A look at how flexible working has benefited our culture, and how we can further improve.
When the pandemic hit, Apteco, like many businesses, had to close our offices. Our UK headquarters in Warwick has been the hub of our business for decades, growing to support global operations. We had also recently invested in a second office building – also located in Warwick – to accommodate more staff and provide a great working environment. The pandemic meant that we, like organisations all around the globe, had to adapt and rethink how we worked as a business.
Laying the foundations – 25 years of planning
You could argue that at Apteco we have been planning for the majority of our workforce to work from home for the last 25 years. Working from home and “flexible” working has been something that we have always supported. We see both the practical benefits in terms of cutting the commute for those who live far from the main office location; and we also appreciate that people have different personal demands, so we offer them the flexibility to fulfil those responsibilities.
One of our long-term (and now semi-retired) directors was based in Manchester, which meant it wasn’t practical to have him commute every day or be away from his family for stretches of time. The need to support him began our ever-evolving ability to work from home.
As time progressed and the business grew, so did our staff. Offering full time home-worker positions had already given us the chance to both widen the scope for employing great talent and gently instill a standard inclusive working from home culture.
We invested in the infrastructure needed to ensure successful working from home, and staff received headsets and webcams that were used to help facilitate smoother web meetings.
We set the expectation that if any one person was working from home then the meeting was online – people may be sat side-by-side at their desks but partaking in an online meeting complete with headsets and webcams.
We invested in the bandwidth and security necessary to support multiple home workers in a data oriented business.
The transition to working from home
Because of our previous culture the move to working from home was fairly seamless. We benefited from being a data and technology business, which means our physical presence in the office wasn’t crucial to delivering our work. Therefore, the move to holding online meetings only with zero face-to-face interaction didn’t pose a barrier to our output.
There were things that as a company we have done that contributed to the success of this transition – and also things that we could improve on.
Benefits and successes
Ensuring every member of staff has the right equipment has enabled meetings to continue smoothly – headsets are a great asset when working in a busy home setting. In addition to this we let our teams know that they could utilize any of the equipment available in the office and take it home to set them up for success in their home working environment. This included desks, monitors and chairs.
Furthermore, our culture of “webcam on” and “in the room” approach means that each meeting feels engaged; we get to see and interact with our colleagues. We are now all used to the new face-to-face etiquette of appearing in online meetings.
We were also aware that not only did we need to ensure the smooth running of our business, but we also needed to support the mental wellbeing of our team members who, for example, may live alone and therefore could feel the loss of the office community more greatly. These people are living alone, working alone, eating alone, relaxing alone and are at real risk of loneliness.
We set up daily social calls with one rule – no shop talk! This offers a space for staff to come and get some much-needed human interaction and social time during a period when you could become easily isolated.
We also worked hard to promote empathy and tolerance amongst teams – these are challenging times, and we want everyone to be aware that we need to be supportive of one another during this stressful and uncertain period.
We also saw the benefit of working from home as some individuals have benefitted from more time with their family and flexibility – especially during periods when home schooling is needed. We extended our working time flexibility to the maximum, encouraging parents who are home schooling to work alternate hours so they can focus on their kids’ needs during school hours.
As an example, one member of the team changed their normal schedule of 40 hours over 5 days to 32 hours over 7 days and covered the remainder with time-off-in-lieu credits previously accumulated. We would much rather have energised and engaged staff at the end of the pandemic than worry about every hour now.
This flexibility and adaptability extends to the partners who work with us to sell our software. Some of our partners were particularly affected by the constraints of the pandemic – whether that be the industry they were working in or the type of service they delivered. Therefore, we aimed to generate goodwill and adapted our business to work in a more collaborative way to support our partners where we could. We know that we need to get through this together and that this support will grow our relationships with our business partners in both the long and short term.
Lessons and challenges
Of course, all change offers us the opportunity to learn and grow, and the experience of working from home is no different. As MD, I have benefited from working across teams and interacting with lots of my colleagues, but some of our team members haven’t had this opportunity because their role isn’t one where they attend lots of meetings or mix with different teams.
This has highlighted the crucial role communication plays within a business. We need to ensure all team members are informed so that they feel included on the journey with the business. The things we took for granted, such as a casual catch-up walking around the office, are now gone for the time being. Instead, we need to approach our communications and culture with purpose.
We need to be more explicit to set examples of how we want our teams to behave and ensure clarity of our vision so that we take everyone along with us. Furthermore, we need to put in an effort to be inclusive. This doesn’t happen by accident. It needs to be intentional that we support and involve everyone in the business.
Looking to the future
We have learnt a lot during the last year. As a technology business with the right tools and infrastructure in place, we have seen that working from home can offer many benefits to our teams and to the business.
This is a sustainable way for us to operate. It has made us look to the future with fresh eyes. The working from home revolution is here and it offers businesses many opportunities – from opening up a wide talent pool to how we use the fixed spaces we have.
For example, the design of the second office we invested in just before the pandemic hit has now been changed to support the new approach. The need for fixed, traditional workspaces has been greatly reduced and instead we want a visit to the office to be a special experience. One where you will come and meet with others, have different room types to choose from and beautiful workspaces to immerse yourself in.
We will now offer “touchdown” work spaces alongside “meeting pods” and “workshop rooms”. The workshop rooms have mobile furniture so project teams can adopt the space for the duration of their project and adapt the room to suit their needs. The office space will become a dynamic and interactive working environment that fosters collaboration and creative thinking rather than a static place to come to as a result of routine and traditional working patterns.
Many businesses have suffered greatly throughout this pandemic and we feel lucky to have been able to swiftly and easily pivot to working from home. This experience has accelerated our move to support more working from home, one we expect to continue as both the business and our teams realise the many benefits of this flexibility.