by Justine Shaw – People & Culture Director, CPP Group
This article was originally published in the Yorkshire Post
As lockdown starts to ease in the UK and across the globe, businesses are now starting to think about what this means for the way they operate and how they re-define what working life looks like for their colleagues.
The health and wellbeing of our people is and always will be our top priority which is why we adapted to home working quickly when the lockdown was first imposed. However, even though lockdown sanctions are changing, automatically trying to return to the way things were isn’t necessarily the best approach. Having a people-centred culture has meant that we have taken the time to listen to colleagues before we take our next steps.
At CPP we’re not just going through the motions of a pandemic – our business and people are focused on becoming stronger as a collective. So it was important that we take time to understand the real impact of the pandemic on our people and the business and take forward the positives. We’ve spent several weeks listening to them, learning how our response to lockdown has changed their working and personal lives.
We’re taking this rich data and using it to inform how we move into our next phase. This doesn’t just mean that we re-open our offices when we think it’s safe to do so but that we cultivate all the positives we’ve gained and use them to progress our business creating a ‘next generation CPP’.
With many taking note of the sentiment that there is no ‘getting back’ to normal companies can use this inflection point to evolve for the benefit of their colleagues as well as their customers and business.
Here’s how we’ve tackled phasing out of lockdown and, looking beyond this, how we are planning to use this unique opportunity as a catalyst to evolve our business
The first part of this process starts with listening. The pandemic led us to new ways of thinking, working and behaving. Reflecting on everyone’s personal experiences helped us find out what positive changes we collectively wanted to take into the future.
We invited all colleagues to join online groups of 8-10 people led by a member of the senior leadership team into an informal, open conversation about what they have learned and unlearned, how the pandemic has affected their lives and their hopes for the future.
Keeping the groups small and attendance as optional created a relaxed and reflective environment, letting the discussion follow the energy of those involved.
We took the initial findings – involving more than a third of all colleagues – and identified some high-level themes. These included work/life balance, productivity, communication and connection, ways of working and wellbeing.
We wanted to probe deeper as well as encourage more people to have an input, especially those who were unable to take part in the web sessions. So we created polls and questions on our intranet over the course of two weeks. A question we asked was:
‘How well do you feel you are communicating with others whilst working from home?’
Questions framed in this way provide telling responses at snapshot opportunities. By refreshing them every couple of days we prompted more than a thousand responses in total and added more depth to the findings from our first phase.
The phrase the ‘new normal’ will quickly wear out but the opportunities to take the positives from this experience to advance the business will not.
What we’ve learned from this work points to more than just the benefits of flexible working for the business and led us to re-examine our thinking about collaboration, leadership, products and services and colleague wellbeing.
Virtual meetings have allowed teams to engage effectively on tech projects. A product migration taking place in Turkey involved input from colleagues in the UK and the teams collaborated seamlessly, remote and flexible working allowing people to stay connected despite the different time zones.
Remote teams can operate jointly and work collaboratively providing there is a strong and supportive culture.
By using findings to focus on long-term opportunities for the business rather than responding to the current context of the pandemic, companies can thrive and not just survive.
In the future we are clear that work is something that we do, not a place that we go. We want to support different ways of working to fulfil this idea and to get the best out of our people.
Leaders that are rushing to get their colleagues back to the office based on misguided notions that remote workers are less productive and less cooperative risk losing their people and being unprepared for another lockdown or, worse yet, another pandemic.
With this in mind we are taking our learnings and focussing on modernising our business at pace. We need to create actual changes at all levels if we want to build on our ambitions.
Many businesses may feel like they’ve missed their opportunity to start this work but it’s never too late to make the time to listen to colleagues.
A successful business is dependent on their people. Getting the best out of everyone requires listening to their needs and aspirations for the future by checking in regularly, we can’t use this for a one-off initiative to achieve a concrete solution.
To continue to find new ways of working and operating involves keeping an open mind and making incremental changes at a safe pace. We do this by continuing to listen to our people and hearing their thoughts over time.
Covid-19 will be here to stay for a while and the business world is working out how to live with it. Lockdowns could be re-imposed and there’s the likelihood of further virus outbreaks. However, we’ve learned that businesses can only become more innovative and progressive if their workplace culture evolves. This doesn’t just mean that companies re-open Covid-secure offices but that they undertake some work to listen to colleagues and reflect before cultivating all the positives and using them to progress their business forward. If companies revert back to the way things were they will struggle to succeed in a changed world.
Justine has over 20 years’ experience in senior strategic and operational HR roles in the UK and Canada, spanning telecom, financial services and consulting/professional engineering. Since joining CPP in February 2012, she has held the roles of Group HR Director and Chief People Officer with a focus on talent and a positive performance culture. Justine has a Bachelor of Science in Applied and Human Biology.