remained intact

At UNGA, we pride ourselves in being more like a family than a group of colleagues. And it really does feel that way. So, it is great to see that we have kept this feeling alive even when working from a distance. We still feel like we have enough contact with our manager, we still feel valued, and the feeling that we are part of UNGA has even increased during this situation. Quite an achievement!

A big shout-out to our HR department, who frequently initiated remote events throughout these special times, such as the weekly Townhall meetings, online workouts, webinars, pub quizzes, and many more to keep us all connected, active and entertained albeit from a distance. On top of that, they also personally (!) home-delivered quite a few healthy food boxes, along with tasty recipes, and an entire UNGA-branded summer outfit! All these initiatives are greatly appreciated and have clearly paid off.

“Looking back at the past six months, I can really say ‘wow’, look at what we have achieved all together as an organization!” shares UNGA HR Director Valeria Lindeman. “All the initiatives that we took have been well received by our employees, according to the results of our survey. We have tried to keep the UNGA culture alive while working remotely. We have learned along the way, and this period has taught us to organize some things differently in the future. I’m very satisfied with how we’ve managed all of this.”


We’ve been working a lot but more efficiently

While Covid-19 also impacted some of our planned campaigns and on-going discussions, we have been busy producing some huge campaigns and preparing new pitches, all of which were extra challenging given the circumstances. We have been feeling this increased workload but, at the same time, the situation also enabled us to increase our productivity as well—by a lot. In other words, we have been getting things done, and we can all be very proud of the results!

As an example, our Head of Production Management Monique Melissant went to South Africa earlier this year to manage the local production of our Little Garden campaign. Unfortunately, due to the situation, she had to come back and handle everything from Amsterdam. “Being home instead of in the country of the production makes it much more difficult to control. You can’t create solutions together, receive, or review samples. And that was the most challenging part! So, we spent hours on the phone, we had daily calls and updates. And very importantly, the supportive and positive attitude from everybody made it possible to manage it from home.”


While we at UNGA are thrilled to notice this increased productivity, it is actually a well-known fact that productivity goes up when employees work from home. According to research, this increase ranges between 13% and 16%, on average. (Source: Development Economics).

Most of us are feeling good while working from home

When we started working from home, some of us—especially the homeschooling parents—were struggling a bit. However, we have managed to adapt, and we now assess that our well-being has increased over time. Our energy levels have gone up a lot—especially at the end of the day—and now we are able to not think of work when the workday is over. We are also experiencing less Corona-related stress on a personal level than we did at the beginning of the crisis.

We are also being more physically active than we were at the beginning of the lockdown. In the beginning, most of us reported having 2 active days per week. But now a lot of us are reporting 3 or 4 active days per week—a big improvement very likely to have been stimulated by the Scooch app that was introduced within our company in May.

The app tracks your physical activity, and you can compete with other colleagues at the same time. As UNGA HR Coordinator Gloria van Vonderen explains: “We are motivating our employees to keep on moving while mostly working from home. Spending our days sitting behind a desk and not being able to go to the gym was difficult. Many of us are not comfortable going back yet. So, UNGA using Scooch has really helped people stay fit, and exercising outside is good for mental health as well. I believe this is extremely important in these insecure times.”

As an additional trigger, we moved for Right To Play, the non-profit organization that we are a proud partner of. This means that we did not only run, cycle, or exercise for our own benefit, but we also helped out children around the world by doing so: a clear win-win situation we all feel really excited about.

“Connecting our physical activity to Right To Play, our chosen charity, made it possible for us all to have a bigger impact in the world. Right To Play operating mostly in developing countries, it is not easy for our colleagues to be involved. But with Scooch, we’ve been able to explain and load all the Right To Play stories so much better. Now our employees are even more committed to supporting Right To Play,” says Gloria.


Our feeling of loneliness has increased while missing the office vibes

The only negative thing that has been growing stronger over the past few months is the number of colleagues who experience loneliness. Particularly, those among us who do not have a partner or children have been really missing the fun office vibes before the crisis. The longer this situation lasts, the more this feeling is likely to remain and strengthen. We should all be aware of that, and we hence need to try and make the situation better by reaching out to our colleagues and organizing more fun events—when possible, even in person.

Of course, we are all hoping to see each other in office real soon, but it is great to see that we have been coping with this challenging situation and that we managed to make it work. A real successful team effort!


How about you? We’d love to hear from you and learn more about your own experience. Feel free to connect with UNGA on LinkedIn and share your thoughts.

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