Over a year has passed since the world was hit with the novel coronavirus pandemic. It caught everyone by surprise, posing a threat to global health and livelihoods. It was a time when we all had to react fast to what was going on around us and trust in our leaders, healthcare systems and frontliners to lead the way. In just a few days many aspects of life as we know it were turned upside down, leaving us having to navigate ourselves throughout these unprecedented times. We all worked through the midst of lockdowns, retreating to our homes, isolated from all our friends, colleagues and relatives.

Despite the iGaming industry being dynamic and fast-paced, we really never had to adapt so quickly. Proactive and agile decision-making was key, having to make the decision to offer the possibility to all our employees to work remotely within 24hrs. Moreover, working within a tech and online business, we actually experienced accelerated growth within our industry. Being faced with a higher workload, increased productivity levels and immersed in a remote setting, we really had to balance our work and life with all external factors. Despite all of us being grateful we still had the opportunity to keep on working and doing what we love, from an operational point of view we had to ensure there was a healthy work-life balance and that everyone had the right support.

Prior to the pandemic, the global trend was steadily moving towards flexible hybrid and remote set-ups, but Covid-19 accelerated this process. For us HR professionals, this provided us with a ‘global experiment’ – a golden opportunity to test out remote work and flexible working models. At Hero Gaming, we already had a flexible approach to work pre-pandemic based on trust between employees and managers, coupled with clear goals. This allowed our employees to work around important appointments, deliveries and technician visits. Even before the pandemic we were able to work weekends and evening shifts from home in our operations teams. We had the opportunity to extend our holidays (or visits back home) to work from abroad to save on flights and be closer to our loved ones – but never to this extent across the organization. We also always had a remote aspect to our work too, since like many companies we have more than 1 office – having our Operations Centre in Malta and Experience Centre in Sweden. Being all put in the same work setting really contributed towards greater cross-functional collaboration, bridging that physical distance between two offices. In the summer of 2020, when the situation started improving and many restrictions were softened – we then also had the opportunity to experience a slow voluntary and flexible transition back to the office, which gave us an opportunity to test different elements of the flexible hybrid model.

Throughout the past months we made sure to measure engagement and productivity levels in order to understand how people and people managers were feeling whilst working remotely and flexibly between home and the office. It soon became clear that increased flexibility was here to stay in the long run – first of all because our employees earned it through their professionality and high productivity levels and since for some people and teams it was working out really well. Some companies may have rushed to commit to hybrid models or full remote work to ride the wave or use it for employer branding, and now only a few months in we’ve already seen many companies backtracking from promising fully remote work settings to realizing the need to still work from the office. The past year has also reminded us that people naturally need social interactions and collaborations, and that nothing beats the ‘face-to-face’ interactions. ‘Zoom Fatigue’ has become a real thing, and the strains of only working remotely have shed more light on the importance of having a flexible approach to work.

At Hero Gaming, we truly believe in mixing the new and the old ways of doing things into a hybrid model – but one might ask what is a Hybrid Model? The answer to that question is unknown at this stage. The social and workplace experiment has just started, and we need to tread carefully to make sure that we make the right decisions for our people and also for our business objectives. As vaccination rollouts pick up pace and Covid-19 restrictions start to ease across the world, our approach will continue to be cautious and calculated, based on our people metrics, health authority guidelines, and the feedback we receive from our people. We are committed towards building a flexible hybrid model that suits all of our teams and will work in the long term. When we can hopefully soon say we are living in a post-pandemic world, we can then genuinely test a real hybrid model, a middle ground where we can experience the buzz of an office, while enjoying more flexibility when working from home. Having a hybrid model does not mean that we cannot also combine it with fully remote employees, who can add value to our organization – both to attract talent and also to retain talented key employees. It’s definitely only the beginning, but an exciting journey of adaptation for managers, leaders, and employees to keep on familiarizing themselves with the new workplace trends.

So should we just hit pause until the pandemic is over? Certainly not. As HR professionals, we need to use this time to gather information to strengthen our assets, work on our weaknesses, and plan ahead. This is the time when being close to our people is more important than ever. It is key for us to listen to what our employees need so that we can truly plan ahead and be prepared for the future. By talking to our leadership team, we can understand what their biggest challenges are. Through feedback and honest conversations we can understand how the leadership role will be evolving to adapt this hybrid model. Our main focus should therefore not be to come up with a set of rules for this hybrid set up, but rather to train our leaders and help them acquire the skills they need to thrive in this environment.

Here are some reflections about what we have worked on and questions that we need to keep asking ourselves at this stage:

  • Sent out employee engagement surveys & polls – Ask people what they want and how they are feeling and coping with the pandemic and working remotely.
  • Talk to the leadership team – What are the struggles they’re facing? How is their role as leaders evolving? Is there a need to develop new skills and practices to manage teams?
  • Focus on employee wellbeing – As our work and life get more blended together, there is an increased need to look out for the physical, mental and social wellbeing of employees. Is there the need to encourage more travel between office locations once it is possible to do so? Will there be the need for more company eventsto get people together? Are the right support systems in place across the organization?
  • Reassess your learning & development strategy– Is the need for new skills being assessed and addressed? Is there the need to incorporate a more flexible approach to learning? Is online learning as effective as classroom-based learning? Is knowledge being shared on-the-job in a remote/hybrid setting?
  • Carry out culture retrospectives – How has culture been evolving in a remote working setting? The need to align and calibrate it to the changing dynamics of our workplaces is essential.
  • Assess tech tools & office space – Has the company invested in all the right equipment, tools, and technology that are needed to work in a hybrid setting? Are the right video conferencing systems and collaboration platforms being used? Is there the need to adapt office spaces to the new way of working, by adding more meeting rooms, soundproofing rooms, hot desking, etc.?

As the world comes to terms with all the changes of the past year, the future of work is really evolving at a fast rate. Our workspaces, leadership styles, technology, culture, work-life balance are all areas which we still need to develop and focus on. Although flexibility is here to stay, it is still too early to come up with any rigid Hybrid Models, and there is the need for true flexibility for teams and their leaders to adjust to the new way of work. We don’t need any revolutions in our workspace, but rather an evolution. Hero Gaming will continue to build around our flexible working culture and innovate our workspaces. We will continue to set the pace for change and the evolution of our workspaces as we know them. It’s definitely only the beginning of a very exciting journey.

Andrea Saliba Head of Talent & Organisational Development