When the going gets tough, the tough get creative. Atos IT Services met the challenge of Covid-19 by finding innovative and sensitive ways to engage employees, unifying them around a central purpose.
As a global leader in digital transformation, Atos is looked to by its clients for guidance during the biggest shift to remote working ever seen – but it also had a responsibility to its own employees to ensure their transition was as smooth as possible.
Of course, it was never just about the technology. The organisation quickly realised that the major challenge of so many employees working from home was a wellbeing one. Employees in disparate locations, each with their own worries and concerns – how could they all be brought together, not just to survive the pandemic, but also to thrive?
This was a major concern for Cheryl Allen, Atos’ HR Director of Culture & Transformation and her team: Munpreet Cheema – Culture and Employee Experience Lead – and Rachel Edwards – Head of Diversity & Inclusion.
“The pandemic led to additional pressures for our people, and so employee wellbeing was at the forefront of all our actions,” said Cheryl.
“We were left with the challenge of finding creative and innovative ways to engage a widely dispersed employee group in virtual environments, maintaining a culture of unity throughout”.
When Covid-19 arrived employee wellbeing became a core concern for the business…
In the space of less than a week, over 90% of Atos’ people moved from working at company offices or client sites to working from home. Managers were struggling with handling uncertainty from their teams, while also trying to adjust themselves and continuing to deliver to clients.
At the same time, there were employees who continued to work in offices and client locations that experienced different concerns and required their own support.
While employee wellbeing was an integral part of the business’ culture prior to the pandemic, it suddenly became even more important. The company adapted its culture and employee experience strategy to provide support to workers who continued to work in offices, alongside recognising the significant shift towards remote working and keeping in touch with a widely dispersed workforce.
“We built on the strong culture that we had already established through our ‘We are Atos’ employee experience programme, as this provided a trusted and robust foundation for the culture change required,” explained Cheryl.
“For our leaders, the pandemic challenged their skills and ability to lead like never before and they required additional advice to equip them in supporting their teams through their individual challenges”.
In response to this, Cheryl’s team created a management advice telephone line where managers could seek guidance specifically in relation to the Covid-19 crisis from members of the HR team.
How did the business adapt its communications in light of the challenges it faced?
The primary focus during this time was bringing people together. The We Are Atos programme was updated to include the tagline, ‘We Are Atos. We Are Together’, reflecting the organisation’s culture of unity.
As a part of this messaging, Atos’ leadership team were very visible through written communications and video calls in which they related to the challenges that employees were experiencing across the organisation.
During this time the team also launched the ‘My Wellbeing Digital Hub’ empowering employees to look after their own wellbeing by accessing the company’s significant portfolio of wellbeing offerings from third party providers and internal teams.
“We developed a strong communications plan to ensure that all employees were aware of any changes as soon as they happened (e.g. messaging on local restrictions and not returning to the office where possible),” explained Cheryl.
“As an organisation we also encouraged a flexible working environment where employees were supported to take care of their personal commitments. This included flexible working arrangements so that employees could take time out of the working day to spend with their children for example. In addition to this, we have amended our emergency time off policy to double the amount of paid emergency leave that Atos would provide”.
What steps did the company take to make the process inclusive for all employees?
The pandemic left the business with the challenge of finding innovative ways to engage a widely dispersed employee group in virtual environments. Key events were moved to virtual platforms, such as the Atos Diversity and Inclusion Expo, which received positive feedback from employees, as well as clients and partners who also attended:
93% of attendees stated that they would recommend this event to colleagues/friends
86% of attendees said they would return next year
The business also invested time with its employee networks to truly understand the impact of the lockdown on different groups. It soon became clear that women were disproportionately disadvantaged due to having to cover additional childcare.
In response to some of these concerns, the Atos Families Virtual Summer Camp was created for the children of employees aged 5 – 11. The camp ran for two weeks in July and August, with over 30 educational and fun sessions delivered, ranging from arts and crafts and story times, to French lessons and technology skills.
“It created a real community spirit, as well as providing entertainment for children while our employees were able to get some work done. It also reminded managers of the childcare challenges that their team may be facing and the importance of showing support and understanding,” said Cheryl.
Around 110 children registered to attend, and the scheme received fantastic feedback from both children and parents.
In addition, the business launched an internal ‘We Are Allies’ programme, sharing employee case studies, hints and tips to enhance the feeling of unity.
How did the business keep those all-important interpersonal connections between colleagues alive?
Cheryl and the people team were also mindful that social connections are an important part of company life – they needed to ensure that employees still felt connected to their colleagues at a time where they could have felt increasingly isolated.
Atos introduced a suite of non-work related activities for employees to participate in, including webinars on ideas to promote work/life balance, a virtual happiness café where employees were encouraged to share their positive stories of the week, and a weekly evening quiz with proceeds donated to charity.
The company also hosted three virtual ‘We are Atos Wellbeing Days’ structured around the key themes of Care (emotional and physical wellbeing), Connect (workplace and community wellbeing) and Celebrate (social wellbeing). Employees were encouraged to recognise each other and to nominate colleagues for kindness ‘spot awards’.
What was the reaction from employees?
In a recent pulse survey 85% of employees said they felt supported by Atos and 89% felt they had adequate communication and support from managers during the pandemic – an increase on the previous years’ figures.
Its Covid-19 pulse survey results showed that 84% of employees know where to go if they need wellbeing and health support and 73% strongly agree or agree that the company supported them regarding flexibility around caring.
Looking to the future
While activities to date have mainly been reactive in response to fast-paced changes that were occurring, the business is now taking a proactive stance to prepare for the unknown.
“While we do not necessarily know the detail of changes that are yet to come, we are now better prepared to respond to this level of uncertainty and can make more proactive plans to strengthen our culture and maintain engagement levels,” said Cheryl.
The pandemic has led to an adaptation in leadership styles across the organisation, as leaders shared more with their teams about their personal challenges at this time and became more approachable and relatable.
“A part of this plan involves further line management support and training to ensure that our managers are demonstrating inclusive and compassionate leadership styles in support of our culture ambitions."
“Through our diversity and inclusion networks and We are Allies programme, we are continuing to connect our people across the organisation including in upcoming meetings where BAME employees will be able to share their experiences to establish what further actions we can take to support our employees,” Cheryl concludes.
What did our Culture Pioneers ambassadors think?
The top-down transformation of Atos’ culture was noted by all of our ambassadors as a key factor in the organisation’s success.
“I was impressed by the involvement of senior leadership acting as role models and being given support to adapt their leadership approach during this time. It’s lovely to see that some of these initiatives will continue beyond the pandemic and across the global business,” commented Blaire Palmer, CEO of That People Thing.
Gethin Nadin, one of the world’s Top 100 Employee Engagement Influencers, added, “Atos also did a great job of finding out how the pandemic was affecting different employees so they could provide personalised support. They’ve clearly considered how the pandemic not just affected their employees, but also their families, finances and childcare. They did something many employers didn’t – they recognised the long-term nature of the pandemic and adjusted a formal employee experience strategy and even their internal branding to commit to supporting their people for as long as they need it”.
“Atos moved at breakneck speed to create a culture of unity while working apart. The team were highly attuned to what their people needed and responded with a raft of initiatives to support and empower,” said Becky Norman, Editor of HRZone.