by Erin Gasperi
Like many other organizations in the tech industry, Voice Systems Engineering (VSE) is adapting to the changes brought on by COVID-19. Since March 17th, VSE has put our employees’ health and safety first by employing a fully remote model of working. Developing the resources needed to continue to function virtually successfully wasn’t something that we implemented solely due to quarantine. It’s one of our core competencies to have hundreds of advisors able to connect to customers anywhere, anytime. VSE is an early adopter in remote work platforms and has been evolving a very flexible work from home environment for employees over the past five years. “Call it luck, call it a vision, maybe call it paranoia, it’s probably all of those things that got us to be where we’re at.” -Gary Baron, Founder.
Over the past five years, VSE has been working toward a vision where working remotely and in-person to both extremes would be optional. “This has been built into our evolution and design for years. The preparation over years of servers, tools, and training systems – it didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a long journey. In November, when we were moving headquarters, our employees worked from home for a few weeks, and we did an outstanding job with it. “We proved it out, we did the fire drill and then March 17th the real fire came, and we were ready.”- Gary Baron
Our organization has utilized Microsoft Teams and other Office365 tools as the primary communication source among employees to meet and collaborate successfully. It has proved to be an exceptional asset to our company’s employee interaction. “I think Teams, the platform itself, has evolved, and we more thoroughly embraced it, and we are using its features more fully.”-Gary Baron. Through our ever-evolving technology, we have been able to sustain and grow our business during the impact of COVID-19. Our employees are equipped with the support and technology that they need to remain successful in their workplace, no matter where that may be.
We are continuing to maintain employees’ satisfaction with their remote technology by surveying them about their work from home structure. The survey is laying the groundwork for our employee advocates to develop an action plan to keep employees virtually engaged with one another. Work success and technology scored a 95% favorability rate to those who participated in the survey – this confirms that we are continuing to be successful with the facilitation of work.
One of the obstacles that we’re now facing is keeping our culture while working remotely. VSE started as a small company with a culture initiated as a “family feeling.” It is vital to the organization that the culture and that “family feeling” are maintained and continues to grow as the company continues to grow. Since March, eleven new employees have been hired, all of which were introduced and onboarded virtually. “It is important that we continue to focus on people getting to know each other as people and not just role holders”- Mary Pruce, Community Lead Link.
The Community Circle is exploring new ways to keep employees interacting outside of just collaborating on work projects. Work-life balance has always been the main contributor to the company’s culture. In July, VSE held its first virtual Family Bingo night on Zoom. Since so much of the work from home life is a family-focused, VSE wanted to make a family-oriented event. Each employee that participated in the event was provided with a food delivery service (Grubhub, DoorDash) gift card of their choice to use towards dinner that night. They also received bingo playing cards and daubers via non-contact delivery to their front door. Another initiative coming out of the employee survey that VSE is testing is the virtual “Water Cooler.” The idea is that this virtual space could assist in opening a comradery of communication to de-stress and blow off some steam of the workday like a physical water cooler. This MS Teams channel allows employees to hop into the team whenever they need a break to start “water cooler chat” or open a channel meeting.
Exercise, mental and lunch breaks are a few things that have become a struggle in this new working world. The Community Circle is exploring plans around meeting-free hours that people can use for that much needed “away time.” The mental and physical health of our employees is an important focus of the organization. VSE has a wellness reimbursement program, known as the wellness wallet, which was designed to promote and support a healthy work environment. The wellness wallet program has been implemented and loved among VSER’s for several years now, and it especially has come in handy with the remote working environment. “We want to support healthy habits for employees who want to improve health and fitness goals.” Dina Mclean, Employee Benefits Advocate. Typically, the wellness wallet would cover things like gym memberships, therapeutic massages, fitness classes, fitness trackers, nutritional coaches, and entrance fees for sports leagues. It also covers community-supported agriculture programs so that employees can get healthy fruits and vegetables delivered to their homes.
As a result of COVID-19, VSE decided to expand the wellness wallet to include masks and hand sanitizer. The program has recently expanded to include gym equipment such as weights, yoga mats, desk chairs, standing desks, etc. Since employees cannot utilize the free gym at our headquarters, they now have available to purchase their equipment to help maintain their physical health at home. In addition to physical health, VSE is also focusing on its employees’ mental health during this trying time. The wellness wallet will also cover meditation apps such as HeadSpace or Calm. Employees can also use it for online therapy apps like TalkSpace or BetterHelp. “We want to keep mind and body well! We review it and reimburse the employee for the cost”. -Dina Mclean, Employee Benefits Advocate.
As we move forward, there is not a set date when VSE will move back into headquarters. However, it will be an incremental movement that will keep the employee’s health, safety, and comfort a top priority. “I think there will always be a need for human interaction andcreating that option will allow us to be more flexible, have talent available from anywhere, where geography and space no longer need to be boundaries. I see 2021 as a return to the ‘new normal.”- Gary Baron.