Five key takeaways from the ECI 2020 People Forum

HR leaders join ECI People Forum by Zoom

ECI recently brought together HR leaders from across our portfolio to share their thoughts and best practice on what worked well during lockdown, and to discuss how they are approaching the question of ‘what next’, especially as new lockdown restrictions look likely in the coming weeks and months. We were delighted to welcome 16 of our portfolio companies including introducing two of our newest investments, CSL and Mobysoft, to the wider network. As well as lots of collaborative discussion during the People Forum, we were lucky to hear case studies from HR leaders from MoneypennyBionicAvantia and Content+Cloud. Here we pull together five of the key takeaways from across the event: 

1. The continued importance of the office

Whilst it appears that an increasingly hybrid model of office and home working will be part of the future of HR, there were numerous examples across our portfolio of how the office still had a vital role. This was especially true when it came to its role as a hub for socialising and for training, where it was seen that virtual alternatives fell short.

For many companies their office was a key part of their culture. For example at Moneypenny, Head of Operations, Ceri Henfrey, discussed how the office design had been created with considerable input from employees and the ability for each employee to personalise their own desk was seen as an important part of the shared workspace and office personality. Whilst there is plenty of opportunity to allow for more remote working, the office provides a space for both company-wide cohesion and individuality, which is hard to replace virtually.

Similarly, at ECI portfolio company, Bionic, Chief People Officer Caroline Edwards noted how their team has a significant number of people in their twenties. For individuals at the start of their career it is vital that they can socialise and collaborate with their colleagues picking up information on the go, not just for their training and development, but also as part of job satisfaction. This might mean that the role of the office will change but that it is unlikely to become obsolete as companies look to the future post-Covid.

2. Democratisation of workplace engagement 

It’s not always true that the loudest voice in the room is the only one heard, but one of the challenges of engaging teams and developing people strategies, is ensuring that everyone feels heard and that you can pull in diverse ideas before arriving at a consensus. Across the ECI portfolio we saw an increased use of surveys, far above levels seen before lockdown, creating a normalisation of being able to access broader viewpoints and providing an anonymous route to challenge the status quo. These surveys ranged from a wide use of wellbeing pulse checks, something that the ECI Commercial Team helped a number of portfolio companies set up, to companies such as Bionic using surveys to see what had and hadn’t worked during the lockdown. New tech tools further helped this democratisation of workplace engagement, enabling companies to run quick polls as well as more extensive surveys as needed.

3. Rapidly adopted tech is now embedded

When it came to the race to work from home effectively, everyone clearly had a different starting position. From companies that had never worked from home and didn’t use laptops or cloud-based storage, to those that had been flexibly working for a significant time and had all the tech ready to go. An interesting takeaway from the Forum was that whilst the journey to source and adopt the tech was different for everyone, across the board those tools are now universally embedded and a key part of HR planning moving forwards. For example, with Content+Cloud’s use of Yammer and Moneypenny’s use of Facebook Workplace, both have seen how well-used and appreciated these respective tools were during lockdown and will be using them for other types of engagement going forwards. For example Thea Fineren, Chief People Officer at Content+Cloud, discussed how they would carry on initiatives such as meditation sessions, a Leader Forum, and lunch and learn sessions.

Whilst all companies are different, the process for getting approval for tech and buy-in from across a business, can be slow going and take time to embed. Companies and employees that were forced to adapt and adopt at pace, are now able to reap the wider rewards of those innovations.

Illustration of two people talking virtually

4. Trust and visibility

One of the interesting challenges facing HR teams in a more remote working world is how to balance the need to trust people whilst also ensuring you have enough visibility that you understand team and individual performance. There was a consensus that micro-managing and acting as Big Brother was not beneficial for anyone, especially as the pandemic period was highly stressful for many team members. There was also discussion around how the crisis had shown how well people had responded to significant levels of trust, but also the beneficial impact it had on their wellbeing and engagement to feel trusted. Claire Webster, HR Director at Avantia, discussed how they had been encouraging more transparent and trust-based relationships for a while, but that this became increasingly important during the pandemic. This included encouraging greater clarity on objectives and results, agreeing deliverables together, and continued feedback sessions.

However, clearly lack of visibility does make performance management more difficult. Whilst one doesn’t need to be Big Brother to see how people are performing, there may need to be a shift in which KPIs are seen as most useful, with factors such as client feedback seen as increasingly important. Similarly, there may not be a one size fits all approach to working from home, if not everyone can adapt as well. Performance management may require more time in the office if remote working is having an impact on productivity that needs to be addressed.

5.Unexpected training needs

It is fair to say that for many HR teams, their training programme for 2020 has had to be rewritten. Whilst it has been impressive to see training, especially for new joiners, continue remotely, most people agreed that training is better in person and new ways to schedule that in and to facilitate socially distanced training has required a new way of thinking. When thinking about training, given in person training may be more difficult, it is good to understand what really should be face-to-face and what can still work virtually. Are you getting the feedback from your people to be able to assess that? 

Not only does the format likely need to change, but remote working and lockdown also required new types of training. For example, more management training over communication methods and effectiveness, presentation and pitch training as we adjust to presenting virtually, and even one company setting up guidelines on etiquette for Teams! In these scenarios it can be hard to predict what will be needed as we start to plan for 2021, but by continuing those engagement channels with people across your business and understanding their pain points, training needs should emerge in a fairly organic way.

About the author

Rich Pearce

"I work in ECI’s Commercial Team to support our management teams in unlocking growth opportunities by offering hands on support as they need it. I also lead our People function which involves driving the people agenda across the portfolio and managing much of the HR-related functions internally here at ECI."

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