Culture Series Part 3 | Fit for Future

Sep 17, 2020 / Media

finnCap Group presents

The Culture Series 

Part 3 - Fit for Future

With contributions from; 
James Barham, CEO, PCI Pal Plc
Rob Pitcher, CEO, Revolution Bars Group Plc
& Sam Smith, CEO, finnCap Group
Hosted by Natalie Wharton, CEO, Wharton Business Consulting 


Natalie Wharton, CEO, Wharton Business Consulting – 00:20

Welcome to the third of our Culture Series. I'm delighted today to be joined by three CEOs. Firstly, Sam Smith, CEO of finnCap Group. Secondly, Rob Pitcher, CEO of Revolution Bars Group. And thirdly, James Barham, CEO of PCI Pal.

Today we're going to explore the future of work. We're going to be looking at our transitioning back to the office plans, how we’re supporting and engaging our employees and those opportunities to really evolve our leadership and culture, to build back better.

The first question I'm going to be looking into is around those plans of transitioning back to the office. So, we've seen many organisations actually didn't leave the office at all during this period due to critical roles, or those that are considering to not return at all. There's a real variety in terms of what businesses are doing, and how much they are transitioning and what that looks like. But I think it really comes down to two key areas.

Firstly, trust – trust from your employees and your customers that you've really thought about the safety of the office, but also travelling to the office.

And secondly, I would say very importantly, is the purpose of the office. What is that purpose of the office going forward? We need to look at what are we missing from remote working, and what our clients are saying in this space is it's very much collaboration, community and creativity. So thinking about how do you reimagine your office to enable those elements to come? And also, how are you engaging people across both remote working and office working?

So my first question today, we'll go to Sam. So Sam, tell us how are you transitioning back to the office and have you thought about repurposing and reimagining your office space?

Sam Smith, CEO, finnCap Group – 02:26

So our plan at the moment, we've just moved into a new building. So that's just ready. And we're just having a risk assessment in process at the moment to tell us what we can actually do. But I think what we're starting to think about is mid-September offering people the chance to come back in small numbers, if they want to, and leave it for the first few weeks or months very flexible to the individual as to who wants to come in, and then look to assess what the demand is how that's working, and how comfortable people feel does a few people in pull another few people in. So very, very slow I think is our plan and then about what the office is going to be like. I mean, we've just moved into a brand new office. So we've been doing the fit out, the repurposing, during lockdown, which has been quite an interesting project. Luckily, when I went in yesterday, all that's good, but we've managed to be able to do that in a quite a COVID, secure way and adapted very quickly to what a new purpose of an office might be like. So things like collaboration areas where we've really struggled working from home, we've put a lot more collaboration area in, we've made a lot more breakout area that that feels much more like being in a cafe being in a very much communication style. It feels a bit different than the office we might have had back in January. So that's the only minor change I think to our offices, we feel the purpose of it now is more of a community is about getting together, be able to collaborate and meet each other.

Natalie Wharton – 04:11

Great. Thank you, Sam. And Rob, how about yourself in terms of the office?

Rob Pitcher, CEO, Revolution Bars Group – 04.17

Yeah, we as an operator of bars, we've been open since the start of July, and I guess we've been bringing people back. So, we've got 3000 team members, and 100 in the support centre. So as we've been reopening the bars, we've been bringing back support centre colleagues in line with that. So we've currently got 60% of the bars open. So we've got 60% sports, it's 10 back. And I guess that's one of the things that that has done is sort of reinforce the fact that the Support Centre is exactly that without the bars trading. There is no need for a Support Centre. And so if anything sort of culturally that's also had a knock on effect for people really appreciating the fact that they are there, the bars are their customer, they are there to serve, make the general manager’s life easier and facilitate them doing a better job.

So, actually coming out of this, as we've transitioned people back into the office, what we've also been able to do is say, look, we've made the bars COVID-secure in line with government guidance. And we've applied exactly the same rigour to the way that we've made the office code secure as well.

We've used the same track and trace mechanism that we've got for the bars, we put that into the office. So we know when people are coming and going. We've obviously had to reconfigure the space we're actually in quite an old traditional building. It also happens to have an old postcode which at the moment is in extra lockdown measures. So that sort of heightened people's anxiety about coming back to the office. It's a bit similar as Sam said, we've made it very flexible about when you come in and when you don't and actually what we're trying to do in order to reduce the capacity on any particular day is we've actually given different departments clearly finance there for most of the time as a writee, but HR marketing operations are almost, we've given them different days of the week where they should be coming in. So actually, again, we're not cross pollinating our teams as such. So if there was a risk of any infection, and we've managed to eradicate that, so yeah, we've reconfigured desks, we've limited capacity of meeting rooms, and I have to say the people that have come back, are absolutely loving being back and even the ones that were really nervous to start with, and again, we sort of did the introduction mornings back into the office for those that were quite nervous and actually they are now loving, just being back in that collaboration and seeing colleagues is, I guess, from a mental health point of view just being really refreshing to see people not just on a screen as we are today, but actually real life. I was in our office yesterday, up in Manchester. And it was just great to see colleagues face to face again. So, um, yeah, I think that's what we're doing and like I say the guys that are back – the 60% of them that are back – really positive about the experience.

Natalie Wharton – 07:21

Brilliant. Thank you, Rob. How about yourself, James?

James Barham, CEO, PCI Pal – 07:25

It was actually in June that we offered for everybody to come back to the office if they wanted to. We ran a survey. And pretty much everybody said, we spent the last three months getting comfortable at home. So we're not planning to move anytime soon, which is the general consensus that we had. And we helped people out. You know, we were sending desks to people's houses, chairs, all sorts of things to make them more comfortable at home. But we have got the office COVID safe, we've gone through that process. If anybody does want to come back into the office to have to go through an assessment process with our HR team to make sure we're happy for them to come back and the reasons for that. So, in general, that would be right now that would be because somebody is uncomfortable at home for whatever reason, but longer term the second part of your question was about how we how we reimagine the office space. Our Ipswich office is our larger office, it's the only office where we have more than four or five people regularly attending.

Similarly to finnCap. We're planning to turn that into a more of a hub-based environment and make the networking areas larger. So make them more attractive, make them more interesting and make it more of an escape for people from being at home. And I think as Rob said about, you know, mental health is a really big thing through this process and it's something that everybody in the business has referenced, including directors, you know, going stir crazy at home, whether it's because of kids or people they care for whatever.

So we feel like we've got closer to our employees through this process. So we want to be able to give them a bit more from their work environment, not just a desk and somewhere to sit in some drawers. So, you know, we're going to be working at that. It went when, as part of reimagining that, but the timeline when we're likely to do that, well, we're actually just sitting tight to see what happens over autumn and winter.

Natalie Wharton – 09:20

Great, thank you, James. It's wonderful to hear that all those different perspectives around how much you've already transitioned, what percentage, but also that it's very much people first led, and looking at it not just a physical health, but a mental wellbeing and also that emotional resilience as well. And the reimagining this space from a collaboration perspective, which is great.

So my next question is really touching on that. It's thinking about it from how much your purpose and your culture has really led how you've responded to key events throughout the pandemic. So, we think about the initial big event was lockdown and we saw a lot of organisations very much like yourselves very much putting people first and the importance of that. And then when we saw actually another key event, which was Black Lives Matter. That again, people, your employees and your customers were really zeroing in on how do organisations respond to that event, not just with words, but with actions too. And for me, there's another key event that is coming, it's very much on the horizon. Yes, we're into recession now. And the government incentives are sunsetting but actually returning to school, and all those additional triggers and all those personal circumstances that all of your employees have, will be very different throughout this period.

So we're very much comes down to how is your culture leading this? So my question here is:

How has your purpose or your culture led you through recent times? – 10:46

And have you seen any of your key values or behaviours changing or being dialled up as a result?

I'm going to ask Sam first for your thoughts on that one?

Sam Smith – 11:02

I think it's been very apparent where culture and purpose is authentic and where it isn't in this crisis. And I think that's becoming more and more obvious as people have a return to work strategy as to what their real purpose is and what their real core values are. And when you look across clients and industries, people are doing it in very different ways. It is showing up, I think, what you truly believe about your staff and what's important. And what we've been to in terms of our purpose, our purpose is, is really about delivering ambition for our clients, but it's also having a culture within the office that is very much about putting our staff first and demonstrably caring about them. And that's always what we've been about. And I think that's whether it's helped that through the crisis. I don't know, because it's just a thing that we do. So it's just meant how it how we react has been very true to what we believe which is you absolutely look after your staff, you know what they're doing, you know what their circumstances are at home, you're very worried about the mental health, you're very worried about not making many people redundant. You're trying to work with people you furloughed to make them feel included, trying to get people back out of furlough as soon as possible trying to make things fair.

So when we did pay cuts at the beginning, we took very hefty pay cuts at board level and limited pay cuts at the lower level.

So it's just thinking that almost every decision we made was based on what is fair, what are our team going to think is fair, and in making sure our clients can be serviced still in the best possible way, while also looking after our staff in the most appropriate way. So I think it's led us through the journey of the crisis. But we've been in another crisis where it's the same thing - people just come first you have to look after your clients, you have to be there. But you have to do that in a way where your staff are very happy. So I think it's been fundamental purpose, culture, how you feel about things, how you're how you're really demonstrating to your staff that you do care. And that's probably making trust even more important and more obvious than it ever was.

So I think we've built like, Jake, you know, you've had a lot of people thinking that you're doing a great thing, and you've got closer to your staff. We've got probably more trust with our staff over this period, because they do believe that you're not saying you’ve done everything, right. But you're trying your best to look after them. So that's why it's been important for us.

Natalie Wharton – 13:59

Brilliant. Thank you, Sam. And for yourself, Rob, just thinking about are there key elements of your culture that are really showing through that and leaving a legacy for you as you go through the next stage?

Rob Pitcher – 14:11

Yeah, our purpose is to create fun, memorable experiences for our teams and our guests. Well, we haven't had any guests for the best part of five months, so that's been quite difficult. Well, the transition was quite difficult but actually similar to Sam immediately on lockdown and having to close the business down, we are, you know, we furloughed all but 30 of the 3000 employees and then keeping in touch with them and then trying to keep that fun element alive and create memorable experiences was difficult, but doable.

So we did all sorts of things. We did a sponsored marathon. We did a sponsored relay that went from our most northerly bar up in Inverness, we ran all the way to Plymouth and we realised we had so much uptake that we thought we'd run along the south coast of Brighton and then we finished the relay at 90 days at a hospital in London and that was all done virtually. So you're handing the baton to the next person, it was all done on Strava. So everyone could track it and you just ran as far as you could for half an hour or you took your kids in a push chair and walked for half an hour. So you did as much as you could. It brought the whole company together across all sort of 75 bars. And we're just doing quite a lot of things like that. One of the legacies out of that, I guess is the Revolution Runners Club has now started which is a virtual club on Strava. So we you know, I go for a run, the team members across the country see that I've been on a run, and comment on whether I was good or slow or indifferent that day. So it's really good for the organisation and I guess that's what we've tried to do throughout this.

So my visibility to 3000 team members was actually increased so we did a weekly update from me, but it went from my personal email to over 3000 personal email addresses which meant I got in the early days, where there was a lot of worry, I got all the responses directly. And it took me many, many hours into the early mornings replying individually because they were very specific questions about their own personal circumstances. And the fact that I was taking the time to individually email them back, or point them to the right person in the organisation to help because given there was only 30 of us still working, meant that I had really great conversations with people that I hadn't even met before in the organisation.

So we then turned that into a sort of monthly video update, which again, goes out to everyone and then every two weeks I do a call similar to this to hundreds of the general managers and the Support Centre team. So it's actually enabled a lot more, albeit virtual, a lot more communication with the teams which as I say, seems to have had the effect of flattening the organisation brilliantly.

And I've had really good dialogue with lots and lots of hundreds of team members, you know, took up a lot of time, but actually, I wasn't commuting anywhere. Actually one thing I had was more time. So I think we, you know, and again, the same as Sam, those that could take the most pain, as far as pay cuts, etc, took the most pain. And that's how we've sort of held every decision. And I'd like to think, given the level of feedback that we've had is that largely or we're all learning, as we were going along, I think if you held your vision and values as the guiding principle, which is what we did, you couldn't go too far wrong and even if he did make a mistake, the team were pretty forgiving around and look, you can't get all the judgement calls right because you are making them for the first time and you have to show a great deal of humility, I believe, and say, look, I'm doing my absolute best here to get the right result for you all.

I've been pretty public about not paying landlords the rent because actually, I wasn't sure I didn't have enough money to top up from the furlough and make sure that those people that were here to continue and that we fundamentally had a business on the other side of this, which, you know, I'm pleased to say that we do. And that's probably the backing of the team and the really lovely emails and messages I was receiving personally thanking me and the team for what we were doing, and relieving the stress out because it was almost the not knowing for these young team members. What does furlough actually mean for me? What's this gonna look like? How long does this last? What do I have to fill forms out? It was all these basic questions, but they were huge to them because their rent paid, etc. So, um, yeah, I think being open and honest and that integrity value was key to us, and the way that we bonded as an organisation on the back of it.

Natalie Wharton – 18:53

So let’s now move into flexibility and adaptability of our workforce.

I think we've all seen the pandemic has really provided the business case for people working much more flexibly in the future. But I think it's really important for us to think about flexibility, not just in one dimension of where you work, but actually thinking about how you work, when you work and why you work.

We've seen a huge increase of actually people approaching us to say that they would like to enter into the gig economy. So people are really thinking through why they're working and having that reflection point. And it's important for organisations to think about, not just at what stage do they transition to different locations of working, but all of those dimensions of flexibility. And when we're asked about what really enables us to work in such a flexible way, it comes down to two key things: A focus on outcomes and outputs. And that enables you to really think about all those other dimensions in a really effective way, and also enables you to focus on productivity and efficiency.

But also making sure that we consider competencies and how people are working and not just their current role and current role title. So with that in mind:

What are the plans that you're taking forward around flexibility and adaptability as a result of the pandemic? – 20:20

James Barham – 20:25

Yeah, well, we are familiar with working remotely, but people do still miss each other and they miss personal interactions, absolutely. They miss interactions with people outside of their family group, their household, and ultimately for most people, 90% of the time, that's people that you work with.

So yeah that's something that we're having to figure out as we go, because people are missing that that level of interaction. And we've been very frequent employee surveys through this process. Pretty much on a monthly basis, related specifically to how they get on working from home, how are they getting on during the pandemic generally? How are they finding life away from work, at work? And something that's come back very commonly from everybody is that longer term, they want to be able to benefit from more blended home and work environment.

Now, actually, funnily enough, having lived in the US myself, the Americans do this much more naturally, blending home and work. They'll say that they always work. They don't, they just blend the two really well is what is my take from that. Whereas in the UK, I found that we work slightly differently to that, certainly in our industry, and we have times of the day where we switch on and times of the day where we switch off, and we work very hard in those in those periods. But certainly in the UK, people have been asking for more of a blended work environment. So whilst we're not planning to put anything in place over the next three, four months, once we know what's happening, and once we see what happens when the temperatures get cooler and we get into winter and we can assess whether there's going to be a second spike, what's happening with vaccines, and that sort of thing, then then we are highly likely to make adjustments for people – so, working arrangements. And you know, all of our home workers, for instance, their home office address in their employment contracts is their house. So why can't everybody have that? And then give them the choice.

I mean, obviously, then the company needs to balance that with a bit of control, so that so that we are influencing that culture of it more. So the sorts of things that we would do around that is, you know, arranging for team meetings to be held at the office here, arranging for people to attend at certain times so that they can interact. We don't leave it completely to them. But we do allow for that kind of blended environment.

In terms of adapting, something else that we learned through this is that and I've said this already, that the openness brought us all closer together. And again, that's something that came out of our employee surveys that we ran. I feel it personally, I know that my management team feel it as well. We made a point in our, you know, my regular updates to the business, which we did similarly to Rob, much more frequently, always by video where we could. Also sending out emails too. So whilst on a much smaller scale, I was getting stuff back to me as well. But we were making sure that we were building in specific examples of how we were being impacted personally, whether that was me whining on about children, or whether that was someone else on the management team who'd been having some challenges with different things. And we found that from an openness perspective, people were able to share a bit more with us about how they were getting on with life away from work. I think that's quite important if we're to have an understanding blended environment. It's quite a tricky one because you can't be seen to pry into people's lives away from work but at the same time, if your employees want to have that blend, then there needs to be an understanding and then some openness with their managers. And I think as we continue to grow this business and hire more people into it, we need to think about that right into how we write our job descriptions, for example, so you know, how we fulfil our role within the business. Do we need someone to be sat at a desk between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday? Or can we be more creative with that? Because not only will that be a good thing for the individual, because they're likely to be happier because of everything going on right now. But it will actually open up our candidate pool too. So there's, you know, that we could potentially have twice as many people apply for the role because of the flexibility that we give.

Rob Pitcher – 24:22

I think the big one was, because we've got 75 locations across the UK, actually, we tend to work from the bars, etc. anyway, so it's a very flexible, you know, we're open till gone midnight most nights. So it's a very flexible work environment for everyone anyway, but I think the key that's going to come out of it is you don't actually have to get face to face. We've proved that we can run the organisation virtually. And actually, that's something that we will probably soon to have is getting, you know, it's great to meet for lunch in one of our bars and have you meeting. The temptation is to drive for two hours each to meet someone face to face. The reality is, it's good to do it, but you don't have to do it all the time. And I think that's going to be the key learning for us is actually productivity should go up with sensible use of the technology, rather than it becoming the default. We still want to you know, we're in hospitality, we're a people business, but I think sensible use of Zoom and other ways of communicating is going to make actually will drive productivity in the organisation.

Natalie Wharton – 25:50

Thank you. So yeah, as you're saying they're touching on how collaboration is going to be such a key part for us going forward in the future and particularly about how we do that in a remote or hybrid settings, as we have the office and home blending.

And I think engagement has been key for our conversations here. So as Rob was saying, the increase in social engagement of teams, whether that be their virtual marathon or pub quizzes or, you know, town halls where everyone is able to attend, and have an open mic of ‘ask anything’ questions.

 And I guess just to finish us off there, Sam, I was just wondering from yourselves:

Are there any key lessons around engagement, as a leader, that you'll be taking in to the future, going forward for your teams? – 26:32

Sam Smith – 26:38

I think it's probably in what hasn't worked during working from home. So many things have, but the collaboration and being able to be creative has been a real struggle with everybody working from home.

So because we couldn't get together we've had to try and work around that and find really quick and efficient ways of collaborating. And that's been a lot more regular meetings, a lot more regular chatting, as Rob said, less emails, trying to introduce the end of the long, long meeting and lots more regular short ones. And I think that's made a massive difference to just people feeling connected – to not have an email trail about something. To actually say, right, we all five of us need to just go and have a quick five minute chat, or you know, that group of ten need to go and talk about that. So I think what will change is having more time, less meetings in the diary, more time for just that coming together and being able to discuss an issue in a group with all the right parties. And that just helped us communicate so much better. Because they're not there, you have to physically call them and get them in a in a group discussion otherwise they haven't got a clue what's happening.

So it's made I think everybody think a bit more about inclusion and the format that you need to do it, what doesn't work. Now we will be meeting up to have different forms of collaboration, but I think they will be outside the office. So we started you know, I might once a week go for a walk with someone. And that might be an hour around a park and they’re socially distanced for that. But actually it’s talking about nothing to do with work. But then at the end, you are talking about work and their issues and finding out about them and those have been hugely helpful for me in a way that I didn't think would because the agenda isn't: right, okay, X, Y and Z, we're going to talk about this. It's just we're just going to meet up and talk about you and things just come out and ideas come out and you know, how they're feeling about something, how someone else's performing, it can have that effect. And then what's worked, what isn't working. So I feel like for me and my particular role, lots more time of just not having a pre-prescribed agenda meeting, and more informal ways to really find out what's going on in the pulse of the business.

Natalie Wharton – 29:20

Brilliant. Thank you, Sam. That's great. That's a great tip for others as well about the walking side by side and exploring and really getting to understand people. So thank you for sharing that. And thank you everyone for today. Really enjoyed the conversation. Thank you for your time.