March 14th, 2020. Due to the worsening health crisis, PayFit’s three founders, Firmin, Ghislain and Florian, together with other members of the senior management team, made a choice we thought we’d never have to make: to close PayFit’s offices and impose mandatory remote work on our 500 employees.
May 24th, 2020. Two months later, the same key decision-makers approached me to take stock and analyse the successes, failures and learnings of what had happened over the intervening period.
In spite of the conditions created by the pandemic, remote work had in fact proven to be, on the whole, a successful experience for PayFit employees both in a professional and personal capacity.
We’ve all been through a lot in the last few months, but we thought that it was important for us to share with you the reasons behind our decisions. During this unprecedented period, we have all been dealing with the uncertainty of the situation and the anxiety that comes with it.
As an HR professional, it has been an exciting time, and as a company operating within the HR sphere, we have always felt it to be extremely important that we do things correctly and represent a correct way of working.
In a previous article released by our CEO, Firmin Zocchetto, he revealed why we decided to make the decisions we made.
In this piece, I would like to explain how we went about implementing our new and innovative “Work From Anywhere” policy.
Before the crisis
Since PayFit was founded in 2016, the founders have all endeavoured to achieve one thing: ensure that the company’s employees were fulfilled.
When I joined PayFit in September of last year, we spent a lot of time discussing PayFit’s mission.
PayFit’s Mission Statement
Make work a source of fulfilment for everyone.
This idea of achieving “fulfilment” in both our personal and professional lives is something that the founders, my people team and I work towards each day.
If we wind back to when I first arrived, the subject of flexibility had not really been touched upon.
Yes, we allowed PayFit employees to work remotely at least once a week — something that is regularly seen in startups or scale-ups — but even this process was not exactly the same across different teams.
So, at the beginning of 2020, we decided to make flexibility and discussions around remote work policy one of our key priorities for the year.
What the crisis taught us
On March the 14th, we took the decision to close all four of our offices — Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and London. This meant switching to a 100% remote working policy for all of our 500 employees.
Our teams maintained contact through various communication channels — e.g. Slack, Google Meets, Zoom — most of which were already in use prior to the pandemic.
We also decided to implement regular “pulse surveys” that were sent every week to all employees. In these surveys we asked whether they felt they were being closely supported by their manager, whether they still felt connected to team members, and if they maintained trust in the company’s strategy and leadership during the crisis.
To much relief, the results were always extremely encouraging.
When I joined last Autumn, I discovered a culture that encouraged autonomy and responsibility from both employees and managers.
Within this culture, HR was, and continues to be, tasked with the mission of combining wellbeing and performance to ensure the fulfilment of employees.
The coronavirus crisis highlighted, beyond measure, the importance of these issues to everyone involved in the company.
The pulse surveys, the company’s performance, and the general good feeling among employees demonstrated that remote work could be a catalyst for positive change.
Our teams, managers and individual employees had shown beyond all doubt that despite the challenges presented, they could remain productive and adept at self-management when working away from the office.
So, as the health situation began to improve across all of our territories, senior management began to question whether returning to the working habits we had prior to the pandemic was the best solution for the company as a whole.
The next challenge centred on devising, planning, implementing and then managing a more flexible way of working.
Creating a new way of working
I was straight away intrigued by the project.
It is rare for a company to sit back and question its way of working and, from a HR professional’s perspective, it was certainly a fascinating project to be involved in.
In my experience, increased flexibility at work has always had a positive impact on both employee motivation and performance.
By empowering managers and employees, companies inevitably encourage them to become more engaged and more involved in the culture, while also making them happier and more fulfilled in their working environment.
The entire senior management team took part in the reflective analysis and the discussions on the future of work.
The first step, which was always going to be instrumental for the whole project, was to precisely define what we meant about work “flexibility”. This meant answering the following questions:
- How can we design tomorrow’s flexibility?
- In which areas can we be more flexible?
- What should the framework and operational model for the project be?
For us, flexibility was not just about the workplace. It encompassed much more than that. We were rethinking work hours, the self-determination of each employee and their personal situations.
So, in our search to better define “flexibility”, we realised that the two key issues facing us were the trust that existed between the employer and employees, and the ability for employees to be individually responsible.
This meant deciding whether we wanted to set rules or, instead, allow freedom for employees’ self-determination .
When we approached the matter from this angle, our instinct was to go all the way and set no rules bar the legal minimum requirements — e.g. the minimum amount of time that an employee can spend outside of the country in which they work.
All decision-makers were in agreement that the key principles of this project had to be consistent with PayFit’s existing culture and values.
This enabled us to define our initial framework and allowed us to tackle and debate each issue which presented itself systematically.
As an HR team, we began to write up our first proposal which would go on to form the basis of our work. The next step required us to write out the operational questions on each possible theme — e.g. productivity, management, onboarding, etc. — that we could imagine, and to create stories or examples illustrating the company’s positioning to help employees understand the project.
It is important to understand that we had little more than two months to work on this project as we were working towards a pre-summer holiday deadline.
We continued to design the project by initially comparing the main principles of our philosophy with different examples, and then through concrete situations and putting ourselves in the shoes of someone holding a management position.
This led to one of the most interesting moments of the analysis as we really had to imagine situations that we had never previously experienced or envisaged. To do this, we involved managers across all departments in discussions to ensure that we covered all possible situations.
Although the exact framework had yet to be fine-tuned, the founders, senior management, and we as an HR department were all in absolute agreement on one particular issue: PayFit offices.
Despite reinventing the way we were going to work, we would not be sacrificing our four PayFit offices. These were important places for our teams. They were places where adventures and careers had begun. And, perhaps most importantly, they were the places where our employees built social links and friendships.
Now seemed the right time to involve employees in discussions.
Initially, we conducted a survey allowing all employees to express how they felt about flexible working, whether they wanted more of it, felt productive doing it and whether they wanted to continue to have a touchpoint at offices.
The results of the survey confirmed our initial thinking.
- 91% said that they felt more fulfilled when working flexibly
- 79% considered themselves to be more productive
- 59% said they would prefer to work in a “remote first” company where remote work was the norm and attending the office was entirely optional.
To gather more operational and concrete data, we conducted workshops with the local HR teams in France, Germany, Spain and the UK, each one with no more than six people. There were almost 40 workshops that took place across all four countries with the feedback received revealing employees’ excitement, expectations, but also concerns about the project.
Through this feedback, we were able to refine our framework, tackle issues that we had perhaps not foreseen, and address the areas where employees had expressed doubt.
From a personal point of view, these workshops delivered exactly what I was looking for.
“With 40% of our employees actively involved in discussions about the future of work at PayFit, we felt that we were at a stage where we could finally define what we meant by “work from anywhere” and where we could begin implementing the project.”
On July the 17th, all employees were invited to attend a global meeting where the official launch of the WFA policy was announced.
The day before, Firmin, PayFit’s CEO, had organised a meeting with all managers to preview the project and reveal that we were becoming a company that embraced flexible learning as its official policy.
- Employees could now work from wherever they wanted; office attendance was no longer mandatory. PayFit would keep all its offices and they would remain a place where employees could choose to work if they wish and a place where employees could meet and socialise.
- Working hours would also become flexible. Employees could now choose their working hours and organise their days so that they worked when they felt themselves to be most productive.
The feedback received was immediately positive, with people immensely enthusiastic about the company’s willingness to adapt and change working procedures.
To anticipate questions that the announcement would inevitably raise, we, as an HR team, prepared a “Playbook” for employees outlining the philosophy and key principles of the WFA policy.
Within the 50-page Playbook was a question and answer section with examples of possible scenarios employees and managers could find themselves in, as well as information about our four Golden Rules.
The Four Golden Rules of PayFit’s WFA Policy
3.Impact & Excellence
The Playbook acted as the users’ bible for the WFA project and we strongly recommended to all employees that they took the time to read through and acquaint themselves with its contents.
The final step in the implementation process was the organisation of meetings by the country managers in France, Germany, Spain and the UK.
The project remains a work in progress and, as we are a little over three months into its implementation, we are continuing to discover new and interesting challenges that it presents.
This is why at the beginning of October, we took the opportunity to once again clarify certain points and recommendations that had been raised since it came into practice. We also chose to open a live question and answer page to allow all members of staff to raise questions or topics that they remained slightly unclear about.
Since its implementation, and following discussions with employees, managers and HR teams, we have identified several key focus points.
Maintaining company culture
Our values and our corporate culture have always acted as our benchmarks. However, until now, much of this was based on the idea of physically meeting and being together as PayFit employees.
For WFA to work successfully we need to have good internal communication structures so that employees have access to information; we can organise team events (when we are allowed to again); off-site visits to other countries (again, when the conditions allow us to); and so that we can effectively manage all our future recruiting and onboarding processes.
Managing new recruits and onboarding
Since our journey began in 2016, we have always tried to do things differently.
A big part of our culture involves our recruitment process and giving existing employees the opportunity to meet potential candidates before they are offered the job. We call this a BBQ Test which involves neither a BBQ nor, in fact, any test at all.
In pre-pandemic times, this meant inviting candidates to our offices to have snacks and drinks with team members. We felt that this relaxed approach gave candidates the chance to meet their new colleagues, provided they were successful, and vice versa.
Obviously, during the pandemic, conducting events like this was impossible. This meant that we had to think of a new and innovative way of maintaining this important part of our culture.
Equally, onboarding is something we have always been extremely proud of at PayFit.
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, we would run monthly onboarding meetings at our Paris office for all our new recruits from all four countries.
Once again, with international travel not a feasible option at the moment, and the potential for so many employees to be working remotely, we had to consider whether or not this was something we could look to maintain moving forward.
Consequently, global and local HR teams are working on plans to ensure that all new recruits are onboarded well and supported as they begin their career with us at PayFit.
Managers’ ability to adapt their management style to this new system of working will be crucial in ensuring the project’s success.
Changing from a management style that is based around managing an employee or several employees in an office, to managing mostly remotely, is entirely dependent on managers being provided with the right tools and support structure.
We know that we have to allocate them responsibility and provide training that will prepare them when dealing with issues like employee self-determination, underperformance and providing suitable objectives and feedback.
We understand that merely promoting employee self-determination will not be enough to ensure that all employees become autonomous and responsible in their line of work.
As with managers, we must use our position as HR professionals to support employees and guide them through this new way of working.
To do this, we will offer more structured training — initially digitally — and, when the situation allows us, provide in-person training to develop both soft and hard skills.
At PayFit, we take things in our stride. Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, we have tried to approach it as an opportunity for change within our organisation.
We see it as a chance to rethink processes, collective rituals and the role of the office, and a way of improving the trust and relationship between managers and employees.
We are aware that we are only at the beginning of this project but we have to be able to approach the challenges that have been presented with the right frame of mind. This means being vigilant about the risks, containing errors and analysing recommendations and suggestions from all parties.
This is an exciting time to be a PayFit employee and certainly a really interesting time to be working within HR.
With the right approach and self-analysis, we firmly believe that even a project as ambitious as this one, can be rolled out and implemented with a view to long-term success.