The pandemic changed how we work overnight for many people. One organisation that one might expect to have nailed the process is Unit4, the vendor of people-centred solutions. Enterprise Times Spoke to Lisa Dodman, Chief People Officer at Unit4 about how the company rose to the challenge and how it is helping customers.
COVID-19 caused significant disruption and forced a change in many organisations from an HR point of view. What were the initial challenges as you came into this?
“For us, the initial challenge was closing offices, which brought lots of different challenges. You had the feasibility of working at home. Did we have the robustness of the technology to enable our entire workforce to work at home? Were we going to have a productivity impact? Then we had the whole physical and mental well being of our team. They were the main initial things.
How big was the technology readiness challenge?
“We are a fairly remote organisation anyway. We can deploy our software remotely, but when you’ve suddenly got 2700 employees, you have to go through this checking of absolutely everything. Do they have the setup at home to be able to work? Teams is our default system of use, but we also use all of our technology. We use Unit4 FP&A, our BI tool. We use Intuo, which is our engagement tool. Could they stand the test of everybody being home? That was a really important challenge for us initially.”
The health and safety of employees is an HR responsibility. It includes Display Screen Equipment (DSE) regulations. How did you ensure that everyone had an appropriate working environment?
“The DSE challenge varies according to country. We had to give people ergonomically tested chairs from the offices. We were also giving people screens. If you take R&D as an example, just using their laptop is not an adoption, they needed screens to work. It happened so quickly in some of the countries that we had people in and some of our countries where they just couldn’t be productive at home. We had to find a way of enabling them to have access to offices on a very limited basis. That was largely in countries like Poland and Spain. In the larger countries, it was a case of just giving them the kit that they would need quickly. Like many companies, we also had people who didn’t even have laptops. We were shipping laptops out to facilities people who were office-based.
“We then had people whose workload had declined. Lots of companies have moved to furlough, which again, doesn’t apply in all the countries. We moved to a redeployment service. We implemented an internal recruitment agency where we were redeploying people whose workload had reduced. They were moved to functions which were absolutely going crazy. For example, we moved Recruitment, which had reduced into business development, because they have the skills to be able to do that.”
You’re also leveraging Intuo your employee engagement platform, how has that helped?
“The Intuo platform has two different elements to it. It has performance management which we use, and it then has engagement, where we do praise and feedback. It’s a constant pulsing. If you imagine your traditional survey once a year, what we’ve been able to do is push out weekly questions to our employee base. We then use the leadership scoreboard, so we were fully visible to all of our leadership. If there was engagement falling in certain areas, we put quite a lot of focus around why is it falling? A crisis can bring out the best in people, but it also can highlight vulnerability. Having a pulse approach to engagement enables you to have a real-time snapshot of what’s going on.”
Why engagement makes a difference
“If you use pulsing, you’ll get real-time answers, good and bad. From a positive perspective, you get to see things that are working. We have managers who are doing weekly or daily catch-ups with their teams. Some of these teams are huge organisations. You can see that in the pulse because you can see the regularity. Where people are not having enough contact with their managers, it enabled us to deal with any challenges. With people working remotely for extended periods, you’ve got people who cope very well in those situations, and then you’ve got people who just don’t. Some of the things that affect their productivity could be trying to be a parent, teacher, employee, all at the same time. You can certainly see the pressure through the pulse checks. You also have employees who are living on their own. They’re almost desperate to have that constant engagement.
“The good thing for us is it enabled us very, very quickly to deal with touchpoint situations that were problem areas where we needed to engage and support the employee as quickly as possible. On the flip side, it also gave us a picture of where the engagement with the business is working well so we can leverage that.”
Unit4 used Intuo before the pandemic struck, has engagement increased?
“Yes, we’ve seen an increase in the use of the pulsing in a very positive way.”
On employee happiness
Martin Seligman defined happiness as having three pillars, through emotions for a good life, through connection with internal or external activity, the engaged life and personal meaning for the Meaningful Life.  Enterprise Times asked Dodman what Unit4 has done to support organisational happiness.
“We very quickly recognised that focusing on our people wasn’t just about saying, ‘you’re all working from home, we’ve made sure you’ve got the technology now get on with it’. We put in place a ‘Fit4U’ programme. There are also weekly activities that are automatically put into people’s diaries around meditation, coffee breaks, and exercise. Mike (Ettling, CEO at Unit4) has actually led some of those.
“There is also a focus on our employees children. We’ve recognised that to keep a happy and effective workforce in times of COVID, when they’ve got their children around, we had to provide activities to keep the kids occupied. We also put in place a steps challenge app. We have hundreds of employees doing a steps challenge to keep them fit, healthy and focused. Another things was ensuring that our employee assistance programme is rolled out effectively globally, because you have this piece around vulnerability, you have this piece around happiness and challenges that may not necessarily be obvious.
“Then we’ve done some practical things. We distributed plants to all of our employees worldwide as a recognition that these plants are resilient and our employees are too. We also made sure we had a toolkit in place for managers. Practical things that they need to focus on for the well being of their employees. We made sure there was a people portal in place for employees to access information. Guest speakers talked to our managers around leadership, because at times of crisis, strong leadership is really, really key. We’ve had a number of different things that have helped us on this journey of focus around the happiness of our employees and Intuo has really helped us on that journey.”
What about the Meaningful life?
That addressed two of the pillars. Enterprise Times asked Dodman what it was doing around the meaningful life and how it ensured employees were engaged. As Dodman explains, this is an area that the company has focused on from before COVID-19.
“Work being meaningful is a really important part of our journey of change. I mentioned that Intuo is performance management, as well. What we’ve been doing over the last year is making sure that from the top down, all of the objectives are very visible and are aligned to your work. In times of crisis that becomes really, really important. That there is a point to the role that you occupy.
“When I spoke about redeployment, one of the things that was really important when we saw work reducing for some people, is that we didn’t just farm them out to any old function. We wanted to make sure that there was relevance and benefit for the employee. We’ve done quite a lot of focus activity for those employees that have been redeployed around what skills have they gained. What can they take back into the role that they were doing previously, their normal role? Also, how they add value moving forward? So it has to be meaningful, constantly.”
Unit4 is also offering Intuo out to customers. What is being offered?
“There are two things we’ve done. Firstly, we’ve offered Intuo for six months to our customer base. We saw the benefit, but we also wanted to make sure that the benefit we gained was possible for our customers as well. The second thing we’ve done is a remote crisis support solution. An organisation can ask very specific questions around COVID, for example, about remote working. We’ve offered that as a forever option. “
Enterprise Times: What does this mean
Unit4 talks about offering a people experience to its customers. Talking with Dodman, it became clear that it began that people experience internally. For organisations that are still struggling with remote working, or possibly anticipating the return of furloughed employees, there are some lessons. Clearly Unit4 has found its engagement tool Intuo useful during the process. More important is the fact that it is engaging with its employees to give them a better employee experience both during and after the crisis.
Life has changed; the idea of commuting two hours between workplace and home every day seems archaic. Especially when an employee is more productive and happier in avoiding that commute, let alone the current health risks associated with it. While the new working environment is still being established, understanding what companies can and should do now is essential. For Unit4, to date, it has made no redundancies and as a result morale in the organisation is likely to be high.
 Seligman, M.E., 2004. Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. Simon and Schuster.