Mirjam Oord - Director of People and Capability, solarcity

Building resilience in the ways we work

We asked our Director of People and Capability, Mirjam Oord to share what solarcity has done to help our team work through the challenges of the lockdown period, and the efforts the company has made to ensure the transition back to the office is centred on the employees' health and wellbeing.

Mobilizing our business during the COVID-19 Lockdown posed its challenges. But the opportunities and difficulties of continuing to adapt have only just begun.  

I am proud of how the team at solarcity managed to thrive during this time. Like others we had to navigate through some significant challenges - such as remaining financially solvent, establishing new ways of working, learning new leadership skills, and establishing and supporting an additional 130 offices as everyone moved to working from home.

The new working landscape 

Now, as we move down the levels there are fewer rules and more choices – including in how we work. How do we re-establish our workforce, what ways of working do we want to keep, how do we want to work going forward, where do we want to work from? These are big questions that on the back of lockdown every business is having to figure out, quickly.    

After two weeks of focusing on getting our people set-up to work from home, we began to focus on what our operating model needed to look like in the future. We involved our people in the process, increased communication, were open and transparent. We listened.

There were also some great guiding lights. We were improving, according to staff survey feedback results. Using our guiding lights, we built on these to focus on improving how we work, our communication, provide transparency, open feedback loops that drive improvement, provide a better working environment, and build trust.   

Moving to the next stage 

We worked towards building choice and flexibility into our operating model. Working from home was good but having a choice of where and ‘how’ I can work is better. At least this was what our people were saying. 

We have people who after six weeks on their own were really needing to come into the office to be with others again. Others, who after spending time with their children and extended family in one house, were craving some solitude.  

We began with why

We started with communicating the principles and objectives for our new operating model, with a real focus on why. We knew that if the reasons for the change didn’t hold up, it would be met with resistance and cynicism.  

A major objective was to open our offices in a safe way.

Excerpt from our staff survey findings: 

Why? Because we want you in the best place possible for the work you're required to do. Most of us (84%) said we preferred a hybrid approach to work, which includes the office and aspects of working from home. There are tasks that make more sense to do in the office, or at home. Not everyone has a great home working set up and the offices can provide a better working environment for some. From a wellness perspective, we also want to ensure we have a way to maintain social contact.  

Managing the psychology of transition 

1. The option of choice 

Our people did an excellent job of adjusting to lockdown and the restrictions imposed by the various levels. But the cumulative impact of these changes were beginning to show. While we didn't want to return to the ‘old office’ and way of working, the thought of learning yet another way of doing things were daunting for some.  

To acknowledge this, we have taken the approach: we will give you a safe clean alternative working space, but you get to choose when you are ready to use it.

Giving our people the choice gave our people a sense of control and space to figure things out.

During the lockdown, we have been told what to do a lot: how to work, how to school, how to shop, how to socialise, how to be active… This lack of choice - although a good mental break for some - isn't healthy long term. We witnessed New Zealanders getting restless and beginning to challenge the rules just before moving to Level 2. We realised that returning could be more unsettling than lockdown.  

2. Creating new and exciting spaces  

The second focus was on creating an office that people would want to return to. The office layout we left was not effective and we had people struggling to work there. So we used the time while everyone was working from home to physically change the office so that when they returned they knew they were expected to do things differently and to help establish new working patterns.  

When we finally opened our offices again we marked the occasion with a blessing that welcomed everyone back. It was poignant and moving, calling us to join, gather and unite.

3. Providing better structure to our days 

Thirdly, we had to address the issue of productivity. We had challenges, specifically around the blurring of work and life, and meeting expectations around availability. This was hard as people juggled children and other commitments and our working hours were all over the place.  

To address this, we introduced ‘core hours.’ Now, irrespective of where people are working from, there are times we are expected to be available to meet, collaborate, workshop. This is critical for our business to continue to adapt and evolve at speed. This leaves 2.5 hours per day of ‘flow hours’ because equally important is that we have uninterrupted time to complete our tasks. 

Acknowledging that this is a trial 

Finally, none of us knows if this is even going to work. It’s a new way of working for most of us and we’re all giving it a try together. So, we are building a continuous improvement and feedback loop to see how things are going and what we need to tweak. When we communicate with our people this is key: we aren't going to get it all right, and hey what is right? There isn't a black and white answer even at the best of times.  

Interested in working for solarcity? We are currently recruiting roles in our tech, operations and sales teams. For more information check the Seek listings here: https://www.seek.co.nz/solarcity-new-zealand-jobs or email peopleandcapablity@solarcity.co.nz