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Operating virtually: why company culture is more important than ever

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Focusing on outcomes rather than outputs is among the techniques that can help keep teams engaged during the current pandemic and prepare them for a hybrid approach to work that’s likely to continue for some time.

Starting a new job at any level can be daunting. Learning new systems, building relationships and understanding the best ways to collaborate takes time, even for senior hires. For those taking the first steps in their engineering careers, Covid-19 has made these challenges even more pronounced. By focusing on the fundamentals and keeping company culture front of mind, organisations can ensure that new colleagues embed and thrive, no matter where they’re located.

At Bloomberg, our hands-on engineering summer internship programme is built around the principles of collaboration and problem solving. From analysing latency in Bloomberg’s market data pipeline to building tools that use information to drive decision-making processes, our global programme provides interns with ownership of tangible problems faced by our clients every day.

It became apparent early in the pandemic that our internships would need to go virtual. We worked closely with our recruitment teams to redevelop the experience, ensuring new joiners still experienced the pace, collaboration and culture of a Bloomberg office, from wherever they were in the world. Contact time with mentors, managers and peers was increased significantly to support progress. This formed part of a concerted effort to expose interns to as many different teams and parts of the business as possible.

In the main, the projects interns worked on didn’t change. It was important for those joining Bloomberg remotely to still experience the excitement and complexity of working on real-time issues that impacted clients. Of course, not being able to turn to your manager or peers and ask for advice presented challenges, so we adopted new collaboration tools that allowed teams to communicate quickly and efficiently.

During the lockdown period, it was clear that colleagues around the world would be working from their kitchen tables and bedrooms, while juggling personal commitments, for months. As managers, it was important to show empathy for the circumstances our teams faced. We needed to reach out, listen and assist in whatever way we could. 

Each person’s circumstance was different. In five years’ time, when people look back at the lockdown period, they won’t always think about the projects they worked on. Ultimately, the way they were treated by their company and managers is what they will remember.

What I was most impressed by was the company’s decision to embrace the differences in virtual working quite quickly. Rather than fight against it, we adapted, we found new tools to support our new set up. We worked to solve issues as they arose quickly and effectively to ensure we kept people connected and productive. We found new ways to collaborate. We embraced the fact that everyone had an equal voice when we were on video calls and in team meetings. We had empathy for one another and promoted that as an important value.

At a project level, we actively encouraged our employees to look for ways they could add value to Bloomberg and the community. From taking the lead on a project element, automating a persistent task, implementing a new piece of technology, or forming a new group or support system, there were many ways for them to make a real impact.

Working remotely also made us find new ways to talk to one another, sharing more about our personal lives and interests. From themed team lunches and trivia nights, to tech talks and videos of our quarantine talents, these lighter moments helped us maintain Bloomberg’s culture throughout and helped employees feel part of our diverse community. The creativity people showed when we needed new ideas for team events was impressive.

A hybrid-style of working is likely to be with us for some time. Yet, this pandemic has shown that with the right tools and support structures, teams will continue to implement creative ways to stay engaged, communicate and problem solve.

My advice to any managers trying to adapt to this new reality is to continue to build trust with your team members. Focus on the outcome, not the output, and always consider the bigger picture. Every colleague has experienced their own challenges during the coronavirus lockdown, so it’s important to be conscious of individual commitments when arranging virtual events and scheduling work. It’s never been so important to be a good, empathetic listener as a manager.

Continue to encourage your teams to find ways to take advantage of the virtual environment, having virtual coffees with people in other offices, or spending time focusing on a project that's harder to do in a busy workplace. Find out what makes your people happy, what makes them want to get up in the morning and help them find ways to accomplish that purpose in the work they do.

Tom Rushall is head of engineering at Bloomberg London

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