Adapting to remote work inspired creative approaches to employee experiences

Picture someone about to start their first day at an exciting new job.  

A few weeks ago, they completed several great interviews – all using video calling software  

Now, they begin Day 1: grabbing a cup of coffee, signing into their computer, starting their onboarding documentationJust after 9 am, they get ready to meet with their new manager and teammates  all people they’ve only met through a computer screen 

Later that day, a representative from their human resources (HR) team reaches out to check-in about their experience as a candidate and now as a new employee – all of which has been mediated by technology.  

Since March, this experience has been the norm for people transitioning to new rolescompleting employee learning, working day-to-day or just participating in the organizational culture.   

Like many people at Softchoice, the COVID-19 pandemic has required those with roles in recruiting and talent acquisition, onboarding, training and employee engagement to rely on technology more than ever.  

The irony? In some ways, the mediation of technology has made the employee experience more human, flexible and rewarding.  

Here is a closer look at how technology is helping us meet social distancing guidelines to keep everyone safe while providing an outstanding experience for people at work  

A technology-enhanced candidate experience 

Even pre-pandemic, recruitment and talent acquisition professionalmeasured their success not only in finding great people but also on providing a high-quality candidate experience.  

It’s no surprise that today, most screening calls and interviews are conducted through videoconferencing software. At Softchoice, our talent advisors switched to video software (we use Microsoft Teams) soon after we initiated our broader COVID-19 response plan. 

Today, hiring managers also meet potential hires over a video call, and the results have been, perhaps, surprising, in that our team has found that video meetings offer a more personal human-to-human experience.  

At the same time, many hiring managers appreciate the fact that meeting someone at their home over video helps them get to know candidates as people, even accounting for the natural interruptions that can crop up in a remote work scenario.  

Compared with a traditional phone conversation, a video call facilitated by a modern collaboration platform like Teams also allows for much greater flexibility and creativity in an interview through features like whiteboarding 

“It lets both the candidate and the interviewer let their guard down in a good way. We get to see people be their authentic selves,” said Brandon Ram, Director, Talent Acquisition and Candidate Experience. 

The ability to meet and hire candidates remotely also allows organizations like ours to explore expanding their recruiting strategies with more flexibility around location for some positions.  

A 100% online onboarding experience  

Of course, the mission to provide an outstanding candidate experience doesn’t end when the offer is accepted. The reality of all-remote work has also had a huge impact on the way new people join and become a part of their organizations. 

At Softchoice, the process began with rethinking the logistics of onboarding.  

Making sure a new person had access to everything they needed to get started on their first day – from laptops and headsets to employee onboard documentation – got more complicated when visiting the office was no longer an option. 

Our employee onboarding team partnered with their IT and facilities counterparts to ensure those starting new roles with us received everything they needed at their home before their start date. The need to mobilize this process quickly, in many ways, raised the bar as many aspects of the process became even smoother and more consistent 

Meanwhile, it was important that people started to feel like they were part of the Softchoice culture right away. Before COVID-19, the onboarding process often paired each new person with a training buddy from their specific team. This person would help them navigate training materials, learn where to find important files and documents and introduce them to the people they would be working with.  

After March, video and collaboration tools became essential components of the onboarding process. By enabling people to connect person-to-person over video, rather than reading files and emails, it was possible to create a great experience by creating and welcoming new people to a virtual version of the Softchoice culture  

Sales Academy takes the classroom virtual 

The onset of all-remote work also required many organizations to take their employee onboarding and training programs online.  

This was true for the sales training program here at Softchoice. Once we understood the reality around remote work, the Sales Academy team found themselves facing the task of bringing proven program designed for in-person learning by cohort into the virtual classroom. 

This process involved re-imagining learning experience designed for face-to-face engagement without losing the rapid response and interactive roleplay that happened in the live classroom 

Using modern tools, including Teams collaboration, videoconferencing and camera technology the team could allow training facilitators to set the stage, establish success criteria and deliver a highly interactive learning program with all participants working from home.  

The transition has been a success, with over 60 new graduates of the Sales Academy having passed through the program since March. 

Softchoice stays Softchoice wherever we work 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in ways both large and small. The leaders within Softchoice recognized from the outset that taking care of people would come first.  

The remote work situation made it harder to manage day-to-day work, ongoing projects, meetings and one-on-one activities like coaching and performance management. In some cases, people have struggled to adjust to a new way of working. 

People across the organization were inspired to ensure the Softchoice culture continued to thrive in the virtual environment. This was reflected in a deliberate approach not only to keeping regular team meetings and one-on-ones, but also socializing, team building and sustaining our commitment to social impact and responsibility 

Since March, we’ve held regular virtual events, including panels and open discussions with our employee resource groups (ERGs), ask-me-anything (AMA) events around mental health and a session on home ergonomics for physical well-being  – all making use of collaboration technology to encourage participation and interaction both as part of the workday and after hours

The way employee experiences look will continue to change as the future of work evolvesbut it’s clear that collaboration technology will remain an integral part of the journey.  

As we progress on the road to recovery and new best practices and learning emerge, we invite you to explore ourBusiness Continuity solutions and resources. 

Social Impact Month at Softchoice

This July, we celebrated our third annual Social Impact Month.  

At Softchoice, July serves as a rallying point for every person in the company to generate meaningful impact. With the unprecedented events of this year, it was more important than ever that we looked to better support the communities in which we live and work while building a more giving and compassionate culture.  

Although our employees are working remotely, we found many ways to get involved and support our people and communities virtually.  

What social impact means at Softchoice 

Today, we are living through a global health crisis, an economic emergency and a staggering increase in unemployment that will continue to intensify social and economic inequality 

For many of us at Softchoice, the climate around racial injustice has even further highlighted the need for our organization to further improve diversity and inclusion. We aspire to be a place where anyone can be successful and where everyone feels that they belong.  

At Softchoice, responding to the issues that matter most to our people and communities – what we call “social impact” – is one of the most important ways we bring our values to life.    

Every July, Social Impact Month puts these priorities at the forefront as we encourage every person in the organization to participate in education sessions and volunteering events organized by our Social Impact team, employee-led Softchoice Cares BoardEmployee Resource Groups (ERGs) and a passionate community of ERG and Orange Ambassadors across North America. 

These events are intended to provide opportunities to have an immediate impact. To this end, our Social Impact Month programs are designed around 3 pillars:  

  • Enabling our people to make a difference in their local communities in a way that has meaning to them.  
  • Hosting mentoring and career discovery workshops to help women, newcomers and members of the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour communities who have been struggling to build careers in technology.  
  • Joining in the fight against inequality through ERG-led panels and education sessions where we learn to acknowledge and respect others’ lived experience, identify non-inclusive behavior and create a shared understanding of inclusion.  

 Social impact during the pandemic   

In the face of health, economic and social crises, it was critical that we continued to support Social Impact Month activities, while social distancing measures made it necessary to pivot from in-person to virtual volunteering.  

This effort wasn’t without challenges, including:  

  • Pivoting from traditional, in-person volunteering to virtual events, while continuing to support people and our community in meaningful, impactful ways 
  • Creating enough virtual events to provide 2,000 employees with opportunities to participate 
  • Identifying the best technologto support different types of events 

We encouraged everyone to participate in a minimum of 4 hours of virtual volunteering or education throughout the month of July. team of employee volunteers created a full calendar of event options for both during and after work hours.  

Some of our Social Impact Month highlights included:  

Virtual volunteering and staying connected 

  • The Caring and Connecting Pen Pal Initiative Program which had volunteers write letters to a person who resides in retirement home or long-term care facility.  
  • Employees and their families wrote messages  and created artwork for the St. Joseph Learning and Innovation Centre, Toronto’s Gratitude Wall to provide inspiration for healthcare workers.    
  • Participation in Missing Map sessions that map the most vulnerable places in the developing world, to assist local and international NGOs and individuals to better respond to crises affecting areas in need. 
  • Employees volunteered with one of our partnered charities, Future Founders, to mentor local high schoolers and their entrepreneur business ideas. 
  • A facilitated 2-part event that had volunteers develop 21st-century learning content for marginalized people around the world for Rumie, a technology non-profit making life-changing learning possible for people worldwide.  
  • Employees and their families came together to decorate 150+ lunch sacks for Kids Food Basket, who provide nourishing meals to children living at or near the poverty level.   
  • Held a call-down session to thank more than 500+ donors to Childhood Cancer Canada. 
  • Employees from across North America shared their talents during our virtual talent show to raise funds for some of our amazing charity partners. 

 Mentoring and career discovery 

  • More than 80 employees volunteered for our Mentoring & Career Discovery event series to improve employment outcomes for people in historically disadvantaged groups. We worked with almost 200 job seekers through virtual events in partnership with NPower Canada, ACCES Employment and Skills for Change.   

Joining the fight against inequality 

  • The 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Program focused on mobilizing our ally community to complete one action every day to further their understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression and equity. To support this program, our ERGs curated a list of readings, podcasts, videos, observations and ways to form and deepen community connections. Weekly check-ins allowed program participants to ask questions, discuss key themes and develop plans of action. 
  • Hundreds of employees were involved in discussion panels hosted by our ERGs that addressed the unique challenges  the transgender community faces on a daily basis, accessibility gaps in employee experience, the ways racism manifests itself in the IT industry and how women can manage their careerduring COVID-19.  

 How you can have an impact 

Interested in joining a community of professionals making an impact every single day?  

Visit our Careers page to find exciting career opportunities across North America at Softchoice.  

Navigating Our Response to COVID-19, Guided by Our Values

Toward the end of February, the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic was becoming more evident to the Softchoice leadership team. Our People and Growth leaders knew they would need an agile response to keep our peopleand our customers safe.  

Our business continuity plans to address technology redundancy were in place.  As a result of processes that had been in place for 3 years, we were perhaps ahead of most in our ability to move to a full remote work environment.  Our workplace safety guidelines and operational crisis plan also helped us to address the most common emergency issues. 

 However, we had never been challenged to have a plan that would need to accommodate both our technology business continuity and workplace safety plans in such a pervasive way. As we entered the unchartered waters of the COVID-19 pandemicwe found that our core values served us well. Because our leadership team kept these values at the forefront of their expedited decision-making, the result was an agile response appreciated by our people, partners and customers alike. 

 Softchoice Values  

 Our Softchoice values support our human and inspiring culture, beginning with growing our people first. We recognize the need for overall personal growth and having fun while we’re doing it.  We follow that with customer passion Having deep customer relationships is a cornerstone of our organization, and we are dedicated to our customers success.  To build and sustain those great customer relationships we need to take care of each other. This includes the Softchoice family as well as the communities we serve, work and live in.  Lastly, owning the result, delivering on our promises is critical to our customers’ success.  

 Guided by Our Values 

 The pandemic forced an allremote work environment. School boards closed, sending kids home mid-March until further notice. Employees now faced working at home, often with their families, full-time.  Our customers and partners all faced similar challenges and needed help in responding quickly to the crisis.    

 Three years earlier, we recognized the need to support a growing mobile workforce and we made the investment to make laptops standardissue for all employees. This financial investment was hard to make at the time but supported our core strategy. We had also been migrating to a fully operable Microsoft Teams environment, meaning that modern collaboration technology was already embedded in our culture. 

 This strategy paid off when we decided to test our all remote work capabilities on March 12, having all 2,000 employees work remotely on a single day. The test went well, as expected knowing our employees had the access and tools to work effectively. This gave us the green light to have our entire workforce fully remote by March 16. By coincidence, March 12 the government of Ontario (where Softchoice is headquartered and a majority of employees are located) announced that all schools would be closed for 2 weeks beyond the March Break. By this time, similar closures were happening across North America.Many of our people would now be challenged to work from home, often alongside other household members on a full-time basis. 

“Guided by our culture and values - taking care of each other and putting our people first – and supported by the crisis plans we had in place allowed us to swiftly enact full remote work effective March 16th until schools would be able to re-open,” says Karen Scott, the SVP of People & Growth at Softchoice.

We also implemented personal hours, 3 one-hour blocks per day to allow our employees to take time for themselves and their families and adapt to an unfamiliar new work from home environment. 

Taking care of each other also meant taking care of our customers who were going through the same things. We needed to ensure that the organizations we work with had the technology and the services to support their own efforts to mobilize remote workforce capabilities. This was brought to life by our Rapid Response Services a suite of turn-key services designed to address the most immediate requirements organizations faced as they sought to enable remote work and stabilize their operations in a virtual environment.   

Our employee communication strategy was another key pillar supporting our move to all remote work. Regular, transparent, and centralized communications kept employees informed and helped address some of the anxiety of the situation.  

Adjusting to the New Normal 

Remote work was once considered a perk. Now many workers will be outside the office indefinitely. Adapting to the future of work begins with removing the barriers between physical and digital workplace along with a change of mindset.Many businesses paused hiring and recruiting in the new allvirtual world,and all remote work presented new challenges to employee engagement and emotional well-being. 

Putting our people first, we adopted the mindset that people can be equally productive while working remotely. We used the opportunity to challenge ourselves to deliver great recruiting and new employee onboarding experiences. We continue to recruit by hosting our interviews via Microsoft Teams and onboard new hires by sending technology and welcome packages to their homes,  ensuring safe delivery and acceptance of these orders. 

It’s been tough for some of those employees who live alone and are isolated, or others who are overwhelmed by having their work and family life meld together. We made a deliberate effort to bring employees together by dialing up our employee engagement activities – virtual coaching, virtual after-hours events such as comedy and talent shows, wine tastings and a few children activities focused on our employees with young children. 

Rethinking the Future of Work    

There are still many unknowns:What will “back to school” look like in the fall?How will new health regulations for indoor spaces/gatherings strain existing workspaces? As COVID-19 infections rise in some parts of North America and a proven vaccine is still a long way off, we know there will be continued uncertainty amongst our people our customers, our partners and the communities we serve. 

For the moment, we have extended our remote work timeline to October. At the end of the day, our priority is and will always be keeping our people safe.  We are planning a concept space in one of our sites in Toronto to test the notion of bringing people together physically in a way that helps them collaborate as well as remain safe in a controlled environment. Once we have these results, we will evaluate and determine how best to expand and re-open other locations. 

Our Future of Work Group continues to contemplate the changes affecting how we work, show up, and be there for our customers.  The world around us is changing, technology is changing and people are changing. How we work in the future will change, too, but the things got us here, our Softchoice values, will remain the same. 

 As we progress on the road to recovery and new best practices and learning emerge, we invite you to explore our Business Continuity solutions and resources. 

Creating Opportunities for Women in Tech

In 1989, Jone Panavas founded Softchoice along with David Holgate to make it easier for businesses to source and acquire hardtofind software products. Jone and David set out to make Softchoice a different kind of company from the very beginning, one where inclusiveness was a core teneand employees were encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work.  

While the technology landscape has become far more complex in the last 30 years, another challenge it still faces is a shortage of female talent. “Less than 20% of tech sales positions are held by women- even fewer if you’re a woman of color. — The Women in Tech Sales Bootcamp.

Guided by Our Values 

We continue to follow the core principles of our founders to help us overcome these challenges today. Among our values are being human and inspiring and having customer passion. These inform our selection criteria when we’re seeking new talent and are the same we use to recognize great performance in our existing team. The annual Jone Panavas Award recognizes employees who  embody our values and are the go-to teammates,  the people who demonstrate outstanding personal leadership and customer passion. 

We’re Still Trying to Get it Right 

We’re not where we want to be just yet, but Softchoice is committed to reaching gender equality across the organization, building a new generation of female leadership and bringing fresh perspectives on technology and innovation to the people we serve.  

At the heart of our efforts to develop women into tech is the Leading Women committee, an employee-led group focused on building an inclusive community of women across Softchoice This effort comes to life through mentorships with senior Softchoice leaders, unique training opportunities for female employees and purposeful recruitment and retention of top female talent.  

“The objective of the Softchoice Leading Women Committee is to build a community where people are aware and educated about bias and are focused on driving change.  As a direct result of the current protests around the globe, people are demanding equality and the time is now for women to take our seat at the table and demand equality for all, regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity.” – Renee Bradford, Leading Women Committee Chair 

 We are also proud supporters of the Women in Tech Sales Bootcamp. As this year’s platinum sponsor, we’re united behind the goal of connecting top employers with diverse talent. This industry-vetted, 5-day intensive training program helps match women who want to pursue or advance their skills in tech sales with employers. On average, 80% of graduates find employment within in 30 days of completing the program. Softchoice has hired 9 graduates of the Women in Tech Bootcamp in the past 2 years. 

 “Although the numbers are improving, there’s still a big gap for women in sales, especially tech sales. Add to that the fact that I’m a recent immigrant to the country, and I had a typical case of self-doubt and job-search-jitters; which is why, applying and getting selected for WITS was one of the best career decisions I’ve made so far.” – Chantelle Menezes, Softchoice Sales Support Trainee 

 With our commitment to Women in Tech combined with competitive parental benefits, workplace flexibility and our diversity and inclusion efforts, we’re laying the foundation for a new generation of women in technology, today. 

 Learn More About Softchoice Women In Tech 

 

Softchoice Recognized by Human Rights Campaign’s 2020 Corporate Equality Index

Our Commitment  

At Softchoice, we are committed to providing an engaging and inclusive environment where every employee can bring their whole self to work. Softchoice believes in creating an environment where all employees – regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, race, religion or cultural background – feel accepted and supported to succeed. And I recognize that this is a journey, not a race, and we’re not at our destination yet. There is still important work to be done. But I am excited with the results we have achieved so far that is fueling us to do more.      

Today, we are especially proud to participate in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2020 Corporate Equality IndexIn this report, Softchoice was recognized for our LGBTQIA+ inclusive policies and practices, including non-discrimination workplace protections, domestic partner benefits and transgender-inclusive health care benefits.   

I am thrilled to partner with our orangePRIDE Employee Resource Group (ERG) on our diversity and inclusion journey. orangePRIDE helps our leadership team identify and remove barriers to ensure LGBTQIA+ employees have a path to success and advises Softchoice on how to attract and retain top talent from the LGBTQIA+ community. 

LGBTQIA+ Support at Softchoice 

  • We offer equal benefits to same and different-sex spouses and domestic partners of benefits-eligible employees.  
  • We provide coverage for transgender health care services, including transition-related treatment, surgery, hormone therapy and counseling support for U.S. employees – and our transgender benefits are fully aligned with the World Professional for Transgender Health Standards of Care (WPATH SOC).  
  • We have an amazing employee resource group – orangePRIDE  that advocates for the LGBTQIA+ community and supports our employees across North America. 
  • In partnership with the Softchoice Cares Board, we do not offer philanthropic support to any organization with a policy of discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community or any other marginalized group.

Through benchmarking reports like the Corporate Equality Index and direct feedback from Softchoice employees, we will continue to build a welcoming and inclusive culture for all 

Karen Scott is Sr. Vice President – People & Growth at Softchoice. 

 

Softchoice’s Commitment to Customer Experience Awarded by Canadian Marketing Association

This past Friday, Softchoice had the privilege of winning an award for our focus on customer experience (CX) at the Canadian Marketing Association Awards Gala 2019. It was easily one of my most memorable career highlights, seeing Softchoice standing shoulder to shoulder with a number of well-known and respected brands.

The recognition was a great way to cap off a little more than two years of significant focus, building our voice of customer programs and turning feedback into programs and projects that close the gap between our customers’ experience and expectation.

This year we also celebrated Softchoice’s 30th birthday and with that, we celebrate thirty years of customer passion and building a business focused on helping our customers think differently about technology.

Thirty years ago, we set ourselves apart by collecting and cataloguing information about software so customers could help make better decisions. No one else was doing that at the time. Back then, we built our systems and tools focused on delivering value to the customer and polled customers about their experience with Softchoice. We had created the beginnings of a CX practice before we knew there was a term for it. It is part of our DNA.

But times change. Today, Google makes finding information faster and easier than it’s ever been, and our customers’ B2C experience is driving their B2B expectations. Those things that had once set us apart, are now considered table stakes.

Today’s technology customer is looking for something different. In an era where web portals, chatbots and call trees dominate, they want a partner who is accessible across channels, devices and time as well as understands their business and needs. They want a partner that is more human. In a time where their search engine provides them with endless technology options or cases studies on how everyone else has done it, they want a partner who inspires them to think differently about technology. Being that Human and Inspiring partner is the path that we are on.

“Customer experience in today’s world is imperative but ensuring the consistent improvement of customer experience is an ongoing journey and we are excited to partner with Softchoice, an organization built on customer passion, on this journey,” said Morana Bakula, Vice President, Experience Management, Bond Brand Loyalty.

“This award is recognition of our work together to consistently deliver on customer experience aligned to changing customer needs.”

As proud as we are of the recognition we’ve recently received and the work we’ve done over the last few years, we’re even more excited about what’s ahead… creating experiences, with our customers, partners and people, that are inseparable from the solutions and services we deliver.

John Dumo is Vice President, Customer Experience at Softchoice