From peer support groups based on six personality types to an anonymous online feedback channel for employees to ask or tell anything, this creative company is pulling all stops to look after its employee ecosystem.
It’s been 18 months and counting since the world has been turned upside down with the arrival of COVID-19 and it does not seem to be going away just yet. A year ago, INMAGINE, a bootstrapping company of 20 years, shared its story on how it has been pulling all stops to keep the business afloat while maintaining a zero-infection workplace.
A year on, we look at what has changed and how in keeping with INMAGINE’s spirit of technological innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship, the company has infused best practices into a fully remote working environment.
Starting off as a premium stock imagery agency in 2001, INMAGINE has evolved into a global creative ecosystem encompassing various creative assets and software-as-a-service business models, with offices across 44 countries and more than 300 employees to date.
INMAGINE reopened its office and resumed working from the office on 1 June 2020. But in October 2020, the third wave hit Malaysia. Since then, the company has had to close its office again and revert to fully working from home.
Office reopening, office reclosing: Challenges faced
One of the biggest challenges was onboarding new employees. INMAGINE’s new VP of HR, Cheryl Tay (pictured below) can attest to that. Cheryl joined INMAGINE in May 2021, taking over from Stephanie Sitt, Co-founder of INMAGINE who was spearheading HR transformation in the company.
Cheryl shared “For the first time in my career, I joined an organisation without knowing how the office looks like or what it feels like. You don’t get to feel what it’s like sitting in your own little space. You don’t get to walk around, greet people and physically feel their warm welcome. Emotionally you don’t feel the connection.”
“Keeping existing employees engaged is already a huge challenge, so you can imagine the difficulty of engaging a new employee that did not have any opportunity to establish any relationship whatsoever prior to joining,” added Cheryl.
Other than engagement issues, there are also other practical challenges such as providing the new employees with the necessary tools, equipment, and access to information they need for work.
Luckily for INMAGINE, with the HR transformation initiated a few years ago plus a few new adaptations, the company has been able to minimise the impact of such challenges.
The need to pivot to online onboarding became a necessity for most companies and INMAGINE is no exception. INMAGINE ensures that all employees go through an online onboarding programme from day one of them joining.
Cheryl explains: "I had a great onboarding experience at INMAGINE. Clear instructions were emailed to me prior to my start date, complete with login details. On day one, new joiners were provided with all the necessary information and actions to start off smoothly. Subsequently, work equipment such as a company laptop was promptly delivered to my home.
"A series of “get-to-know-you” online meetings was arranged with key stakeholders. Overall, this aided my ability to learn about the company and familiarize with the inner workings at INMAGINE fairly quickly”.
Remote retention strategies: What else works?
Whilst ensuring employees getting off to a good start is key to a company’s ability to retain them, maintaining the momentum is equally important. What are some of the other initiatives the company has adopted in order to keep the engagement level high?
The introduction of peer support groups is a good example. All employees are allocated to a support group based on the results of their personality test.
The way these groups work is that 40-50 employees are placed in a Whatsapp group under the care of one HR group leader, for a total of six groups formed on the basis of their personalities assessed. Stephanie says: "Constant communication and updates are happening and the focus is a lot more on our wellbeing, not so much about work. At this juncture, we have to make sure our people can adapt and cope well."
Evidently, these support groups provide a platform for all employees to share and discuss what’s going on, not just about work, but also other aspects of their life. It is a safe space for employees to share their concerns, worries, frustrations and allow the other members in the group to provide the support they need.
Having said that, despite all we can do, humans are human. Stephanie candidly shares: "Unfortunately, some colleagues are facing domestic challenges that could lead to stress or depression. This comes from having the space and environment for work from home, taking care of kids, working on household chores, such as cooking and laundry, extroverts who are stranded at one place, and many more.
"As a company and HR, we need to be understanding and focus on quality and deliverables. We also need to be sensitive and quick enough to identify any colleagues with issues, and offer them the support and arrangement that we could make for them together with department managers."
Online meet-ups with founders and online mentoring sessions with the CEO allow employees of all levels to engage directly with senior management leaders. In these sessions, employees can freely ask questions and solicit feedback.
Having a good collaboration platform is another example of how INMAGINE eases the challenges of working from home.
INMAGINE uses Bitrix to keep employees updated on work matters, enable employees to chat live online, and create workgroups for discussions or to brainstorm ideas. The tech team advocates extra tools to help manage projects and people, Jira. This ensures that all deadlines are crystal clear to everyone and the pipeline of each project journey is clearly outlined. Another tool is an online feedback channel in which employees can “Ask Us” or “Tell Us” anything anonymously. This too can help foster better engagement levels.
Last but not least, touching hearts outside of work is also central to INMAGINE’s motto of togetherness, positivity, and care. An e-angpow was sent to all employees during Chinese New Year, as well as surprise Raya gift boxes (pictured below). An e-gathering was organised for Christmas with fun activities done remotely.
Close follow-up is done when an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19 so as to provide for their needs. Employees' inputs were sought via a survey on whether they needed the company to purchase vaccines for those who did not get an appointment.
Meanwhile, employees showed their appreciation with positive words and smiling pictures sent through private messages.
Safety and wellbeing: What’s next?
INMAGINE will continue to place our employees’ safety and wellbeing as a top priority. This means that as long as the infection numbers are high, the company will continue with employees working remotely.
“We will continue to assume that the situation will not change in the next one year or more. We have accepted the new normal and will make plans in line with this assumption,” said Stephanie.
She further reveals that a lot of the current initiatives and practices are from an organisational level; the focus will shift to developing the managers' skills for engaging remotely at their level in the coming year. And that is the way forward for INMAGINE and its team of Inmagineers.
Photos / Provided by INMAGINE