how to power change
with the right people
The future looks set to depend upon reliable technology,
flexible processes – and a network of engaged employees.
Here’s how one small business helped its people to lead the way
“We were ready for remote working, but the challenge was keeping the company’s culture alive,” says Jackie Cuyvers, chief executive and co-founder of Convosphere, a social media intelligence agency with clients around the world. “It’s those human interactions that are so important to our business.”
With 23 full-time staff and a network of 150 freelancers and consultants spread across offices in Europe and Asia, Cuyvers was determined that her team, which has always been close, would be able to continue collaborating, engaging and inspiring one another just as they had done pre-Covid.
“Before Covid-19, technology was important, but now it is essential,” she says. Convosphere had invested in communications and operational technology tools to keep the business running smoothly well before the pandemic. But suddenly, as staff began working remotely, the company found itself depending on these tools like never before. The challenge was twofold: to ensure essential operations continued but, even more importantly, to provide staff with a means to continue working as a team.
The good news, says Cuyvers, is that having thought hard about how to confront that challenge, many of the lessons Convosphere learnt about using its technology effectively will prove valuable for years to come. Once staff return to the office, short-term fixes such as Zoom lunches will be replaced by the physical get-togethers staff have enjoyed
in the past. But other changes will endure, Cuyvers expects, because they have proved
One good example is resource management software. Before the pandemic, tasks were often allocated informally, but remote working has forced Convosphere to be much more organised about monitoring which staff are available to do which pieces of work. “It’s enabled us to operationalise our working practices much more effectively,” says Cuyvers, a member of the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN).
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The WFH conundrum
We already used a digital signature
tool but only 40 per cent of our contracts were signed electronically – now that’s 100 per cent
Illustration: Makers Company/NB Illustration for Bridge Studio
What the staff say
“Before the pandemic, I was working a few days per week from home, so I already had a remote working routine set up. Of course, it’s very different working from home two or three days a week compared to five. I never get that much-needed break away from the house.
“Now I don’t see any of my colleagues face to face – instead we use Zoom, WhatsApp and Skype for meetings and to keep in touch.
“In future, I think remote working practices will become commonplace, as will flexible working arrangements. Employers who were reluctant to abandon the 9 to 5 physical office tradition have now seen that having people working from home, at hours that suit their schedule, doesn’t harm productivity levels. If anything, according to recent studies, it seems the opposite has happened – people are getting more done than they used to.
“I do think employers will have to pay more attention to employee happiness and mental health. Because, while many enjoy the freedom of working from home, it’s also a lot lonelier and it’s easy to feel isolated.”
‘It’s more productive – but can be lonelier’
What the staff say
‘Human connections are key’
“I already work remotely from Lisbon on a regular basis, but used to visit the office in London a couple of times a year. These in-person moments were something to look forward to and I’d get together with some of my colleagues, so it’s one of the ways the pandemic has changed things even for those of us who were used to remote working.
“With less social life going on, it has sometimes been hard to turn off after working hours. What helped on a long-term basis was to schedule some ‘offline’ moments to ensure I was getting a screen break.
“I believe 2020 has made us all even more aware of the importance of mental health and human connection. I will certainly cherish even more of those moments with my colleagues, either in person or by raising more opportunities to connect with them on a personal level, even if online.”
Natália Leão, Convosphere associate director
Convosphere’s project and social media manager
Similarly, the company has realised that with many of its software tools, it has previously been using only a small fraction of their functionality. “What changed was the extent to which we needed to make use of these tools and also our clients’ willingness to use them,” says Louise Jones, Convosphere’s operations director. “For example, we already used a digital signature tool but only 40 per cent of our contracts were signed electronically – now that’s 100 per cent. We had to introduce more formalised processes for allocation of resources and project wrap-ups as we could no longer facilitate these through quick chats in the office.”
Rachel Wilkins, marketing director of Dell UK, believes that companies such as Convosphere will, in the long run, be stronger for having thought hard about how their staff can make the best use of rapidly evolving technology. But businesses – particularly smaller ones – also need support.
This change in working practices has really forced us to think about people’s work-life balance
But it’s not just the technology that needs good strategies and solid support when rapid changes are deployed.
“The other thing that will really stick is a bigger focus on staff wellbeing,” Cuyvers says. “This change in working practices has really forced us to think about people’s work-life balance.” Some employees have had to reorganise their time around childcare responsibilities; others have found it difficult to switch off and take time away from work, with technology meaning they are always just a click away from the office.
Dealing with such issues prompted Cuyvers to increase spending on human resources, in order to make sure staff had a means to discuss concerns and to put solutions in place.
I don’t want to lose sight of the ways technology has helped us to work more effectively and to support our staff
“Technology has been able to support work processes, but it does struggle to facilitate the banter, connection, mentoring and idea-sharing that people need to thrive,” Olga Crosse, Convosphere’s HR consultant, says. “Some staff who joined during lockdown have yet to meet their colleagues in person. Regular updates, team catch-ups, introductory one-to-ones with every single team member plus a significant increase in the use of instant messaging have ensured they do not feel too isolated. We’ve also promised that when it’s possible, we will host a big meet-up to introduce them to the team.”
The bottom line, says Cuyvers, is that while the world will eventually go back to normal, there will be permanent shifts in behaviour, some of them for the better. “Our teams are looking forward to seeing each other back in the office, because they love each other’s company,” she says. “But I don’t want to lose sight of the ways in which technology has helped us to work more effectively and to support our staff.”
“Working from home is the most productive way for some staff,” Wilkins says. “But you can’t do anything without the right equipment functioning well; we have a pro-support package – if you buy a Dell product from us, there’s the option of 24/7 tech support where you can talk through any issues and get up and running.”
Michael Nordquist, a senior director at Intel, takes a similar view to Wilkins. In the wake of the pandemic, as employees continue to use technology in new ways, businesses will need to ensure their systems are optimised so that staff can take every advantage.
“The good news is that leaders see the links between PC refresh, security, productivity and employee experience, even if their organisations don’t always act on it,” he says.
In a study commissioned by Intel and conducted by Forrester Consulting, 87 per cent of companies said “PC refresh” was an important driver of employee experience; 86 per cent said it drove employee productivity. Giving staff access to the tools they need, with seamless connectivity and hassle-free usage, will enable them to seize new opportunities to work more effectively.
Security is the other crucial issue for companies to consider. “IT is now responsible for managing up to 100 per cent of the workforce remotely, making zero trust and remote manageability go from a good idea to essential,” Nordquist says. The key, he suggests, is to ensure this does not get in the way of staff using technology effectively, either today, or in the post-pandemic world.
Happy workers: Jackie Cuyvers,
co-founder of Convosphere, puts
a big focus on staff well-being
Illustration: Makers Company/NB Illustration for the Bridge Studio