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Driving Employee Agency and Control in COVID Times

by Erica Golden, November 30, 2021
Driving Employee Agency and Control in COVID Times

I have become the person on video calls that moves too much.

Supported by glittering Zoom and BlueJeans alternative backgrounds of beaches and silver-streaked condos, my shoulders are moving in my thumbnail square more than the 5, 25, or 725 employees that can see me on any given video call–thanks to a treadmill desk purchase made early in quarantine. 

Back in the early days of optimism and toilet paper hoarding, I maximized one of our company benefits by submitting a receipt for this treadmill desk into our wellness portal (Thrivepass), where we give a monthly stipend for our employees to use on wellness items and events that best serve their needs. The cost of this fancy treadmill desk was notably over the amount of the monthly stipend (so much so that it seemed ridiculous to submit), but I knew I could enter it and allow the stipend to chip away at the total over time. I now mark “COVID time” by when the treadmill desk was fully reimbursed, which was months ago. 

We have been doing this quarantine mode for quite a while now (a treadmill desk amount of time, if you will), yet the questions keep coming for Amobee’s HR team. 

Whether they are specific or general; whether they test our overall company philosophy or are about individual employee needs; whether they are emotional or technical in nature–they all matter, and they are all important. 

As a leader of the human resources team, the challenge in answering these questions is that answering any one of them may lead to an interpretation that does not work for a particular employee.

As a result, we are driving employee satisfaction through choice.

Choice as a Philosophy

Amobee has always focused on allowing employees to make informed choices based on options that our leaders make available to them.  We strive to provide as many options as possible that optimize efficiency, connection, and well-being. 

For example, Amobee is recommending that (starting in January) employees come back into the office two days a week, but any remote working accommodation that is not already approved can be submitted. It goes without saying that while we want to know who works where and when, we also want employees to feel confident and safe with their work arrangements. 

In preparing for the choices being made around our back-to-work efforts, we have been mindful to showcase specific local mandates for each of our offices (e.g., what capacity is allowed, what vaccination protocols exist, what local mask-wearing recommendations are, how to make reservations to come into the office, how to submit health screenings).  For those who travel between offices both here and abroad, we make sure to share what has changed in a particular city since they visited an office. 

Above all else, when I say that Amobee wants our people to make informed choices, I am doing so with a desire of making our entire organization feel as close and connected with one another as possible, and that we permit ourselves to customize what each of us requires to be successful.  We want our team to know that their leaders can ask What do you need? and know that we will listen sincerely and intently for an answer.

Choices about Connection

This idea of intent is important to me as a human resources professional.  The pandemic forced so many of us to isolate our work lives, and it’s important to me that we look at new and different ways to bridge, foster, and create the employee-driven connections that make Amobee so special.

Over the last few months, our employees have been coming together in small groups; we have introduced a new CEO to our organization and signed some big deals. Overall, we have found the connection to be a positive adrenaline shot to the chest. 

Initially, staring at the 3D and “masked” versions of each other would take up our first few moments together; then, we would move into happy conversation and good idea-sharing. The connection is delightful and strange. In our organization, we want to embrace these bursts and moments of connection so we then have time to focus on what needs to be done without distractions (check out how author Cal Newport defines this as “Deep Work”). To do that, we asked our employees if they’d like to participate in these face-to-face events. For those who decline the invite, we don’t question it but keep the invitation open if they care to join in the future. We then continue to move the work forward.

Over the next several months, one of the duties of HR will be to monitor engagement and ensure that those who accept invitations are not unfairly advantaged in their career trajectory simply because of their presence at these events. Steady development conversations, a public promotion cycle, and defined career experiences are some of the actions that will help accountability through our changing work landscape, while we also benefit in total by the excitement of live connection and celebration.

Choices and Influence

In COVID management, we have seen a heady wave of calls and actions come out of Silicon Valley, as everyone is looking around to normalize “the new normal” through groupthink. 

What is Amazon doing? 

What has Salesforce decided? 

Working at Apple for 13 years of my career, I understand some of the hot spotlights of pressure people-decisions have in those big box organizations. (A running line used while I was at Apple was: “If you don’t want negative coverage in the New York Times, you should reconsider that decision.”

In smaller organizations, our decisions can be crafted more easily to individual, department-specific, or regional needs. We gather the information through survey work and anecdotal feedback. We gather it by asking for moments of reflection. Last year, we introduced No Meeting Week. Where some organizations have days of the week that are light or no-meeting days, we wanted more of a behavioral exercise, where we were giving the whole organization time to examine and then say what their needs were. Do you need more meetings with certain employees because they are purposeful? Book them. Do you want to pull a long-standing meeting off of your calendar because it is no longer as effective? Pull it– and then review what workflow or conversation would be more useful. 

Our influence comes from each other and has the luxury of being independent of the big box companies. Uncommon decisions and personalization is our way of driving ideal welfare in this wild time.

Ultimately, safety is our top priority. I said this before COVID times, but I think that our employees believe it now–the easiest way to keep Amobee’s employees safe is to set clear standards and then to give the team a choice. 

In our organization, we call our Future of Work project “Amobee Forward” because, as the expression goes, the only way forward is through. 

The Great Resignation is real. Talent wants unique and customized choices. Part of my solution:

  • Steady Nando’s food delivery
  • Reading half a dozen leadership books at any given time
  • My treadmill desk

As we move forward in this new world of work at Amobee, we want to encourage our employees to find what works best for them.

What has worked for you?  I encourage you to share some ideas below–and to share them with the HR team and me.