At the end of each year, I like to reflect on the twelve months that have passed; what was achieved, what I’m grateful for and what I could have done better. This year in particular, that reflection feels more important.
I’ve felt seriously grateful for things I would often take for granted, like being able to spend more quality time with my family, my health and the everyday freedoms most of us have enjoyed for so long.
The year has taught me so much professionally, too. We were forced to adapt our ways of working in response to the pandemic, but I’ve found that many of these changes have brought benefits that will last far beyond 2020.
- Diversity can help address the digital skills deficit
As a result of the pandemic, several years’ worth of digital transformation has been accelerated almost overnight. While the speed of digitisation should be celebrated, we must also acknowledge that, now, the lag in tech skills has even more catching up to do than it did pre-COVID. In fact, the number of advertised roles in the UK tech sector has risen by 36% in recent months.
But opportunity does exist. We cannot escape the fact that it has been awful to see so many people lose their jobs as many businesses have suffered this year. But if anything positive has come from this, it is the fact that people are reconsidering their careers and looking to more resilient sectors, like tech. Now is the time for us, as businesses, to be proactively opening up routes into the tech sector to people from varying age groups, socio-economic, gender, cultural, or ethnic backgrounds. The lack of diversity in tech has existed for too long and here’s our opportunity to build a more inclusive workforce which will mean we can better meet the needs of the diverse nation we are part of.
At Confused.com, having a diverse leadership team certainly helps, but we need to break down the barriers that stop people from applying to these kinds of roles and that means being proactive. Our tech and data graduate schemes and degree sponsorships enable us to work closely with local universities to harness talent from all walks of life. We’re working with a charity, People and Work, to support people in the Rhondda who have sadly suffered redundancy as a result of COVID in getting back into work. And we celebrate a range of cultural events, from Diwali to Pride, to educate and celebrate events which matter to our team. I’m proud that we were recently named Diversity Employer of the Year and awarded Best Tech Place to Work, but I know that in the present climate we have a much greater opportunity to develop a truly diverse tech workforce.
- Hybrid working means there’s more trust in staff
Before we were thrown into remote working as a Hobson’s choice, many leaders would have felt apprehensive at the thought of their workforce being ‘invisible’. But it’s actually created stronger relationship of trust between staff and employers. Leaders are making more of a conscious effort to communicate clear boundaries and guidelines, so that everyone knows what’s expected of them, but at the same time the element of flexibility makes people more productive. Within our workforce, we’ve found that teams have fallen into rhythms of working that suit their needs and they’re more productive for it.
It’s also changed the way businesses measure success. Employee effectiveness is no longer measured on hours spent in the office (and rightly so), but rather by what objectives and goals are being met. It’s far more valuable to measure what’s being accomplished rather than what’s being done. That’s something people have talked about for years, but this year it’s something we did.
Still, this way of working doesn’t come without its challenges. There’s the practical challenges, where mixing in-person and remote staff in the same meeting can often end up being harder than a fully remote meeting. Together we’ll optimise for this new way of working and overcome these challenges.
But there are the less visible challenges too. Hybrid working can create silos, with the risk of colleagues losing their sense of camaraderie and being exposed to less serendipity. As a colleague said to me recently, “Everyone had their own unique lockdown”. All of our home lives are different and so working in this new way is different too – we are effectively designing for as many working experiences as we have staff.
It can also be a challenge to keep company culture thriving, as traditionally much of that activity involved face-to-face interaction. Like many other companies, at Confused.com, we’re opting for virtual ‘coffee mornings’ and ‘happy hours’, as well as organising online events like murder mysteries, cheese tasting or escape rooms to bring us all together.
Companies can make this way of working a real success by acknowledging the elements of risk and addressing them. Particularly, the way leaders communicate can have a tremendous impact on how well their hybrid model works. Being clear on objectives and the shared purpose, being humble in the way they communicate, being aware of our different working experiences and building trust by being transparent about decisions and demonstrating respect and empathy for employees.
- Our growth mindset has been fast-tracked
We’re used to living knowing that tomorrow will be the same as today. Then along came the pandemic and turned everything on its head. While initially, it was completely awful and dilapidating, it’s taught us a valuable lesson in the importance of a growth mindset. Are we more able as a nation to embrace business change, to think creatively and adapt to significant shifts in customer behaviour? I think we are.
It’s created opportunities and a surge in ‘learning culture’. Instead of absorbing information, tactics, traditions instilled by others, we’ve become creative and adjusted our view of the way business and society can operate. Pre-pandemic, only about 10%1 of organisations had a true ‘learning culture’ where staff are encouraged to develop their knowledge and skills as well as to experiment and try new approaches.
But overnight, the value in this way of working has become apparent. As businesses we should take steps to ensure learning culture stays as a core value. There are simple ways to develop growth mindset in staff: by giving and receiving feedback regularly, continuously reviewing and improving the way things are done and encouraging teams to share ideas, test things and learn from each other.
- Now we truly recognise the importance of customer relationships
If the uncertainty caused by COVID has done anything, it’s made businesses realise just how valuable their customers are.
Particularly in times of crisis, a customer’s interaction with a company can leave a lasting mark on their sense of trust and loyalty for that company. Some companies have learnt this the hard way, others have learnt from their competitors’ mistakes.
Big changes to the way many services operate has meant companies have had to really think hard about their customers’ needs and to get savvy with the way they communicate. Naturally, customers want to know where they stand and require reassurance when there’s so much confusion. There was a huge difference between how some companies in the same sector responded to the pandemic and fought to help their customers throughout this year and I think customers will remember those businesses that went above and beyond.
Hopefully, this customer focus will continue into 2021.
- We’re greener.
Home confinement has meant less commuting, less production and less pollution. Of course, when restrictions eventually come to an end we can expect some of this activity to resume, but hopefully we’ll be resetting with a more environmentally-conscious state of mind.
At Confused.com, we’ve decided to embrace a hybrid way of working going forward, and if other businesses follow it will help alleviate commuter pollution, but there’s much more we can do to have an impact.
We’ve set up a Carbon-Crew to find ways of making the way we operate and do business more eco-friendly; from working with partners, to what we can provide to customers and how we operate internally with staff. I think many companies are going to ensure that their environmental impact becomes much higher on their agenda as we return to some sort of normality.
Of course, businesses must drive results to stay afloat – but this year has taught me that there’s far more to business than just doing that. There are so many opportunities to develop the way we work, which will create better outcomes for everyone. This was a huge jolt, and one where we’ve been able to see more clearly what’s important. As the dust settles and we prepare for 2021, many of us will use these learnings to shape a better way of working.