SAP focuses on safety when planning their post-COVID return to R+T Park

SAP focuses on safety when planning their post-COVID return to R+T Park

If you’re reading this, you’re most likely doing so from a makeshift office in your house or apartment. No, we’re not psychic. Like you, many of our tenants started working remotely at the beginning of the COVID-19 situation.

Over the last month, many global companies have announced that they’re not planning on returning to their offices until 2021. A few of these have decided to become “digital by default” companies. In these cases, work from home will be the primary workspace. Their offices in turn will shift to being spaces that teams can gather when needed or to meet with customers and partners.

Andrea Loveridge, Senior Human Resources Business Partner at SAP
Andrea Loveridge, Senior Human Resources Business Partner at SAP

But “digital by default” doesn’t work for every company or team. Many of us will be heading back into our offices. It’d be an understatement to say that workplaces will never be the same. But what will it be like when we’re back inside?

The team at R+T Park tenant SAP Labs – Waterloo has been working from home since early March. A long time part of the community since 2004, the office traces its roots deep into Waterloo tech lore. Founded as Watcom in 1981 by Professor Wes Graham (who we named a road after!), and Ian McPhee, the company was acquired by PowerSoft in 1994 and then by SyBase in 1995. SyBase was acquired by SAP in 2010.

In 2019, SAP Waterloo completed a major remodeling of its space. It was designed to be both an upgrade for their current team and to help attract new grads coming out of the University of Waterloo.

Then COVID-19 struck.

“I think in a similar way to most technology companies, our priority was just to make sure that everybody was able to work safely,” said Andrea Loveridge, Senior Human Resources Business Partner at SAP. “We decided to close a little bit earlier.”

Being part of a global company gave SAP’s Canadian offices an early edge in adapting to the COVID-19 situation. The company’s offices across Asia started their shutdowns earlier in the year during the first weeks of the pandemic. “We had already gone through some of these experiences with our China offices, and so they had some best practices that they could share with us. And that learning helped us mobilize as an organization to kind of take action.”

With restrictions across Canada starting to lift, Loveridge and the SAP team have been speaking with their employees about what going back to the office will look like. “Before COVID-19, work from home was an exceptional process,” said Loveridge. “Now, going into the office will be an exceptional process – it’s been inverted a little bit.”

SAP takes pride in open and transparent communication with their team. During conversations with their team, they’ve shared that message that they’re taking their time and proceeding with caution to keep everyone safe. Those conversations have helped drive the plan on how to re-open their office in the R+T Park.

SAP Labs Canada

“We know there’s a lot of stuff we need to do to be prepared,” Loveridge said. It’s more than just having a supply of hand sanitizer. Getting the office safe involves working with their facilities team to prepare and share cleaning plans. SAP will also ensure they have the proper personal protection equipment (PPE) available for staff who require it.

Loveridge is also focused on making sure all their team has the right information on how to come back into the office safely. “Human Resources has had a huge role in a lot of these processes – many of which we’ve had to virtualize,” added Loveridge. Hiring hasn’t stopped at the office during the COVID-19 situation. Onboardings have gone virtual and the team is also managing interns and co-ops remotely.

“Working in an office was viewed as a low-risk job up until now,” said Loveridge. “We can’t foretell the future about what’s going to change, but we want to have a process in place for employees and leaders to have conversations about their workspace and about how everybody feels working in it.” The venerable Health and Safety Committee has suddenly transformed from that group that meets once a month into the go-to team for information, guidance, and leadership on office safety. “We need to think about how something like our joint health and safety committee can contribute to the discussion around keeping employees safe,” said Loveridge.

One thing Loveridge points to is the perception around working while sick. We all know a coworker who has come to the office with a cold to meet a deadline on a project. When we go back to our offices, Loveridge sees this changing. “There was a stigma around taking sick time,” said Loveridge. “If somebody genuinely looks under the weather, we’re just going to have more of an expectation socially that that person should go home and rest or work virtually. Because we’ve all been through this big experience where we’ve all had to work virtually, there will be a lot more empathy about doing that now.”

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The recently renovated SAP space was designed to help their teamwork in the best way for each individual or team. “It is more of an activity-based office space – it’s very agile.” Loveridge is a big video game fan and was thrilled that their new space included a video game room for people to play together. The office also has a full bookshelf of board games on it for our board game nights. “I think people want to come back to that. But any office environment is going to have challenges.”

Beyond safety, culture is another issue that SAP is looking at. Office space is one of the main ingredients of company culture – so how will moving to a mix of office and work from home affect it? Loveridge pointed out that the transition from office to work from home hasn’t broken bonds formed from working side-by-side. “I’ve seen these teams take the plunge,” added Loveridge. “They’ve done things to continue their connections through social apps, while they’re on video calls together, and playing online games together.”

Some employees have even gone the “MTV Cribs” route and have done tours of their homes and families. “While everybody had those interactions at work in the past, work from home has offered an opportunity for intimacy.”

On a recent all-hands call for SAP Canadian offices, Cindy Fagen, Managing Director, SAP Labs Canada, and Andy Canham, Managing Director, SAP Canada brought in Steven Page, formally of the Barenaked Ladies, to sing for pretty much everybody on the SAP Canada team. “It was this great connecting experience from coast-to-coast to be listening to the same song together as a group and to be chatting with one another about how awesome this is,” Loveridge said.

Senior leaders at SAP Waterloo have also adapted to work from home. They have hosted virtual town halls to share updates and new information. It all helps replicate the feeling of being on a team when you’re at home. Loveridge described these as being more personal than a traditional town hall or fireside chat. “In the office, they probably wouldn’t roll up their sleeves and show off their tattoos like they did on a recent Zoom call. It’s giving us opportunities to be even more genuine and more intimate with the organization as a whole.”