Montreal company gives staff ‘100 per cent flexibility and freedom’

‘I never thought that we would embrace so fondly a 180-degree different way of working’

Montreal company gives staff ‘100 per cent flexibility and freedom’
The offices of GSoft in Montreal.

After thriving and even hiring new employees during the time of the pandemic, a Montreal company has adopted a completely flexible employment model for its 265 employees as of July 12.

“We give 100 per cent flexibility and freedom. It means that if you never want to show up to the office, it’s entirely possible; and if you want to be 100 per cent of the time in the office, it’s 100 per cent possible,” says Kahina Ouerdane, chief people officer at employee experience software company GSoft.

The company has also said to workers that they can work abroad up to 150 days per year.

Other employers that are giving employees considerable flexibility as they emerge from the pandemic include JTI and Sun Life.

In the early days of the lockdown, when GSoft employees began working from home and people quickly adapted, it was a “bit ironic” for the company to enjoy such success, says Ouerdane, as the company was generally full of “very relational-based company; people were mostly extroverted, very few people would work from home and it would be very rare that people would do that,” so much so that it was even thought of as almost a “taboo” for workers to be at home.

Now, you hear of many employers struggling with return-to-work policies, she says.

“We’re in a context where it’s ‘You decide.’ If every morning you want to show up to the office, you just book a space online, you fill out your COVID questionnaire, and then you show up at the office,” says Ouerdane. “People are responding very positively; it’s even a big sales argument these days on the recruitment side, which is a luxury in the context of the war on talent that we’re all experiencing.”

New policies for hybrid approach

The company has instituted some new policies and ways of doing business during the pandemic but when contemplating the hybrid experience, fairness was a key principle, according to Ouerdane.

“If all of the team members for specific meeting all happened to be at the office at the same time, the meeting can happen in person. But if there’s one person remote, everybody needs to be in front of their separate computers in different parts of the office, so that everybody really feels included. We were very adamant on the fact: don’t sit one next to the other, go on different spots at the office and every person must have their own computer, so that everybody on the meeting feels equally included.”

Another challenge that was faced by GSoft employees was a shift to more written communications, in an effort to deal with the asynchronous nature of the new workplace. But with many employees used to expressing themselves face-to-face and collaboratively, this new way or working took some getting used to.

Kahina Ouerdane

“We did a survey internally, and it was 40ish per cent of people were saying that they had a hard time expressing a complex idea in writing. Those people had not necessarily been hired where written communication was that important and now it’s just become quite important so there was another challenge we’ve experienced,” says Ouerdane.

Onboarding key to success

The company has hired more than 100 new employees since March 2020 and onboarding is a big part of that. GSoft groups people together with other employees hired around the same time, which has helped build engagement within different teams, she says.

“We want people to have stronger social bonds [so] we have cohorts of people that we try to bundle, so a bunch of people start on the same day so that they can also meet teammates, even if they’re not on the same team.”

The lesson for HR, says Ouerdane, is trust your people to adapt and do everything you can to help them thrive because they are stronger that what you might believe.

“What jumped out at me was that the resiliency and adaptability of humankind is higher than I would expect because I never thought that we would embrace so fondly a 180-degree different way of working, especially for company that was so relational, and that was seeing remote work as a taboo almost. That, for me, is probably my biggest surprise.”

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