Telum Talks to...Madeleine Robins from Big Red Group about culture, motivation and staying connected when working from home

Telum Talks to...Madeleine Robins from Big Red Group about culture, motivation and staying connected when working from home

Telum caught up with the Director of People, Communication & Culture from Big Red Group Madeleine Robins about keeping staff motivated and connected when working from home, and the success of the Experiences @ Work initiative.

For many, the transition to working from home has meant an increase in work while we adjust to the new working conditions. How can employers negate the problem of employee burnout?
The responsibility of an employer has changed. We used to say, “Come and work for us because we have a great culture, a great growth experience, and a great office.” Our team wants all of those things, but they also want employers to be conscious about climate change and sustainability and to have a real purpose. The focus on the mental health and well-being of staff also falls into the ever-growing bucket of an employer’s responsibility. The burnout piece is actually more about mental health and how we are asking our team to take care of themselves.

We have said to people, “Your experience of working from home is very personal to you. You might be single, or you might have children, or you could be working in a shared house. This makes your life experience very different.” When we took the office away, we gave our team choices. We asked, “Do you want to change your working pattern? Do you want to work school hours?” We approached it from a place of respecting their position and making sure they felt safe.

Some practical advice and something we have implemented is to trial changing the standard hour-long meetings to forty-five minutes in one of the teams. For the other fifteen minutes, we ask the team to take a walk from the house and to not look at the screen. We also tell our team that it’s okay to turn your video off sometimes.

How can employers keep staff motivation levels up while working from home?
The transition to working from home was like the seven stages of grief. We went from thinking this is new and exciting to be working from home, then it felt confronting for people to be on their own all the time. The final stage was acceptance that this is our new world.

To keep a gauge on how employees are feeling we are surveying the team every five weeks with Culture Amp to find out their levels of motivation, pride, and trust. Previously, we conducted these surveys twice a year. The survey covers communication, connection, leadership and the vision of the business. We consistently ask the same questions. The survey is anonymous, and the responses help to get a general pulse of what we’re doing. One week after the survey closes, we share the results at our town hall. Then, we pick one area of focus and the actions we are going to do of the back of it.

We are also focusing on the piece around belonging and asking, “How do you contribute to, not purely the success of Big Red Group, but the purpose.” We asked all our leaders to do a mirror session with their teams. We asked them, “How are you contributing to the business and how are we adding value to you?” It was really well-received, and we saw motivation levels increase off the back of this initiative.

Can you tell me about the Experiences @ Work initiative and how it has helped with motivation and connection?
This is probably one of the best things we’ve ever done. It’s not revolutionary, but it has changed our business. The idea was born at the beginning of COVID.  We pulled together as a team and said, “What are we going to do as a business to maintain as many jobs as possible in Australia, and to be ready to move back into action for our 3,000 supply partners?”

We surveyed the team, and they said that they need to feel like they belong. Then we bridged this with our purpose of work, which is to “shift the way people experience life.” The result was buying $30,000 worth of experiences at full price to invest the money back into the Australian economy and our supply partners.

Our commitment through the Experiences @ Work programme is for all of our team members to do an experience each month. This has included fencing, rock climbing, a remote cooking class, and kayak days. Each group has around eight people and the experiences are designed to follow social distancing measures.

It has just been amazing. The feedback from our team is a massive sense of not only gratitude, but pride to work for us. There is the sense that we really invested in the team and this has resulted in improved performance and commitment. A key point here is to make sure we do this in work time. This is about investing in the social capital. Having one hundred people at home not connecting with each other is not good for our culture.

How else can businesses ensure they retain their culture when working from home?
You have to figure out what your culture is now. Many businesses are not taking a step back. They're just saying, “How do we replicate our culture at home?” Your culture is not the same any more because your people aren't the same and your business isn't the same. Working out the new team culture doesn’t have to be a big exercise. Get the leadership team together in a couple of focus groups and ask, “What we did in the past, does that work any more?”

We've also done a piece of work with our leadership team on how to lead remotely and that's different to how to lead face-to-face. The sessions have been about building connection when we aren’t in the office and the importance of going into a meeting room and asking people about how they have been and what they’ve been up to, instead of just launching into business talk.

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