With the UK entering its third lockdown in January 2021, the significant adjustments made to our ways of working at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout 2020 remained in place throughout much of 2021. As restrictions continued to be lifted, we talked to our teams about their preferences around hybrid working, and cautiously planned a managed return to the office. No blanket rule was imposed, with a preference instead for collaboration. Presence in the office was decided on a team-by-team basis, based on colleagues’ preferences and the business’ needs. Our continued priorities were the health, safety and wellbeing of our people, and our service and support for our customers and business partners, ensuring we adhered to Government guidance at the time around face coverings and social distancing.
Communication and Wellbeing
During the third national lockdown, there was a recognition that our people had been remote from their line managers and colleagues for some time. We focused our communications and engagement on connection, encouraging colleagues to replicate the spirit of our physical workplace virtually. Colleagues were encouraged to engage with one another and the business to combat isolation and loneliness. Teams connected daily to ‘check in’ on both a personal and professional level and open screen working was encouraged as a substitute for the physical office environment. Meeting structures were revised to a 50 minute on/10 minute off model, to prevent burnout from back-to-back calls. Mindfulness sessions also equipped our people with techniques for coping with loneliness and focusing on the positive throughout challenging times.
The Group is committed to open and transparent communication with its staff with engagement remaining a primary focus for the Leadership teams. The Board engages with employees through:
- Virtual business updates through the delivery of quarterly all-staff meetings where strategic and performance updates are delivered by the Executive Director and the senior management team, and two-way communication is encouraged. As physical gatherings were permitted, our Divisional “Communicake” sessions were launched in the office to encourage interaction between team members. As the name suggests, these sessions combined an opportunity for management to communicate its plans for the business and for teams to share updates with a chance to spend time together over tea and cake.
- In addition to gathering feedback throughout the year through regular meetings, the Group also encourages employees to share their views via its annual staff survey. The People Director feeds back the results of this survey to the Board and the employee group are encouraged to take ownership of these results through identifying three actions to be taken by the management body and three actions to be taken by the employee body in order to encourage positive change.
- Despite the challenges of the continuing pandemic we were very pleased with the results of our staff survey, which showed that engagement levels remained high at 75% for the year against a UK Gallup average of 11%.
Training and development
Following the move to remote working in early 2020, managers received support on how to manage their teams in a home working environment with our “Pokerface” for managers training. This was extended in 2021, with managers receiving support on how to reconnect their teams with one another while still working remotely. This was achieved through training around checking in with one another, running better team meetings and giving recognition to team members. Following the success of “Pokerface” for managers, a similar course for all employees was rolled out across the Group within just two months to help our people to work through the continuing impact of the pandemic. Course content focused on understanding how the situation had impacted peoples’ mental health and emphasising the importance of connection with others.
The Group also extended its on-the-job training by enrolling four employees on new apprenticeship schemes during the year. At the end of 2021, the Group had ten apprentices throughout the organisation in a range of roles.
Our Totem engagement app
Working from home reduced the opportunity for informal interaction between colleagues and our communications needed to be adapted to bridge this gap. To address this, we launched a new mobile-first communications platform called Totem, in May 2021. The app places equal emphasis on celebrating both the personal and professional news and achievements of our people. Colleagues can celebrate the achievements of others by offering Kudos to them publicly and are encouraged to share posts about their work or home life on separate streams. Employee engagement with the platform has surpassed expectations and Totem has successfully harnessed the sense of community across the Group in a digital form.
Equal Opportunities and Diversity
Diversity and inclusion were a focus across the business in 2021, with managers undertaking a specially tailored diversity and inclusion training programme. As part of this, all colleagues were invited to share and discuss their views on this area in forums and through a feedback survey. Our people told us that they believe our culture is one of acceptance, with 91% agreeing in our annual staff survey that everyone within the Group is treated fairly, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or other differences. As a result of this training the following actions were implemented:
- An increased focus on gender pay gap with reporting being undertaken annually and shared with a group of senior colleagues to review and challenge the results.
- Raising awareness with senior leaders of the actions they can take in order to promote diversity and inclusion.
- Ensuring the annual staff survey included questions around diversity, so that this remains an area of focus and allows our people to share their thoughts on this important area.