The benefit of experience: why employee wellbeing is key to post-pandemic prosperity

When Marco Fanizzi joined data management company, Commvault, as Vice President & General Manager EMEA, at the end of 2019, he was focused on leading a major region of a massively successful international technology business, globally generating over $700m in revenue and employing more than 2,800 people worldwide

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Marco Fanizzi, Vice President & General Manager EMEA, Commvault

Just months later, like millions of others, he found himself adjusting to the impact of lockdown, remote working and priorities that had shifted dramatically due to the pandemic.  Managing the unfolding impact on the wellbeing of people placed under immense personal pressure while still trying to deliver on work-related objectives and targets became not only a social responsibility necessity but also a business critical requirement.

Those familiar with roles that are focused on Europe, the Middle East and Africa will recognise the reality that face-to-face contact is key to understanding diverse groups of employees, customers and partners, and their approach to work, and wider culture. For business leaders in these diverse regions frequent travel was a recognised requirement, playing a huge role in successfully supporting team members, expanding business relationships and driving growth of the company.

As he recalls, “Before the pandemic, I had been fully focused on the process of getting to know my colleagues in person. I took perhaps 50 flights in just months and stayed in 30 hotels. In the process I got to meet a lot of people, shake a lot of hands, share a lot of dinners and begin to build relationships.”

Less than 18 months later, however, and the world is in a very different position. Indeed, Fanizzi’s experiences since the arrival of COVID-19 are a microcosm of what has changed about work-related contact and networking in the remote environment. “Generally speaking, I would normally meet at least 150 new people in my network per year – in the last 12 months, I have met less than 20 new solid contacts. That the impact of lockdown fundamentally changed nearly every aspect of how I worked for my whole career and we had to quickly learn from our experiences and mistakes in order to emerge as a healthy team.”

Isolation Issues
In common with many leaders, Fanizzi has seen the impact of the pandemic from wide ranging perspectives. “From a pure business performance point of view, the team have performed extremely well and we haven’t seen, for instance, any issues relating to productivity as a result of people working from home,” he said. “What’s less certain, however, is whether isolation is making creativity more of a challenge and whether being physically together is simply a better environment to help people push ideas around and think outside the box.”

Then there’s the huge and complex problems relating to personal wellbeing and mental health. As Fanizzi has witnessed, the ubiquitous stress experienced over the last 14 months has created unique challenges. “While almost everyone is lucky enough to have friends, family and a job which offer a foundation for happiness, when all three of these things are challenged together, the strain is immense and most of us have no previous experience to draw on.”

As a result, he believes employers now have a greater responsibility than ever before to respond effectively to mental health challenges, despite the uncertainty that still exists for teams that work together despite living in countries at different stages of the recovery process.

“As a collection of nations facing these challenges, no-one has yet fully understood the reality of what has happened as a result of COVID-19 at work or at home. We still don’t know its full consequences for mental health, but it’s essential that employers and their teams focus on positive, effective initiatives such as Employee Resource Groups to take action on specific topics and support people who need it because of challenges to mental health. Here at Commvault we believe employees must be able to bring their ‘full selves’ to work and that’s why we offer spaces for employees to share the same energy they have for our business with the energy and passion they have for things that matter to them.

He also sees diversity and inclusion as continuing to play a fundamental role in the ability of businesses and their teams to focus on wellbeing: “If you’re not a diverse or inclusive business, then by definition, you are not reflective of society or fair to everyone. This impacts happiness and productivity, despite the fact that inclusion is often a matter of very practical and specific actions that every company can put in place to help people stay well.  For me this means promoting inclusion and diversity as a leader in very practical ways such as my personal promotion of CV WIT with our International Day symposium where we openly discussed ways to increase women in leadership through the EMEA region.”

The evolving nature of remote work
So what happens next? What lessons can organisations take from our collective experiences of the pandemic to improve wellbeing on a permanent basis?

As Fanizzi explains, the approach he took to managing, developing and nurturing his remote team has evolved throughout the pandemic. “When you are running a business, interaction is filled with formal and informal moments, most of which were suddenly replaced by businesses all over the world with Zoom calls. While the technology has been incredibly useful, the problem is that a reliance on video eliminates informality almost entirely. I soon realised that this was something we had to change if we were to safeguard the wellbeing of our team.”

By replacing the paradox of ‘planned informality’ with more spontaneous calls and conversations, Fanizzi and his team were able to recapture a sense of what isolation had taken away. This was no easy task, and required a series of important changes to be made to the format of everyday communication to help put people at ease.

This included removing the need to have video running, so colleagues would not worry about their setting should a call arrive that wasn’t in the diary. “I was determined that people should understand we can work around the distractions that are inevitable at home, whether it’s kids, pets or any of the other issues employers shouldn’t be asking people to control.”

“Initially, some of my team were surprised about these informal discussions, especially when they weren’t asked to focus on reports or numbers,” said Fanizzi. “But that was key – I had to draw a distinction between calls which were focused on business and others that were focused on how people were doing, what might be going on in their lives or to give them the opportunity to share any difficulties they might be having.”

Even before the pandemic, 30 percent of Commvault employees were already working remotely. “Looking ahead,” Fanizzi says, “We want to be completely flexible, and will offer a hybrid environment so they can come into the office setting when they need to. We also have assessed the differentiated needs that each role, seniority and personal situation requires within the company to offer flexibility and growth for all employees to maximise their career journey and future of work at Commvault.

This means specific approaches for different people – seniorr people are generally more independent, for instance, but we will still offer a development place for young talent to meet, learn and share the environment with others and in time, get back to normality.”

Put these things together and Fanizzi sees the future of work gradually becoming more clearly defined. “Our working lives must be flexible, sustainable, fair, without differences, and with diversity and inclusion providing a foundation for a positive shared future,” he says. “Personally, I try to make a small and modest contribution and share these values that matter to me as a leader and ensure they are reflected in the business. This is a process that helps me challenge myself and ensure my team benefits from these most difficult experiences.”