September was a big month at Ultimate Finance, officially kicking off our hybrid working approach with our first all-company office day in 18 months. It was wonderful to see most of our team in one of our five offices around the country mixing across departments and socialising in-person again with friends and colleagues, including many new joiners.
We have viewed the experience through COVID as the beginning of a very significant transformation of the way we work but we do not have all the answers and so, rather than make assumptions, it was vital we spent time hearing and understanding what our teams really think and want.
Every business is different and has different needs. Together with our teams, we believe we have found the path that works best for us, takes into account our geographic spread, and provides a ‘best of both’ hybrid approach that combines the benefits of an office environment with significantly enhanced flexibility for all roles. But our working styles need to go beyond just considering ‘where’ we work but ‘how’ we work and ‘why’.
All the while, we have been focused on ensuring our teams are out (safely) doing what they do best – seeing clients and introducers to help provide tailored funding solutions, with in-person interactions remaining a key part of our service model and relationship-based approach
We have achieved a huge amount in the last 18 months whilst our teams have largely been working from home but recognise that doing so in between lockdowns and home schooling isn’t representative of what a post-pandemic model will be. Keeping our People Promise at the heart of everything we do is critical to us, giving flexibility and autonomy to teams and individuals to create their most productive work environments, enabling greater performance and, ultimately, better client service.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach but here I explain some of the guiding principles around what hybrid working means to us and how we see it operating.
Overriding approach and structure
- We believe in the value of bringing people together in the workplace and this will remain important to us – for things like collaboration, networking, cross-team communication, learning & development, social activities, and wellbeing. But with a massively enhanced focus on flexibility and an emphasis on individual choice, with our teams enjoying the associated benefits of flexibility – improved work-life balance, reduced carbon footprint, greater opportunities for focused work and the promotion of digital collaborative working tools.
- The success of shifting to full home working has been a result of excellent technology tools and the strength of existing relationships. But this requires a process of constant renewal, and the right balance of in-person and remote working can ensure we keep our relationships strong and facilitate the building of new relationships, particularly important for new joiners and future colleagues.
- We are adopting a group framework of guidelines that are then applied by different teams based on what works best for them. This will provide a balance of structure, flexibility, and business needs, and ensure we can continue to meet customer needs and establish ourselves as the funding partner of choice.
- We expect to see most teams in an office at least once a week but providing the option for remote work for four days a week, with teams empowered to collectively come up with their optimal approach and time spent in person. Beyond this, each office will host monthly all-company office days to promote cross-department interactions and social activity.
Level playing field
- We will ensure a consistency of experience no matter the physical location and provide a level playing field for all staff. This forms an important part of our Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion principles.
- Having found that “hybrid meetings” can lead to largely negative experiences for those dialling into an in-person meeting, all meetings will be treated as virtual by default unless everyone is together in the same place.
- There will be a continued focus on promoting mixing between teams across the country, with a mix of all-company office days, virtual coffee roulettes and team socials to facilitate internal networking and inter-team relationships.
Adapting management styles and the office environment
- The key focus areas for managers will remain trust, output, accountability, flexibility, wellbeing, and personal development plans.
- We will encourage the sharing of best practices between managers, appreciating the scale of the new challenge that comes with hybrid work.
- We wish for our offices to be destinations where staff want to come to, recognising that the office is a resource with benefits beyond working from home, but not places that define us.
- We will continue to promote the use and understanding of digital collaboration tools, including Teams, Mural and Trello, whilst moving further towards paperless offices and processes in line with our Strategic Delivery roadmaps and sustainability initiatives.
We as a business still have a lot to learn as hybrid working styles evolve, so we are taking a test-and-learn approach where we continuously listen to feedback across our teams on what is working well what isn’t so that we can tweak our ways of working as necessary.