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How CPP Group is approaching reopening its offices

9 Sep 2020 By Justine Shaw

The financial services and insurance firm didn’t want to just assume it could go back to normal – instead it took the chance to learn from lockdown, says Justine Shaw

As we move towards a semblance of normality, out of global lockdowns and back to ‘business as usual’, organisations across the world are re-evaluating their plans, taking the time to learn from the past several months and apply these learnings to their business models.

At CPP, we wanted to ensure we came out of lockdown as a strong, united collective, rather than letting distance come between us. To achieve this, we took the time to understand the impact the pandemic has had on our people through various channels of communication. Through these conversations we’ve gained valuable insight into some key areas to focus on as we move into our next phase of business. 

We don’t just want to reopen our offices when it is safe to do so and assume all will ‘go back to normal’. Many of our colleagues actually noted this didn’t feel like a possibility to them. For those who are trying to tackle the same challenge as us, here’s how we approached phasing out of lockdown and how we are planning to use this opportunity to evolve our business.

Create space for conversation

The first part of this process starts with listening. The pandemic led us to new ways of thinking, working and behaving. Reflecting on everyone’s personal experiences helped us find out what positive changes we collectively wanted to make into the future.

We invited all colleagues to join online groups of eight to 10 people, led by a member of the senior leadership team, to have an informal, open conversation about what they have learned and unlearned, how the pandemic has affected their lives and their hopes for the future. Keeping the groups small and attendance as optional created a relaxed and reflective environment.

Reflect and test

We took the initial findings – involving more than a third of all colleagues – and identified some themes. These included work-life balance, productivity, communication and connection, ways of working and wellbeing. We wanted to probe deeper as well as encourage more people to have an input, especially those who were unable to take part in the web sessions. So we created polls and questions on our intranet over the course of two weeks. We asked the question: how well do you feel you are communicating with others while working from home? By refreshing questions every couple of days we prompted more than a thousand responses in total, which added more depth to the findings from our first phase.

Focus on the learnings not the context

What we’ve learned from this work points to more than just the benefits of flexible working for the business, and led us to re-examine our thinking about collaboration, leadership, products and services and colleague wellbeing.

Virtual meetings have allowed teams to engage effectively on tech projects. A product migration taking place in Turkey involved input from colleagues in the UK and the teams collaborated seamlessly, with remote and flexible working allowing people to stay connected despite the different time zones. Remote teams can operate jointly and work collaboratively providing there is a strong and supportive culture.

Look to the horizon

We are clear that work is something we do, not a place we go. Leaders rushing to get their colleagues back to the office based on misguided notions that remote workers are less productive and less cooperative risk losing their people and being unprepared for another lockdown or, worse yet, another pandemic. With this in mind we are taking our learnings and focusing on modernising our business at pace. We need to create actual changes at all levels.

Never too late to start

Many businesses may feel like they’ve missed their opportunity to start this work but it’s never too late to make time to listen to colleagues. Getting the best out of everyone requires listening to their needs and aspirations by checking in regularly. Continuing to find new ways of working involves keeping an open mind and making incremental changes at a safe pace. 

The future is no doubt uncertain for businesses everywhere, with the threat of further virus outbreaks and renewed lockdowns causing concern for many. However, from our experience, we’ve found that businesses that evolve their culture and approach to their people can only become more innovative and progressive. Listening to colleagues’ worries and experiences and a willingness to adapt is vital. Those who are closed off to these changes will struggle to succeed in the new world.

Justine Shaw is people and culture director at CPP Group

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