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Renārs Griškevičs: Course towards change and a “platinum” culture that supports employees


Changes in SJSC State Real Estate started very recently - in 2018. We moved forward quickly and confidently - we started with a new strategy and values, and we worked on a sustainable corporate governance model. We created a culture in the company that supports and educates employees. At the same time, we launched a new approach to creating an office environment in the public sector - work in an activity-based office. Our key strategic priorities remain sustainable and efficient operations, and the people involved. At the same time, our partners and stakeholders expect a responsible attitude towards the environment and society. We are proud that our work has been recognised - on our way to change, starting from the bronze award obtained in 2018 in the Sustainability Index of the Institute for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, this year we are among the 23 most sustainable companies in Latvia, which have been awarded the high platinum award. The obtained assessment confirms that we have chosen the right direction, but the path does not stop and there is no lack of challenges - we continue responsible business practices, developing valuable initiatives and new ideas for effective company development in the interests of the Latvian state and society.

We continue to work to make our property portfolio more energy efficient, more responsible in terms of resource consumption, and we will develop building sustainability guidelines in development projects by introducing building sustainability certification according to internationally recognised systems. We are also paying increased attention to safety on construction sites and strengthening responsibility in our supply chain. We will work to make our procurements even “greener” - already this year we plan to implement twice as many “green” procurements as before.

Attitudes towards work have changed - we do not come to work, but to achieve specific goals, and our office is an important tool in achieving the company's strategic goals. On a daily basis, we prefer the workplace and the method that best helps us to perform the tasks entrusted to us and achieve specific goals. While in the office, we can work in quiet rooms if it is necessary to concentrate, or together with colleagues in rooms that support teamwork. If we work from home - we provide the necessary support for safe work. We practice this approach ourselves and also offer it to our clients. This year, we are sharing our experience in the Innovation Laboratory of the State Chancellery to together create a vision of a modern, inclusive, efficient and flexible work environment that supports work organisations, where employees feel good and that helps organisations achieve their goals. We also see great interest from other government organisations going in the same direction and a willingness to experiment, and to try something similar that is more suitable for everyone.

We worked remotely and flexibly even before the pandemic - since the end of 2019, when we moved from three historic buildings in Old Riga to a new, activity-based office at 1 Talejas Street. The conditions of the pandemic also accelerated our productivity - we have become more efficient and skilled. When the state of emergency was declared, we were almost completely technically ready to start working remotely - within two days. As we work in an activity-based office, we have already provided each employee with the technical means to work anywhere - a telephone with an internet connection, and a laptop. Although we had already taken advantage of remote and flexible working hours, most employees had chosen to work in the office and hold meetings in the office.

Like any company, the last year and a half of SRE has been filled with new challenges. In the public sector, too, the following questions gained momentum: how to support employees in a non-standard situation and at the same time achieve the company's goals, how to unite employees who are physically located in their home office, and how to help maintain a private and professional life balance? The challenge for managers - how to lead and motivate a team that works completely remotely, how to create a sense of belonging to the company, if our homes have become mini-offices, how to provide positive emotions and a sense of community.

Aware that working from home would last for more than a couple of weeks, one of the challenges was to create a safe working environment at home. We consulted colleagues and offered support for the creation of an ergonomic workplace - monitors, computer stands, chairs, so that work at home is safe for health. In a very short time, we also learnt the specifics of virtual meetings, new platforms and digital tools that help make working online more efficient.

In addition to a modern and ergonomic work environment, the responsibility of a sustainable company is to support employees in taking care of their health. In the spring of 2020, the State Chancellery surveyed employees of public institutions, and 74% of respondents admitted that the factor that most affects well-being is the concern for one's own and loved ones' health and the work-life balance.

It is important to set boundaries that are especially relevant today - in the digital environment, when almost any colleague is available. Colleagues in joint workshops agreed on how long meetings that we plan should be, and how late we can disturb colleagues regarding work issues. We see that employees follow the example of the manager - if the manager does not write e-mails on holidays, then over time the employees do the same, if he exercises - then there is a greater chance that the employees will adopt healthy habits.

We are intensifying the development of managerial competencies, providing psychologist consultations and coaching sessions, because it is important to acquire tools for overcoming the crisis, which can be provided by a diverse educational programme that introduces employees to various techniques for more productive and present work.

A study conducted by Riga Stradiņš University shows that the number of people who have symptoms of depression during a pandemic is increasing. Listening to what scientists said about the impact of crises on health and listening to the needs of colleagues, we developed a programme that offered employees appropriate activities to support physical and mental health. For example, we developed persistent and healthy habits; for 21 days in a row, in the early mornings we went for a walk under the guidance of an awareness coach. The company can offer various support options, but it is up to the individual to use these options and the knowledge gained. Many of the activities offered to employees have little or no cost, but require the involvement of colleagues themselves.

The challenge for today's employee is to find a job that values the work-life balance, not only in words but also in deeds. We see and feel that our employees use and evaluate the proposed initiatives - the employee involvement rate has doubled, as well as, if possible, eight out of ten existing employees would re-apply for a job with SRE.

Our experience is proof that activities that promote mental and physical health can also be implemented in state-owned companies, so we are happy to share this experience. We are aware that teleworking is becoming more and more popular, but the office environment still plays and will continue to play an important role in shaping the company's culture. It is very likely that the trend will be to build a hybrid model according to the specifics and needs of the organisation. Therefore, we are already looking for the most suitable form for us, for how we will work after the lifting of epidemiological restrictions and which pandemic training we can continue to use to support employees in the work-life balance. No matter how far technology develops, humans are and will be the key.

Renārs Griškevičs, Chairman of the Board of SRE