How to Keep Employee Morale High During the Holiday Season
The 2020 holiday season is here, and the Diff team is working hard to help clients meet growing consumer demands. According to McKinsey, the flight to digital and omnichannel will be prevalent during this year’s holiday season, with 30-60% of consumers across countries reporting an intent to shift online for holiday shopping.
To meet increased online shopping demand, Differs are helping clients prepare and create engaging shopping experiences that result in happy customers, stronger brand loyalty, and increased sales. And given the chaos of Q4 logistics, proper planning is becoming more important than ever for a successful holiday season too.
We interviewed Hai-Long Nguyen, Diff’s Director of Engineering and Delivery, to discuss how he tries to keep our delivery team’s morale high as they help prepare merchants for peak shopping periods. We discuss strategies for celebrating employee achievements, overcoming high-pressure situations, and tips for increasing team collaboration while working from home.
Read on to learn how Hai-Long is preparing our delivery teams for a holiday shopping season like never before.
What is your role and how does it fit in with the rest of the team?
I’m currently Director of Engineering and Delivery at Diff. My day to day is hard to describe because I wear multiple hats.
In my position of leadership, I have the ability to positively influence all around me. I rely on my personal principles and beliefs to guide my leadership approach and help my team align with Diff's values. Ultimately, I hope to inspire excellence in everyone I work with.
As a Principal Consultant, I’m very much involved in ideation, extracting needs, and bringing in the experience I’ve gained over the years to consult our clients on software solutions. This is the part of the job that I enjoy the most.
In Delivery, I oversee our Project Management Office (PMO). Our Project Managers are the ones I work with the most, whom I provide with mentorship, training, and coaching to support upholding our reputation for getting stuff done well. Project Management barely describes to me their role in our consulting setting. They are problem solvers and conduct business analysis. They play a role in client success and have responsibilities that overlap Customer Support, and Account Management. They need to have a strong understanding of the Shopify platform and are experts of implementing Shopify for their clients. I play a role in shaping our PMO so that we can be the trusted advisors that our clients can rely on.
I oversee the Engineering efforts of the two main services that we provide at Diff: Ecomm Storefront Implementations, as well as System Integrations & Custom Application Development to support Commerce Operations. In this role, I provide our department managers with high level roadmap direction, guidance, and coaching. It is important that our people are lined up on interesting projects and are set up to do their best work. By shaping software development at a high level I aim to strengthen culture, talent, and develop professional software teams.
The holidays are notoriously busy in retail ecommerce. How does your team keep morale high during peak shopping periods?
We are very much in our busy period where many launches have been happening. Merchants rely on us to support them in preparing for the holiday season, when they expect the most sales. It’s also the time of the year when workloads can become overwhelming.
This year, we’ve taken extra steps to make sure we’re better prepared in the leadup to the holiday period where historically we are pumping out the most work. Given the experiences from prior years, we are doing all we can to contain workloads so that our staff are not working above capacity. As an example, we know that there will be clients that have last minute projects before Black Friday, and so we’re taking unplanned work into consideration, and forecasting our developers accordingly.
Employees’ workload is an important responsibility at the management level. Assignment of projects is a tricky puzzle where strengths, areas of development, interests, team dynamics, and chemistry are all taken into consideration, when we align developers on projects.
We have a goal of engaging and endearing our clients to develop long-term relationships. We encourage and create space that allows our people to provide their input on best practice in software and technology development helps engage and retain clients for a long time. The reality is that after Black Friday, we start talking about our goals for 2021. By not overworking employees come December, they will have energy to contribute to expand our client accounts into the new year.
How does your team celebrate successes and achievements? How do you ensure employees are recognized for their results, and why is this important?
There are different channels to recognize employees, especially during these times. When there are major accomplishments, we encourage our employees to share their work in our weekly department meetings. This includes what they’ve done, who they did it for, and why they did it.
Department meetings are a place where we highlight and showcase significant releases or recent launches. I would love to see more of our employees demo their own work to their department. This will also allow participants to pick up presentation and communication skills.
During the pandemic, we definitely have had to get creative and have celebrated accomplishments with socially-distant outings at the park, or having takeout together over a Zoom conference.
What are some of the biggest sacrifices your team has had to make to support projects?
Definitely some peace of mind is sacrificed for supporting our clients when they need it. For example, sometimes software needs unexpected support, notably off-hours. Our people go above and beyond to support our clients, and they do so because they are proud of their work. I strive to create an environment where an employee will help because they want to, not because they are being asked.
What strategies do you use to create a space where your team members feel comfortable communicating honestly - for example, if they disagree with a decision?
When we go through stressful situations, I jump immediately to problem solving. I don’t ask “Why did this happen?” Instead, I take the approach of just figuring how to solve the situation. I think it’s important that employees don't feel frightened or scared. In a calm tone, I let them know that the priority is to solve the particular problem.
We need to ask ourselves, “How do we find ourselves a way out of the situation?” And the answer is simple: 1. By not overreacting, and 2. By taking it as an opportunity to learn.
When a mistake happens, we don’t intimidate people. Intimidation can create an environment where employees might resort to lying. Instead, I focus on creating an environment where our teams feel comfortable sharing when a mistake has been made. The best thing is when an employee is able to say, “Yeah, I messed up”. Then we can have an honest conversation so that the whole team learns from the mistake. Having a sense of humor is also important. Having a laugh makes things less stressful, so people can focus on solving the problem at hand.
How has team collaboration changed since Diff’s shift to work from home, and how do you continue to build positive relationships at work?
There are a few things we are doing to bring people together during this work from home period. We’re organizing games, and we have fun, relaxed Slack threads like for example, a channel where Differs post pictures of what they ate last night. At a department level, we try to have weekly video meetings where anyone can present topics and engage the group in discussion. We also try to find opportunities to increase collaboration on projects, like pairing people up to code together. What’s really important has been video conference calls. I’ve found myself doing more videos than I ever have out of necessity to get that human touch. After all, no one wants to feel like they’re talking to a robot on the other end of the phone.
What strategies has your team been using to achieve work-life balance while working from home? How do these strategies differ based on your team members’ individual needs (ex. parents with kids)?
I’m a believer in letting our teams decide for themselves what is right - I never want to micromanage. Everyone has their own individual responsibilities at home that are unique to them, and I trust our staff to figure out their own schedules. At Diff, we have ultra flex hours so that staff can work at whatever time is best for them.
Especially in a remote situation, it’s easy to work late in the evening. But we understand that there’s only so much time in a day. We shouldn’t rely on people to work more to get by because that’s not sustainable. For sure, there are cases where we will have agreements with employees to work more to support certain projects. But in the general case, it comes down to planning people’s time correctly to achieve work-life balance.
Planning people’s time means taking into consideration factors that are not so tangible when we decide who is responsible for what client project for what week. It’s on us to manage their workload so they can then manage their time.
I have some tips and tricks for managing work hours that have worked well for me. I have a home office - and I am very lucky to have that. To separate my personal life from my work life, I dress up for work, and even put on jeans and shoes to make the mood different. I take my shoes off when I leave my office. I have a door I actually close, and I treat it as an office that I can’t go back to. When the weekend comes, I pack up my computer and cables, and make a commitment not to go back to the office. This helps me create that separation psychologically.
I have funny stories, like the time I noticed on a Friday late evening that the light in the office was still on, but because of my rules, I couldn’t go into the office to close the lights. I even had a weekend where I forgot my laptop charger in the office, and come Saturday afternoon my laptop died because I didn’t go in to get my cable. If it were a real office, I know I wouldn’t have gone back to get my cable, so it’s the same concept.
What are you looking forward to in the new year 2021 with your team in your career development? Once this holiday season is over?
At the start of the pandemic, we thought we’d be back in the office in 2 weeks. Here we are half a year later, still at home. This year has been a weird year, and next year will continue to be weird. Knowing this situation will continue for a while, I’m looking forward to planning better.
Entering the new year knowing we will be working remote, we have to think about how we can better manage ourselves. In the context of the work that we do, we will be continuing what we’ve always done, and continuing to evolve ourselves. Shopify continues to evolve their platform and roll out new features and functionalities that we’ve previously had to implement custom for our clients. This allows us to focus our energies on new problems.
Omnichannel is still a buzzword and as we move into 2021, more and more brands will introduce it and more consumers will expect it. Consumers want as much choice as possible as to where they can buy things. And if shoppers buy on different channels, merchants will need their loyalty programs to work on all their channels too. Customer service will also need to be centralized to support omnichannel operations.
I look forward to seeing Shopify subscription APIs, and making subscription models more native on the Shopify platform. The possibilities are endless. We’ve gone so far by integrating systems and APIs, but this will provide us with infinite possibilities.
More from Diff:
- Better Commerce, Better World: Virtual Recruitment and Onboarding
- How We're Building a Positive Company Culture While Working Remote
- Tips for Working From Home During COVID-19
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