We pulled together another stellar panel for a FTT Focus roundtable discussion (under the Chatham House Rule) and this time we explored the future of remote working. The setting and timing to discuss remote working was spot on as we were almost exactly a year on from the announcement of the first lockdown in the UK. With attendees fortified by the delivery of a lovely breakfast box, most settled back in their remote workspaces for a lively investigation into what the future holds for the way we work.
- Neel Davda, Major Accounts Manager EUR Bold360
- Eithne Metcalfe-Bliss, VP People Operations, Checkout.com
- Hannah Smith, Chief of Staff, Project Imagine
- Lisa Moyle, Director of Strategy, VC Innovations (moderator)
Reflections on a year like no other
Our speakers set the scene by outlining some of their own experiences of the past year of remote working and managing remote teams. All of our speakers spoke very positively about the process of shifting and adapting to remote working, even though it was at very short notice. Given the digital sophistication of participating companies that is perhaps not surprising. Having the right tools in place, however, seemed to give them an edge. And a need to adjust/add to that toolkit also played a central role in meeting company objectives. One speaker noted that they had created a virtual working space that gave the team a sense of being and working together.
The panel, along with lively audience contribution, spoke to a broad range of issues. From managing remote teams to ensuring that service and delivery to the end customer was maintained. As one speaker noted, it was not only work patterns that had been disrupted but all aspects of life. Keeping employee wellbeing front of mind was important and thinking about how to check-in with teams was noted to be very important.
All of the speakers spoke to the challenges of maintaining company culture whilst employees are remote. Creating that sense of shared purpose is just as crucial when not together in the office. So, whilst business focussed sessions were (and remain) critical, the softer ‘contact’ type sessions have also played an important role over the past 12 months. As an attendee noted, culture is not just about having ‘fun’ but it is about the ways in which you demonstrate that you value both customers and employees. Culture, as a speaker illustrated, is about everything that touches the employee, the customers and how your shared purpose is communicated and maintaining all of that while everyone is working remotely.
The panel also noted the importance of bearing in mind that not all employees were working in the same context. As we know, many had to manage with children at home whilst schools were closed, shared small spaces with flatmates or found themselves with the need to create effective working spaces with the right equipment. It had not been all banana bread and puppies for remote workers and those varying contexts really merited consideration.
Productivity, of course, remained important and speakers noted how they had employed different tools to support those goals. Ensuring that employees have the right tools and home office equipment to meet customer needs went some way to meeting some of the challenges of remote working. Getting in right for customers in a time a great anxiety/concern was crucial to successful teams and the remote working experience. One attendee noted how they moved 55,000 employees to remote working in a matter or weeks.
Building and adding to teams during the past year also brought its own unique set of challenges. Onboarding new members of staff required a reimaging of the process and this of course opens up a world of talent not bound by geographical restrictions. This comes with its own complexity as noted by both our speakers and a few attendees. Internationally distributed teams bring with it the requirement of new areas of knowledge. This was the moment that Brexit reared its head – another level of complexity and anxiety.
What does the future hold?
The conversation shifted to looking at what the future might hold for remote working. Bearing in mind the different experiences of employees, would there be a rush back to the office when the situation allowed? Or would remote workers, having experienced some of the benefits of this new way or working, want to stay fully remote?
The response from our speakers, across the board, was that the future was going to be a hybrid of remote and in person models of working. Clearly for many, remote working had been a success and brought with the kind of flexibility that many employees had wanted for some time. It had also contributed to what were increasingly transparent and trust-based relationships.
Are we seeing the end of presenteeism or a new level of employee monitoring digitally? This was a danger that a few attendees touched on as well. Is there an over-connectedness that comes with remote working? This also raised the issue of promotion and ensuring that the work people were doing remotely was recognised and rewarded. The panel noted the need for evolving management approaches and training to align with both cultural goals and learnings from the past year.
The speakers briefly touched on the style physical spaces that we have inhabited over the years and the impact on productivity. This is an interesting time to take note of how the design of our working spaces (e.g., open plan vs the cubicles of old) impacted on productivity and the types of communication between employees. Even with hybrid styles of working, being together physically in an office was deemed very important and it will be interesting to see how those physical spaces evolve.
This was certainly a very rich topic and we covered so many different aspects of behavioural changes/habits over the past year and how they would continue to shape what was to come. As the world (hopefully) continues that transition back or perhaps forward to what will be the new normal, the future of work will continue to evolve. I suspect we will be re-visiting this topic in future FTT Focus roundtables.
Here are some useful links that were shared during the event in case you missed them:
- Bold 360 / RBS Case Study
- Connected Conversations: How AI and Chatbots are Making Financial Services More Human
- Financial Services & Insurance: Standout with a more valuable customer experience
We will soon be launching a Vox Pop report on this fascinating topic, so please watch this space and get in touch with any questions.