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Like every company at the moment, we have been working through the challenges of adapting to both the immediate economic impact of the pandemic and adjusting to working remotely.
We decided to make the change to work remotely before the lockdown in the UK was announced, as we saw this as the best way to protect one another. Whilst the UK Government are now planning for how people will return to their workplaces, we expect to remain working this way for some time.
A number of things went more smoothly than anticipated and, as expected, there have been some challenges. In this article, we share a few of the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
By deciding to start working fully remotely before the lockdown was enforced, it gave us additional time to ensure we’d planned for how this change would impact our customers.
Goji provides investment platform technology to alternative asset managers who rely on our service for their critical day-to-day operations. From the start, our objective was to continue to deliver 100% of our services at as close to pre-lockdown service levels as possible. If our customers didn’t notice anything had changed, then that would be success for us.
We knew from day one that our ability to deliver our services was in some ways dependent on third parties e.g. access to the office to receive and process post. To manage this risk, we had a phased plan that adjusted our operational processes depending on the availability of these services. As it happened, access to our office was gradually reduced and the delivery of mail became more intermittent, so this phased planning worked to our advantage.
We communicated the phased-plan with customers and then kept them up to date as we moved between the stages.
By being proactive about considering how we would need to adjust our operations as the lockdown progressed, our customers could be confident that the risks were being mitigated and that this was one less thing for them to think about.
A major reason for the ease with which we transitioned to fully-remote working was our investment in cloud-first technologies. All our systems – email, document storage, back-office systems, code repositories and application infrastructure are cloud-based and can be accessed by authorised staff from anywhere.
This had been a deliberate decision from day one of the company and has meant that we have had staff working from home on a regular basis, even before the lockdown.
One of the biggest wins during the lockdown was how easily we moved our phone system. Like most financial services companies, we have a dedicated customer operations team that respond to customer queries using a number of channels. By using a VOIP phone system, operations staff have been able to install software on their laptops and maintain all the normal phone functionality e.g. transferring calls, thereby maintaining the same standards of service to customers.
It’s easy to take for granted the huge amount of informal communication that happens when you’re all in the office together. This constant stream of information-exchange is essential to keeping people informed, unblocked and able to do their job and simply doesn’t happen so easily when you’re dependent on Slack, email or Zoom.
Our software development team uses daily standups as a normal part of their routine to align their activities for the coming day. We have copied this across the rest of our teams and this means everyone is in one or more Zoom calls between 9 and 10am for around 30 minutes.
These times are great to not only share practical updates but also to check-in with one another. We ask everyone to score how they’re feeling out of 10 – it’s a simple way to be honest with one another about how we’re doing emotionally which is doubly important at times of stress and uncertainty. I hope we keep this habit when we return to ‘normal’.
There’s no doubt that video calls take some getting used to. You don’t get the typical social cues that help you know when there’s space to talk and so it’s easy to end up talking over one another. This is especially frustrating if someone in the meeting has a poor internet connection or there are kids screaming in the background!
We’ve found that using quite a formal process keeps meetings efficient and ensures that everyone gets equal air-time:
It’s so simple it’s hardly worth mentioning but it’s made a big difference to our meeting discipline and is something else I hope we maintain post-lockdown.
One inescapable part of financial services is that as soon as you interact with established processes and infrastructure, you will encounter manual processes. And that means paper forms, post and (even in 2020!) banking cheques.
We’ve worked hard over the last few years to automate as much of this as possible but the pace of innovation is to a large extent set by the degree that all stakeholders participate. A good example is the way ISAs are transferred between ISA managers. Historically this has involved wet-signatures and institutions writing cheques to one another.
Our operations team have been working closely with industry organisations to build consensus to accept electronic signatures and electronic copies of documents. There has been little incentive to change this to-date but now that all firms are having to operate remotely, things are starting to shift.
As difficult as the lockdown is, small changes like this will make a big difference to our customers and the end investors both now and once the lockdown is lifted.
At Goji we have always made sure we’ve made time to have fun together. Whether it’s ice-skating at Christmas time or trips to Museum-Lates at the Science and Natural History Museums, we’ve always had something in the calendar.
We’ve not yet figured out a way to share a birthday cake remotely (any ideas?) but we have done a pub quiz together and have hosted our first murder-mystery evening. We’ve also had a drink together over Zoom to celebrate client wins.
It’s probably at these times that not being together physically is most noticeable and I’m very much looking forward to being able to be in the same room as colleagues. In the meantime, being able to laugh together at the latest ‘home hair cut’ over Zoom goes some way to being able to enjoy one another’s company.
Whilst the Government are starting to publicise their plan for how to lift the lockdown, it is clear that it is going to be a slow and gradual process to reduce the social distancing restrictions. Like all firms, we are considering carefully what the next steps should be, in terms of how we keep each other safe whilst also recognising the benefits of having people working alongside one another.
We’ve learned a lot from the weeks we’ve been fully-remote and we don’t want to forget these lessons. I suspect we will adopt some flavour of being “remote first” – allowing staff the choice of whether they work from home or in the office. This not only offers staff greater flexibility but also means we can recruit from a wider geographic area.
Having a mix of staff in the office and remote will not be without its challenges – running a meeting with some people in the room and others dialled in is often harder than having everyone dialled in.
The most important discovery is that we can continue to offer the same level of customer service and deliver continual improvements to our product whether we are in the office or at home, and preserving this will be our goal as we navigate the months ahead.