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Learning how to Support and Motivate Remotely

Zsuzsanna Tóth, HR director at Vodafone Hungary, talks the Budapest Business Journal through some of the challenges of running a large organization and looking after staff and customers in these very changed circumstances.

Zsuzsanna Tóth, HR director at Vodafone Hungary.

BBJ: How has the HR function at Vodafone changed since the onset of the coronavirus crisis?

Zsuzsanna Tóth: It has changed a lot. Being between the same four walls can become depressing over time, and most workers have been working from home for a month and a half. We are constantly monitoring the mood of our employees with regular questionnaires, and try to help them in every way.

We have launched our new internal initiative called “Well at Home” to support our colleagues to cope with this unprecedented situation. It’s part of our “Re-Charge” program and aims to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of our employees at home during the COVID-19 epidemic.

It includes several activations around four pillars (“Eat”, “Move”, “Relax” and “Help”) with articles; vlogs; wellbeing pulse surveys; remote working tricks and tips, etc. In addition, we offer psychological, business and life coaching support and an online medical consultancy, should our people need further help.

For example, the program, provides nutritional recommendations to our employees, tailored to the specificities of the current situation. After all, in this situation, the availability of raw materials is limited, and in some respects the possibility of moving around is also restricted; yet, it is very important to eat healthily, and support our immune system.

Regular exercise is also important, and we try to encourage colleagues with some home exercise plans. The company’s online yoga classes also continue.

We are striving to transfer as many of our previous activities to online platforms as possible. This will help us have some continuity in this time of extreme uncertainty, which gives us a sense of security.

The current situation makes it virtually impossible to live an active social life in the same way as before, so we also launched initiatives that support mental relaxation and help us release the stress we accumulate during the day.

In our online “café”, colleagues can meet virtually, where the focus is on community building and human relationships, instead of work. In addition, our employees can also participate in online games and quizzes.

The idea is to help colleagues overcome the work-related or personal challenges brought about by the new situation, whether they have to do with work organization, collaboration with colleagues or any other challenge.

BBJ: What are you finding to be the biggest challenges in managing large numbers of people working from home?

ZsT: The current situation is new to everyone and, regardless of position, it poses challenges to colleagues. Managers need to rise to a situation that’s also completely new for them. As managers, employees and ordinary people, we all face a lot of uncertainty day-by-day, so we need extra attention and empathy, not only at team level but also at company level.

We had to make sure that all of our colleagues are safe, so on March 13 we sent all employees in our Budapest HQ home to work remotely in the upcoming weeks. To support remote working, we extended the VBS (Virtualization-based security) capacity to make sure everyone could reach internal servers, and created useful materials on how to manage teams and work efficiently in such a situation.

We also implemented extra measures to preserve the health of our colleagues who work in retail and in our call centers such as a daily thorough cleaning, providing masks, gloves and hand sanitizers, home working for some CC colleagues, etc. Our team has organized all this in a few days, even though it was one of the greatest challenges in our professional life.

BBJ: What are the workforce implications of the changed circumstances?

ZsT: Unfortunately in many sectors people have lost their jobs due to the virus, especially in areas where there was no option to move to an online space. These workers are now looking for work, including some with serious work experience. From HR’s perspective, this means that there is now a much greater opportunity to strengthen the company with skilled colleagues than before the crisis broke out.

BBJ: Are you still recruiting? If so, how are you managing the interview and onboarding processes?

ZsT: The number of Vodafone employees is expanding year by year, accordingly, the search for new employees is still underway, with nearly 70 open positions available. To slow the spread of the virus, Vodafone has introduced a number of measures that affect the daily work of current and prospective employees. New employees are also selected according to a new procedure on online platforms, so there is no personal contact during pre-screening, interviewing or admission.

BBJ: Are you already beginning to plan for how HR will operate once the "stay at home" restrictions are lifted, or is it too early for that?

ZsT: We are monitoring government actions, and if the circumstances are right and it will be possible to work together safely beyond any doubt, we will consider moving back to the office. The current situation has taught us many things about our colleagues and our organization, and we are searching for new ways to build on these lessons. Our employees could already work from home before the virus, and I think we can go forward in this way and strengthen the remote working culture across our organization in the future.