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The Uber approach: practical actions to support your people back to work, from Uber’s Head of HR for EMEA.

October 13, 2020 / United Kingdom

Michael Stewart, Uber’s Head of HR EMEA, responsible for supporting the Uber for Business, Business Development, Rides – High Capacity Vehicles, and Corporate Functions workforce to stay productive, motivated and engaged during the biggest HR challenge in memory. Without any playbook or precedent. (Not a challenge at all, then!)

In this article, he talks to us about his lessons learned and shares some practical ideas that are likely to carry on even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Take it away, Michael… 

Introduce better listening (and response) mechanisms 

It’s always been critical for HR to listen, to understand what’s on employees’ minds, but that’s been especially true during the pandemic. We’ve done a number of engagement surveys to understand how people are coping working from home and then reacted accordingly. For example, we’ve been encouraging people to take more time-off, to recharge and combat the extra pressure and feelings of burnout over the summer.

If your organisation isn’t already, I’d strongly recommend issuing regular pulse surveys – globally and locally – to check-in with your people. Ask open questions that get beyond simple ‘I’m good’ or ‘I’m bad’ statements, like:

  1. How are you feeling at the moment?   
  2. What are the biggest challenges you’re facing working from home?
  3. What could we do to better support you right now?
  4. What do you need to work more productively?
  5. How are you feeling about coming back to the office?
  6. What could we do to better support you back to the office? 

Then, it might sound obvious, but make sure you act on the results. Surveys aren’t intrinsically valuable – it’s about how you use them to move forwards. Every business needs to cultivate an agile, flexible way of working. The faster you can react to your people’s needs, the better you protect long-term engagement and productivity.

Upskill managers who bear the brunt of change 

There’s a lot of negativity whirling around right now, and morale is taking a hit. We’ve found leaders can help rally the troops by championing a positive culture in their team. ‘Good News Monday’ is an initiative that’s worked really well to increase engagement within Uber for Business EMEA, for example, where leaders share positive news from their teams to start the week.

Saying that, it’s not about creating an overwhelmingly, falsely positive environment. Leaders shouldn’t shy away from being authentic and vulnerable. That’s a great way to connect with their teams and encourage people to bring their full selves to work.

It’s always been the case but it’s especially clear right now, team leaders and managers have a huge responsibility. People are relying on their leaders more than ever for guidance and support, so HR should ensure those leaders are well-equipped to deliver. 

That could mean setting up a weekly focus group for managers to share best-practices and challenges, for example, and scheduling training on ‘hot topics’ like compassionate listening and spotting burnout. 

Schedule moments of connection to keep teams together

One of the biggest ‘soft’ issues we’ve faced is around social connection. You miss the watercooler type conversations you’d have in the physical office – walking to work, making a cup of tea, over lunch – because typically teams only catch-up via Zoom about specific projects or tasks. Long-term, that poses a big threat to engagement and motivation. People are feeling more drained and less connected. 

You can’t rely on connection to happen organically when people are distributed, so we’ve found it’s important to actively schedule moments for connection, in a COVID-secure way. 

For example, ordering individually delivered food for the team so everyone can eat together whether they’re working from home or the office. We use the Uber Eats for Business dashboard to deliver a flexible meals program, so every employee has an Uber Eats allowance they can use for moments like that. We also issue Vouchers as an extra reward or perk, which is fantastic for team building. Think Friday night drinks individually delivered, or team pizza when a project is closed off.   

Some teams have taken ownership for getting together face-to-face, where local rules allow and people feel comfortable. It’s important to maintain whole team connection moments too though so nobody’s excluded. 

Set and communicate a clear back-to-work plan 

Everyone’s had different experiences of working from home and has different perspectives on coming back to the office. We felt it was really important to give our people the freedom to choose what’s best for them, so we’re letting employees decide for themselves whether to return to the office or keep working from home until mid-next year. Or any combination that works for them, according to local guidelines. 

This model is working really well for Uber, but whatever your business is doing it’s important to be explicit. Uncertainty has been a major cause of anxiety through the pandemic – combat that as best you can by setting a clear plan and boundaries. Don’t leave employees second-guessing what you want from them.

For example, when the time comes to start opening offices again, don’t just tell people you’re opening offices. Tell them whether they’re expected to work from them and how often. If you’re continuing WFH, tell employees how long that’s likely to last. What if there’s a vaccine tomorrow? What if there’s never a vaccine? Be transparent. Everyone appreciates that the situation might change but showing you’ve got a considered plan dissolves employees’ uncertainty and promotes confidence in your leadership. 

This blog is part of The team that Eats together initiative, a content series exploring what normal looks like now, and how to enhance the working world to meet evolved employee expectations.

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The views and opinions expressed are based on the research conducted and they do not intend to present an official policy of Uber or any of its subsidiaries. Examples of advice mentioned in this article are based on open source information and assumptions made within the article are not reflective of Uber’s position.