These are strange times we live in.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a new reality for all of us, with businesses reeling most from the impact and introducing significant changes. Many workforces across the world have turned to remote working, as travel restrictions and work-from-home directives are now widespread and mandated.
Airwallex’s China office was the first to be affected by COVID-19. Having witnessed the impact first hand, my co-founders and I strongly believe that social distancing is the best way to curb the spread of the virus. In China, implementing work-from-home policies was a crucial step in adhering to social distancing recommendations.
At the same time, we still need to ensure that as a business, we are operating effectively despite the shift to remote working. Through some experimentation, we found that three key ways of remote working worked really well for us, which we have rolled out more broadly globally in the last few days to our other offices including Australia, UK and US.
1. Simulate a virtual office environment through digital collaboration tools
One of the biggest downsides of remote working is the isolation – the loss of the usual office chatter and camaraderie with colleagues can have a profound impact on morale. However, self-isolation does not have to be a lonely experience. The breadth of online collaboration tools has given us ways to help replicate the experience of being with each other in the office. During our self-quarantine, we relied heavily on Slack and Zoom for instant messaging and video conference capabilities.
To simulate a typical office environment, we created all-day Zoom Rooms within team squads – for example, with our China marketing team – that allowed us to be connected to our closest teammates. It almost felt like we were in the same office by being able to ‘pop in’ to the session anytime to say hi or ask a question.
We also encouraged our teams to have their cameras on during Zoom meetings. We learnt from experience that speaking to each other via video (instead of just audio which felt like a typical phone call) increased rapport among participants and created a more collaborative virtual office environment. It was also nice to be able to get a glimpse of our colleagues’ personal lives – some joined calls with their babies or pets – which added some colour (and a few ‘awws’ as well) to the meeting.
Lastly, we have not forgotten to have some social fun. It is possible to still have a couple of the usual office social activities on Zoom, like Friday drinks. Our Australian team has really embraced that by organising ‘Water and Wine Cooler’ sessions for the whole team to come together at the end of every week to share stories of their work-from-home experiences. Drinks are BYO and creative custom Zoom backgrounds are encouraged!
2. Continue to foster a results-driven culture among our remote teams
One of the things we are most proud of at Airwallex is our results-driven culture. We like to have fun, but also want to achieve results. With long-term remote working, we were initially concerned about productivity. Will we still get as much done?
To mitigate this risk, our leadership team continued to set daily and weekly goals for their teams. Each team member also formed their individual daily plans and tracked progress against the most urgent priorities, increasing accountability and a deeper focus on results.
We also instituted daily stand-ups amongst our teams, with senior leaders participating regularly to ensure that we were all aligned on priorities and tracking against progress. Each team member was accountable for his or her performance, and at the end of every week, sent a weekly update on progress to the business leaders.
While it may sound like excessive reporting, over-communication is necessary during times like these. Our China teams found that these processes helped to drive focus – and we are hearing the same from our teams in Australia, UK and US.
Even though we are not in the same physical office, it is important that we are still able to look back on each week and celebrate the progress we have made as a team.
3. Tailor your communication approach to customers and partners
Another major shift in the new reality is the transition from offline to online. As we went fully digital and worked remotely, our customers did too.
The widespread cancellation of events and meetings across the region eliminated opportunities for face-to-face interactions, meaning we had to seriously scale back on offline business development. Instead, we reinvested our resources into digital marketing and Wechat campaigns, as social media and mobile usage increased during this time of isolation.
We also used these channels more extensively to communicate with existing clients. In China in particular, this called for increased and deepened engagement with our customers on Wechat.
Having Wechat groups for customers became a common way to broadcast content and updates to our products. For example, we were able to inform customers instantly via Wechat when the Philippine government switched off their FX capabilities for 24 hours due to the COVID-19 situation.
The new remote working culture has also increased social usage, as people turn to social media to be kept connected with the rest of the world and updated on news. This shift is evident in Australia, with Facebook and LinkedIn driving the majority of our leads in recent times. We surely will be paying more attention to these channels over the coming months.
The pandemic will eventually come to an end, and when it does, we may see a seismic shift in the way we work, particularly remotely. At Airwallex, we are lucky to have already learnt many lessons through our China experience and we hope these lessons can help others as many more organisations shift to this operating model.
- Lucy Liu is President and Co-Founder of Airwallex.