For some companies — like Degreed — remote work is built into the fabric of company culture. For others, operating without the comforts of a cubicle and the familiarity of in-person connections is a brand-new experience. The situation we’ve all found ourselves in is unprecedented. How can we keep focus when distractions lurk around every corner? How do we stay responsive when priorities are shifting at hyper-speed? How can we encourage “business as usual” when it feels like anything but?
We’re interviewing clients across a wide variety of industries to hear how they’re supporting their newly-remote workforces, creating virtual learning programs, and maintaining productivity in uncertain times. This is definitely new territory for us all, but we hope that by sharing best practices, insights, and real stories, we can all continue to grow, learn, and thrive—together.
Check back often for new entries in Navigating the New Normal: Advice from Degreed Clients.
First, we sat down (remotely, of course) with João Eduardo Del Vechio, Senior Digital Learning Analyst at Vale, one of the largest mining companies in the world. Headquartered in Brazil with employees in 30 countries across the globe, they are working to create more sustainable ways of mining and utilizing natural resources.
Degreed: Tell us about what Vale is experiencing right now. What changes have you had to implement? How is Vale evolving right now as a business?
João: Well, there are several things that are going on. In our office in Brazil, where we have 2,000 people, everybody who can is working from home. We’re not allowed to go back to the office unless essential, like if you are security or a janitor. For those people who have to be there, you’re working every other day.
There are other restrictions as well. We’re asking people not to leave home, and not to meet people from work. If you’re working out of the office, you’re not supposed to meet up with colleagues.
Our operations are more difficult. To remove iron ore or copper from the soil, people have to use explosives and drive our machines. Those people are not dismissed but they are working at a safe distance of two meters apart. If it’s not possible to stay six feet from each other, you’re not supposed to be there.
Degreed: Vale is continuing to promote learning, training, and development. What have you done to adjust to this new situation, both in your offerings and in your approach?
João: First, we built a task force for content curation. The manager for compensation and benefits is leading this task force and I’m taking care of our Degreed platform. We are seeing peak usage on the platform. From yesterday to today, we had 500 more people coming into Degreed.
We’re starting massive communications to our employees, to use the content that we are curating and publishing. We have a Pathway that I created a few months ago — thank God! — on how to work from home, about ergonomics and how to keep performing when you’re at home. It wasn’t intended for moments like these, but it’s very useful at this point.
For our instructor-led core trainings, the first thing we did was cancel almost everything. We maintained only those related to safety and those that help our employees avoid risks. For those safety and risk trainings, we are reducing the number of people in the room, keeping the six feet distance from each other.
On the side, I am developing a tool for online instructor-led training. We didn’t have any virtual classrooms yet; this is something that we are developing.
Degreed: We actually did a blog post on this recently, switching to virtual instructor-led training! My next question is about advice for someone who is struggling — someone who isn’t used to remote work, who wasn’t prepared for this. What would help them right now?
João: I shared something like that with a colleague a few minutes ago, actually. I told her that it was cool on Monday, but on Tuesday I was already tired. We get so used to going to the office, talking to people– have a coffee, keep working. If you need to stay a bit later, you can stay in the office. But now, it’s just so different.
I try to not get isolated. It’s very comfortable not to talk to anybody, to do the same thing every day, or to eat your problems. I try to talk to people, to communicate as much as I can. Not to overdo it, but I have some time in my calendar just to ask people how they’re doing. Don’t forget that you are still a human and a friend even though we have this coronavirus. You’re still a human. There are no zombies. There is no zombie apocalypse yet.
Degreed: How has Vale transitioned to give people more freedom as a remote workforce? What has that switch been like for leadership?
João: The task force that I mentioned before is working on this. One front is directed to all employees. We’re telling people how to be more productive, how to continue being a human and how to continue being friends with people, things like that. We tell people they have to get dressed to work on a Monday morning because, yes, you have to do that.
The other front of the task force is talking to managers, and listening to them. We have 1,600 around the globe. We have to talk and listen, to understand what’s going on. We’ve heard, “I don’t see if they’re working anymore. I don’t see if they’re going to courses, if they’re going to the beach, or anything. Because they’re at home and quarantined.” And we’re telling managers, “You don’t need to know all that, if they’re delivering results.”
The first thing in moments like these is for leaders to trust. They’re building a team based on trust. If there is no trust, nobody is going to be delivering what you need. Trust is the first thing. Then we are also giving them tools to manage, like teaching them how to use Microsoft Planner, how to use Trello, and other tools like that.
Degreed: Allowing people to work from home is a big change for Vale. It’s also a technology challenge; you have people working remotely all over Brazil in places where they don’t even have good access to WiFi. How has Vale prepared for that?
João: Well, it hasn’t been an issue so far. I haven’t had any problems. Everywhere we are, since we install our facilities in such isolated areas, we give people infrastructure. In cities, they have internet infrastructure at their homes. Right now, they’re not allowed to leave their houses, but Vale provides them with internet.
If you are aboard a ship, we give them internet on the ship. Everywhere they are, they have internet, whether they are at home or embarked. And if you go to the mines in Canada, if you are our employee and working underground, there is 4G internet. Underneath the ground, we have antennas. We give them internet and access to information because they need it. We need to keep in contact with them, to keep them informed about everything that’s going on. We have open lines.
Learning and upskilling is also a part of it. For example, we have this truck at one site. It’s like a house, and it always has two drivers inside that truck. One of those drivers is actually driving, and the other one is watching. They work in shifts of 30 minutes. And when you’re not working, you’re not driving, you can learn. That’s the thing, you start using this free time. We’re paying them to learn, actually.
Degreed: How are you setting yourselves up for agility?
João: The thing is, Vale is not set up to be agile. It’s a traditional business. Think about selling iron ore. It’s not done with agility. You have contracts that may take years to be done. It’s not necessarily agile material to work with.
But people are working with agility to shift the way we deal with problems. For education, Degreed is one of the answers for this. It’s how we take content directly to people, helping them focus. They can focus on what they should be doing — being an operational analyst, being a financial analyst, being a director. Any job you have, you can concentrate on the content for you, on a single platform.
There is so much available. In our world, we have so much content, so it’s not about being curious anymore. You have to concentrate. That’s what we are trying to provide. Once you can deliberately search for the content you need, that’s when you can be agile.