The pandemic has fundamentally changed ideas of what a workplace should look like. But as we move into the world of hybrid work, there is still no definitive vision of how our working lives should be structured. Here, online pension provider PensionBee’s CEO Romi Savova explains why she won’t be asking her employees to return to the office.
At a very early stage we decided to make remote working permanent as there were so many benefits. We could still operate in a highly efficient way and we were still cohesive thanks to the processes we already had in place.
I think it’s been a great benefit to us that our employees have had certainty over their lives. It’s allowed some colleagues to move to other parts of the country, spend more time with their family and reshape their finances, thanks to savings made on commuting.
The office is open for those who do want to be in the office every day, but we’ll be maintaining social distancing as it’s important to have that level of protection. I think it’s important to have a place for people to meet, but I see the structure of the office being different. It’s going to be less of a place where people come, plug in and look at their screen all day long – you can do that at home. It’s going to be more of a place where people meet, have social interactions and do team-building.
I don’t envisage introducing a company policy that mandates a set number of days in the office because we have found that people work as effectively at home, as long as the communication lines are open and easy. It doesn’t matter whether we see each other at the office or online.
We’ve obviously made a lot of adjustments. The main change was making the hiring process completely digital. There’s no need to meet in person, we can figure out whether we are a good fit for each other through online conversations and written tasks.
The second big change was to our training process. The training, which can take two-to-three months, can now be done online through a combination of self-learning, group sessions and traditional buddying. We still aim to bring people together into a virtual room in smaller groups where they can learn from each other.
Transitioning everything online has been really good for us because it’s scalable. We can now monitor the standard of delivery even better and it’s allowed us to hire from a more diverse pool of individuals. Previously we had to hire from a pool that was willing to commute to London every day and now we can hire from around the country.
That’s really important to us because our customer base is not London centric, so having a good regional diversity within the workforce is helpful for us to understand how our customers might perceive our product. A lot of these benefits align with our business model and our vision as a company.
I also think the idea you need to be back in the office for creativity is a bit of a myth. We have released many new and exciting features over the past year and a half, so I don’t think remote working is a barrier to innovation at all.
It’s important to still find ways for people to connect with the values that drive the company. We host a lot of group events that we believe will spark the sort of emotions that generate loyalty, happiness and satisfaction with your life. Those are the things that you need to keep conjuring.
But it doesn’t mean you have to put more effort in – I doubt we would be able to have all of these amazing sessions if all of the speakers had to be there in person. I think you need to invest in team gathering and team building, because it can be effective, even if you are not in the same room.
I’m definitely more open minded. Before the pandemic, I was a proponent of having people in the office, so I think it’s opened my own mind around the benefits that this style of work can have and the happiness that it can create for our team.
As a company, we’ve tried to do everything culturally that we would have done before, whether that’s around events or decision making. We are led by our culture so we tried not to change it and to stick to the principles that have helped us to grow this far.
This is partially a challenge because of Covid but it’s also a challenge of growth. Even if we didn’t have Covid, we would have had a big expansion to the team.
On a more personal note, I have two small children. So on the days that I do work remotely, it’s wonderful to be able to dedicate the time that I would have been commuting to being with my kids. And I hope that our team is able to reap the same benefits and spend more time on the things that are important to them – we want our employees to live fulfilling lives.