Long reads

How are people teams responding to coronavirus? ...Fideres Partners

25 Mar 2020 By Maggie Baska

People Management finds out what employers are doing to tackle the logistical, financial and staff wellbeing implications of the global pandemic

The organisation

Fideres was founded in 2008 out of the financial crisis to investigate corporate misconduct and abuses, and is now a provider of economic analysis to law firms and their clients as well as regulators. This can include working alongside firms, investigating wrongful conduct to allow clients to take action and providing expert testimony in court. 

The impact so far

Currently, the company employs 25 people across the UK, the US, Germany and South Africa, with offices in London, Frankfurt, New York and Johannesburg. Kate Bicknell, head of people and culture, says the biggest challenge so far has been managing communication between team members as all staff now work remotely. 

Bicknell explains that while Fideres was already used to flexible working – it has a flexible working hours policy for all employees, which includes the option to work from home one day a week – the government’s recommendation that all staff work from home wherever possible highlighted the importance of communication with remote workers. “If you have one or two people working from home, communication isn’t an issue, but we’ve put a lot more effort into video conferencing each other to make sure everyone’s OK since the outbreak,” Bicknell says.

“This is a stressful situation for everyone regardless of your personal circumstances, and it’s important that people keep talking, keep ideas going and retain business continuity.” 

Initial response

“When it all began, we sent a few all-staff emails saying that we were monitoring the situation, and it was evolving rapidly,” Bicknell says. “We then did a group presentation focusing on our strategy going forward, and even on future business opportunities to come out of this.”

Bicknell says the business was born out of the recession and was in a strong position to manage any turbulence ahead: “We reiterated that the coming months may be difficult, but our presentation tried to be motivational at the same time and welcoming of people’s future ideas.”

During this presentation, the firm also explained what could happen in regards to any cost-cutting initiatives, with the aim of being as transparent and open with their staff as possible about any future difficulties. 

Comms strategy

Beyond the initial emails, Bicknell says the team set up a schedule to keep open and frequent communication. This was not only to keep ideas flowing between teams, but also to check in on how everyone was doing.

The firm has emphasised the importance of using video conferencing tools such as Zoom or Google Hangouts instead of emails to keep in contact, and implemented a daily 15-minute company-wide meeting each morning. Additionally, staff have weekly one-to-one calls with their line managers, and each team has a daily video conference call. 

“It’s not a minute-by-minute call schedule, but we really want to keep everyone connected,” Bicknell says. “We want people to share key ideas with colleagues during the conference as well as just having regular conversations.”

Wellbeing 

Before the outbreak, Fideres ran 'lunch and learns' every fortnight – led by staff – where different employees presented on various subjects. Bicknell says the company is keen to carry on doing these digitally: “We are running a presentation on stress management this week, which is actually really appropriate, and will be rolling out a series over the next few months on employee wellbeing.”

She adds that the company was likely to add optional ‘staff lunches’ via the video link to make sure everyone chats, and says she wants to loop normal office activities into video calls as well. “We actually have someone who was due to leave this week so we were going to try that out since she’s not going to get her leaving drinks,” Bicknell says. “We think it would be fun, and it doesn’t matter if a small group joins. People just want to check in.”

Pay

Bicknell says Fideres is developing a ‘pandemic budget’ and a business ideas taskforce in response to the changing situation. As a result, the firm has cut all surplus costs, stopped all recruitment and deferred bonus payments for the present time. 

“We’ve leaned down on costs because we want to protect and maintain employment for our staff,” Bicknell says. “That way we’ve set ourselves up with every opportunity to come out of this in a strong position.

“We’ve also been really open to anyone – not just parents – if they need to work more flexibly or reduce their hours,” Bicknell adds. “Like with myself; I have two kids, so we agreed I would do my best to get done what I could, and I’d cut my hours.”

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