Monday – The Changing World of Work

01 October 2021

This week we are celebrating #NCSW21.

Today focuses on the changing world of work and we spoke to our Head of People, Sarah Pickerill, about how work culture and environment will change in the future.

“My role as Head of People means I am responsible for the people strategy across our business. I sit on the Operations Board and I lead on all strategy in relation to our people. I look after the whole employee journey, ensuring Carpenters Group is a great place to work, where people are listened to, innovation and technology is embraced, and our people feel valued as they help grow both their own career and our business.

Technology has always played an important role in HR and the delivery of any people strategy, whether that be the use of an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) so that you have a slick and robust recruitment process which delivers a positive candidate experience, to a people management system which stores, manages and analyses employee data whilst supporting employee processes within the business, to performance review tools and Learning Management Systems (LMS) which help manage employee performance and support employee professional and personal skills development.

And whilst it’s always played a vital role it has always sat alongside face-to-face interaction and in the main, in office team working. When the pandemic hit this all changed! Overnight, we moved from largely working in our offices to working remotely in spare rooms, bed rooms, on kitchen tables and our only way of communicating with our teams and other members of the business was through a web cam using Microsoft Teams.

As with every other business, we adapted well, changing many of our policies and processes so they worked for us in this new ‘virtual working world’. 18 plus months on we are getting back to a place where by office working and face-to-face interaction is now thankfully possible again. The pandemic, although it’s been very tough for everyone, has brought some positive new ways of working to the table. It has taught us that we can all work in a more flexible and agile way, it has also taught us that we can trust our people to deliver whilst giving them some freedom and autonomy. But perhaps most importantly, if we need to, we have the technology and means to work from anywhere, at the drop of a hat! I definitely couldn’t have said that five years ago, things really have come a long way in terms of how technology can support my team to deliver what we need to!

No one can deny that it did bring many challenges to our business, many felt isolated, many suffered from poor mental and physical health, and others didn’t physically have the space to work comfortably from home. It created many challenges for our managers, nothing beats face-to-face communication and interaction and as a result communication was a definite challenge, as was managing our people and understanding their needs and the challenges they were facing. It was hard to support them when they were stressed and almost impossible to develop them, particularly our juniors. In my view a lot of learning happens naturally though osmosis, and for 18 months this really hasn’t been happening.

There is no doubt in my mind that we will all adopt new ways of working going forward into the future and that’s why at Carpenters Group we will be rolling out a new style of  ‘hybrid working’ this Autumn. This means that most of our employees will be able to work from home and from the office, ideally we would like a 50:50 split. At Carpenters Group we are mindful that a ‘one size’ fits all approach will not suit everyone and so over the coming weeks and months we will be working closely at a very individual and personal level to understand our people’s practical, personal and development needs and to ensure that they are being managed effectively as we move to this new way of working.

The culture at Carpenters Group is incredibly positive, we are one team. There’s no hierarchy, our leaders are authentic and very visible and as a business we genuinely care about doing the right thing. I am very keen to retain the culture we have here at Carpenters Group and am conscious that this new way of working could have an impact on it. As a result we are looking at lots of new ways of utilising technology to support our people and retain our culture. The really big project that my team are working on currently is a plan that will see us upgrade our recruitment, people management and learning management systems so that we can support and manage our people, their information and data so we can better measure and deliver on our wider strategy.

Strong communication is always vital, there is regular communication from the business. Our people know that their opinions matter and that we are seeking to do all that we can to ensure the business remains strong and continues to grow. We are devising a very thorough communications (comms) and engagement plan that will compliment this new way of working. We have various communication channels that we use and will continue to use to engage with and listen to our people. Our weekly internal comms has played an important part of how we have kept everyone up-to-date through the pandemic, our CEO Donna Richards frequently sends comms. We have plans to do more and more of these in the coming months, particularly now that things are calming down and we have more time to plan. We have also recently rebuilt the company’s intranet and in doing so essentially created an employee information hub where our people can go to feel better informed and engage with their colleagues. We have a policy of blending the virtual with the face-to-face and this is being led from the top, helping to re-engage our people and help support them with the transition back to some in office working.

Our T&D team are currently working on a huge management development programme that will see all our managers through a blended face-to-face and virtual development programme with the aim of ensuring that our people are managed and developed in the best possible way. We are publishing career pathways, running a series of webinars on mental health, resilience and confidence and in the process of building a suite of online learning which will compliment any classroom style facilitation we will be rolling out.

Retaining the culture at Carpenters Group is at the heart of everything I want to do, as is utilising new and existing technology to partner the business, add value and deliver on my team’s objectives. Technology definitely has its part to play, but for me, human interaction is still so very important, and if this pandemic has taught us anything there is definitely a balance to be struck!”