Developer Mark Strudwick shares what he’s learned about teamwork from previous lives as a soldier and lifeboat crew member – and how it applies to coding teams.
I joined the Headforwards crew in the summer of 2020, when the first lockdown was easing but the government was still recommending home-working. All my equipment was sent to my house, and I met my new colleagues over Teams; it would be another three or four months before I got the opportunity to see them in person.
That’s a familiar story for many knowledge workers who started a new role during the pandemic – and the transition was tricky for those who were already established in their roles and used to working from the office, too.
At the same time, I was working on my final assignments for my Advanced Diploma in Strategic People Management, a Level 7 CIPD qualification for HR professionals. For my dissertation, I decided to study how remote and hybrid working evolved during the pandemic, how it affected my colleagues at Headforwards, and how my team and the business’ people leaders could work to mitigate some of the challenges.
Through surveys, focus groups, and other research methods, I got a great insight into why the Headforwards model works so well, and how remote working has given it the opportunity to adapt.
It’s easier to maintain personal connections than company-wide connections
I went into my research expecting some people to love working from home, and some people to absolutely hate it. And there definitely are people who feel that strongly in either direction – but it was mostly a more nuanced response.
A lot of the team felt like they were more productive at home, with fewer of the distractions that come with a busy office. But they were also less likely to take short breaks away from their computers in between tasks, because they felt guilty about leaving their desk (or kitchen table). I found that so interesting, because in the office you wouldn’t think twice about chatting to a colleague for a few minutes, or hopping up to make a cup of tea after an hour or two of solid work – so encouraging people to look after themselves when they’re working remotely is really important.
During lockdown, we worked really hard to ensure everyone was getting regular contact with their team. The benefit of using Agile is that every day starts with a stand-up meeting, which is reasonably easy to replicate over video call. And we maintained a social connection too, with virtual pub evenings, bingo, and other fun activities. But those were either limited to small groups or too big for individuals to interact, and our big events – where everyone came together for BBQs, the Christmas party, or our annual Headstock mini-festival – were all on pause.
So, people were doing well at maintaining connections with the people they worked with regularly, but maintaining that company-wide “Headforwards vibe” was proving more difficult.
Our approach to benefits changed with the workforce
This became a real focus for us when we decided to fully embrace hybrid working. We’ve always been really flexible with hours and schedules, especially when it comes to building a good work-life balance, but this transition has given us the opportunity to introduce even more flexibility into how we operate. Our teams can now work from home full time, spend a couple of days a week hot desking at FibreHub, or have a permanent desk onsite.
Previously, we focused on hiring locally, or enticing people to move to Cornwall. Our recruitment materials included recommended coastal walks, or great new hobbies to try, like stand-up paddleboarding, and our extra benefits included a lot of local discounts. But remote working has opened the market right up – and around a quarter of our team are now remote – so we’ve been adjusting our messaging and our benefits package to reflect that.
Our perks are now a mix of in-person and online, so everyone gets an opportunity to take part in something fun. Last month, we held a wine tasting at the Alverton Hotel in Truro; the month before, we hosted a virtual class with the School of Wok cookery school (next up is go karting).
It’s still so important to us that everyone gets the chance to connect in person too. We regularly cover expenses for our remote team members to come and stay in Cornwall, spending a few days at FibreHub and working directly with their colleagues. And if we’ve got a few visiting at the same time, we’ll make sure there’s a BBQ scheduled so they can hang out with more of the team too.
Remote working isn’t just for remote workers
Our “work from anywhere” policy applies to everyone, including people who regularly work from FibreHub. If someone is heading to the Cotswolds for the weekend, they can drive up on the Thursday evening and work from their holiday cottage on the Friday, so they’re ready to start their weekend as soon as they close their laptop. And we’re happy for our people to take that further afield, too. With the right visa in place, someone could choose to extend their holiday in, say, Barcelona, by working from their hotel for a few days.
All we ask is that the team is the first priority on working days. As long as they’re available, responsive, and doing high-quality work, our people can take us anywhere (and you always get higher quality work from more satisfied people).
Embrace the new working world, keep the heart of your business
I think almost all businesses are experiencing the same challenges right now. Adjusting to this hybrid approach is all about preserving what you loved about your company in the heart and soul, but also embracing the new working world. We’re so lucky at Headforwards; we’ve got loads of people that have been here for a really long time. We celebrated four 10-year anniversaries last year, with another eight coming up in 2022, and there are six team members who’ll be getting their five-year gifts soon too. I think that speaks volumes in an industry that usually has sky-high churn.
We’re continuing to evolve how we manage the organisation, striving to find the best ways to give our people flexibility, a strong connection with their colleagues, and a great work-life balance. If that sounds like a business you want to be a part of, take a look at our careers page for our current openings.