Remote work, one year later

What working apart amid COVID-19 taught us about our organization

It is hard to believe it’s been more than a year since the COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. We entered this challenging time under a cloud of uncertainty and anxiety around what might happen next. What was the best way to avoid getting COVID? How long would schools be closed? Where can I get necessities like paper towels, hand sanitizer, PPE, household cleaners, and toilet paper?

Among the many questions Abarcans reflected upon was this: How could our tightly knit team that thrives on close collaboration fare while working apart indefinitely?

As HR professionals, the pandemic offered us an unprecedented opportunity to go off road, and I could not be prouder of what our team was able to accomplish. After a year of trial and error, here are the top takeaways that have gotten us through these trying times:

  • There’s more to an office than just work. At Abarca, we treat each other like family. To us, successful remote work was about more than making sure everyone could manage their day-to-day tasks–we had to keep our family together and the spirit of our offices alive. So, along with making sure everyone had the equipment they needed, we also scheduled virtual coffee breaks, meditation sessions, even story time for the team’s children. These opportunities to connect also offered our team some semblance of work-life balance while working from their home office.
  • We cannot ignore our circumstances. From the pandemic to racial justice, 2020 was the catalyst for several important conversations, and we could not get through this year without acknowledging what was going on. To give our employees the space and resources they need, we brought in experts to speak to our team about managing their mental health, being full time professionals and parents, addressing the social issues sweeping our country, and open conversations about diversity and inclusion. These conversations are still ongoing within Abarca, and we are all better for having them.
  • Growth must always be intentional. Even before COVID-19, our team was growing rapidly to meet demand for our services and solutions–and the pandemic could not stand in the way of our ability to serve our clients and partners. So, we transitioned our onboarding process to be virtual, while still maintaining the same level of dedication as if employees were in the office (for example, we ensured that all new hires had the technology and office equipment they needed before their first day of work). And we found new ways to get new team members invested in our culture despite not being able to experience it physically, like inviting them to participate in “Shake it Offs” during our internal townhalls. We also sent them care packages, including branded masks, before their first days to make sure they felt Like Family.
  • Culture is everything, but it is not the only thing. We armed our team with the mission, values, and support they needed to succeed—including launching a new leadership speaker series that covered burnout and other topics related to remote work–but it was up to them to follow through. And did our team ever follow through. This group of individuals banded together to support each other, our clients, and our members through a terrible time. And it is critical that they each get the recognition they deserve. So, last summer, we launched a virtual recognition platform that gave team members the opportunity to shine the spotlight on each other for going above and beyond.

One of Abarca’s core values is “Shake it Off” which reminds us to celebrate often and shrug off stumbles. To me, it also represents resilience and grit. That when things are tough, we must always get back up and push through, pulling up others along the way.

And, after this year, this value has never meant more.

Once remote work is over, we will be launching a long-term hybrid work model and our teams will have the option to join us in a brand new office in San Juan. This space represents everything our team has accomplished over the last 15 years, our purpose, values, culture, and commitment to the future. But, more than anything, it is a new home for our family. And we are all looking forward to physically being together to celebrate what comes next.

Until then, we will keep delivering and caring for ourselves, each other, and the millions of lives we serve.

This blog was written by Mercibel Gonzalez, VP, Talent Strategy at Abarca.

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