One Positive Note From This New Beginning.
As we emerge from lockdown, Pedro has recently concluded several interviews with CEO’s and senior executives of the influential companies with whom Vesuvio Labs are associated. In discussion with Graham Ripley, advisor to Vesuvio Labs, Pedro reviews and summarises what “normal work” may look like, post lockdown.
“During the interviews”, Pedro said, “I found a remarkable consensus across many operational areas. So much so in fact, that I am confident they are indicative of what post-Covid 19 work- life will be for similar businesses and sectors.”
Graham set the context saying, “I believe many people expect the structure of their lives to change after CV19, with “normal” being substantially different to yesterday”. He added, “a recent survey showed that before lockdown about 5% of us worked at home regularly; now nearly half of us anticipate WFH continuing at a greater pace in the future and there are those who predict less than half the office space might be needed post lockdown. If so, the resulting changes will be complex; affecting the nature of leadership; teamwork; communication; corporate culture; training and other related elements.”
Pedro agreed saying,” this new normal will include the ability to do more things digitally. Digitisation allows greater levels of control, better quality, and increased process efficiencies. On the wider front permanent WFH, even on a part-time basis, could produce sweeping social changes to work-life balance and family interaction. It raises important issues surrounding personal behaviour and motivation.”
“However,”, Pedro continued, “amongst the executives I interviewed associated with Vesuvio Labs, remote working was already an established process even before lockdown. Some of their companies were relatively new, others fully established but they all had up to 30% remote working, many of them supporting worldwide staff and clients. Therefore, the lockdown was more than a matter of technical scalability, because it emphasised the need for revised home and family arrangements, including the way it was organised”.
There was general agreement amongst the interviewees, Pedro found, about the advantages of WFH. In particular the lack of a commute, which released time for a better work-life balance (provided each element was carefully organised) and saved travelling costs. Once a working routine, essential to be understood by others sharing the home, was established the new lifestyle was in many ways healthier and less stressful.
“Indeed”, Pedro said, “most staff seemed satisfied with a working from home arrangement and were confident of being at least as productive as in the office. However, a minority who preferred not to work from home, quoted a sense of isolation and poorer communication with co-workers as the biggest downsides.”
Graham suggested that most people will be looking for greater flexibility in their return to work but that companies had traditionally been nervous about such arrangements. He asked Pedro if they now realised the capacity of staff to regulate and organise themselves had been sufficiently demonstrated to make this more likely.
“Those I interviewed were already on board with this”, Pedro replied. “They felt that all companies will work differently in the future. They predicted fewer people working permanently in the office at any one time, sometimes working in the office and at other times from home. This hybrid model may apply across all developed markets where the technology and the product enable remote working.”
Pedro continued, “those I interviewed certainly felt that offices are more than just a place to do business. A hybrid maintains the culture; spending time together as a team helps bounce ideas around and creates synergy; offices are physical meeting points for social and professional exchanges. Because of the need for less office space, a new hybrid model might decrease office occupancy by as much as 50% and will certainly change the way operations are managed.”
“OK”, said Graham, “did the interviews go into any practical detail about the best way to organise conditions at home?” Pedro’s answer was clear that they did indeed have advice for creating successful WFH. First amongst these was the importance of establishing firm everyday rules to balance family relationships, agreeing working space and time slots etc understood as far as possible by all ages in the family! All those interviewed felt that the right mindset to work productively from home was key, with a clear dividing line between work and home life to avoid any imbalance, which was so easily done. One executive used an old-fashioned alarm clock to avoid any such drift!
They all believed that to spend time with loved ones was a priority and another reason why working at home was a benefit. The ability to start work early, or work late, meant more quality time could be made available during the normal day.
Adding to this Pedro said, “all agreed that if possible, having a separate room where the door can be closed, or an area where all work can be put away, is best. There was however some divergence on the matter of dress. Generally, a more relaxed style was preferred although some of those interviewed enjoyed putting on a nice jacket for video meetings and others, a pair of smart shoes which made them feel ready for work! But all agreed that a new, more relaxed, business lifestyle did not mean a lack of professional care or a lesser motivation to work.”
“ Another element introduced by WFH is exactly how best to organise the working day”, observed Pedro, “ the possibility of using an early start, or a late finish to deal with emails or reports for example, had already been mentioned to me. At home if it suits your style, work can be concentrated into a regular series of intense sprints, punctuated by periods of relaxation, throughout the day. Some of these, the interviewees felt, would include exercise, even yoga and meditation to reduce stress, maintain fitness and focus. It was a matter of individual choice which can be accommodated in ways that are impossible if you are based in the office.”
“So, let’s turn to management and leadership then ”, Graham suggested,” did you find any consensus about this in a future WFH setting”? Pedro confirmed that all those he interviewed foresaw a complex shift in the role of leadership reporting, “the traditional mechanism of detailed command may become outmoded and replaced by higher-level goals and managers facilitating the means for staff to make these happen. New leaders leave people to manage their own method of working to suit their own environment but still set appropriate touchpoints of feedback during which they also coach and manage. This type of innovative manager will be resilient and have faith in their teams.
They will believe that, however staff schedule their working times to suit their home conditions, they will deliver their share of work at the right time and with the right quality.”
Looking at WFH communication issues, raised by those Pedro interviewed, he continued, “there was complete agreement about the importance of good corporate communication which equally applies when staff are based at home. The basics of course were regular news briefings, team stand-ups and making sure nobody was left out of the loop. Being creative and innovative too was emphasised, using means such as quizzes, one-on-one personal chats, virtual team drinks etc. But more formal meetings themselves via Zoom, Team et al, should be kept crisp and short, without sacrificing necessary detail.”
“Allied with digital communication”, Graham said, “is the subject of cybersecurity, was this referred to by those to whom you spoke?”. In response Pedro noted, “cybersecurity was identified as an important matter, of course, with awareness training being vital. When people are online all day, the chances of being attacked in this way by sophisticated means, increases and the results for business can be disastrous, even ruinous. Additionally, ensuring that the technology is robust and maintained is fundamental. Also, the apps and devices used by those working from home must be robust and comprehensive”.
At this point Pedro reminded Graham that all apps and services provided by Vesuvio labs represented the safety and utility that only the best in cybersecurity would provide.
Turning to the downsides of remote working highlighted by those he interviewed, Pedro said, “undoubtedly recruitment of new staff and their subsequent training was mentioned by them all as a real issue when WFH. When it comes to evaluating and selecting a potential work colleague there is no substitute for face-to-face contact for subtlety of expression, body language and the like. Even when the right choice is made, there is the question of training in both delivery and progress terms. It can be harder to keep new people motivated and somehow instil the right corporate culture.”
“Also”, continued Pedro, “ WFH is frequently embraced by start-up businesses, but established businesses with traditional working structures may have difficulty accepting their staff spreading their working hours across the day and from home, all in different ways, to accommodate social and family arrangements. Employers may fear that with the temptations of a home and family, staff productivity might suffer. A heavy investment in legacy systems, office assets and centralised technology might deter or prevent traditional companies from taking a flexible approach tailored to the, now prevailing, outlook and the needs of their staff and customers.”
Warming to this issue Pedro added, “if so, such reluctance would be a wasted opportunity. The world is in a completely different condition now. Many things have changed, but we all continue to shop and make payments online and in-stores. Our financial institutions remain up and running providing banking & insurance services. Besides, in times of uncertainty opportunity can be found and those I interviewed saw the current crisis as an urgent wake-up call for greater resilience, by implementing the radical automation and cloud services that companies like Vesuvio Labs will provide.”
Graham asked what other opportunities had been identified for the future. “Well for a start”, said Pedro, “they predicted a huge market for smart time management software because, when WFH, the self-discipline to finish what we start is important. Also, when we get back to whatever normal may be, they believe we will adopt more advanced video conferencing together with other technologies, as the new standard of business engagement. Perhaps the important opportunity for imparting expertise lies in the training and retraining of supervisory management and executive performance in a remote working environment. ”
“Equipping them to deliver, in new ways, sustained levels of high-quality motivated performance from those based at home but sometimes needing to attend the office. ”
“In conclusion,” said Pedro, “permanently adjusting the way we work will be a challenge. It will be a revolution where decentralised, digitised structures drive operational standards and service-related values. Technology will be at its core, Vesuvio Labs will certainly be comfortable with that, it’s what it does, but equally fundamental will be the change of leadership styles and supporting personal organisation required. In my opinion, this will ultimately result in a more satisfied workforce and a more productive economy. If so that at least may be, one positive note from this new beginning.”
Direct Insurance Group in the UK was the first to do so when it recently announced it would become the first insurance group to formally commit to a remote working policy for all staff. It’s fair to say that coronavirus will forever change how business is done in the global insurance sector and possibly in other industries.
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