People + Culture Chats: Embracing flexible working in a post-COVID world with Hanna Smith



Yesterday saw the launch of our first ever People + Culture Club event!

Brighton is an incredible place to live and work, with a real hub for tech businesses looking to innovate and scale. At the heart of each and every business is it’s people. Not resources. People. Cue our mission: to create a safe space for Founders and People-people to come together and navigate some of the challenges that come with scaling a business. 

We were in for a real treat for our first event, with Hanna Smith (Head of People at Paddle) answering the questions When should we return to the office? and should we return at all?

Here were some of Hanna’s tips for us:

Ask your people what they want. There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach that’ll work for everyone, so empower your team to make their own decisions about where and how they’d like to work. 

Insight scoop…We ran a poll during the session and not a single person said they’d want to return to the office full time! 

People expect flexibility. We’ve proven we can work from home and be productive. We’re commuting less, spending more time with our loved ones and have a better work:life balance. Expectations have changed; so if you want to attract (and keep) the best people that’ll grow your business then you need to create people policies that reflect their expectations.

Iterate as you go. Perfectly written comms and well-positioned policies are super helpful, but not if they’re at the expense of actually giving things a go. Done is better than perfect. Trial a different approach, ask for feedback and iterate. 

Provide the tools and framework for people to thrive. At Paddle, we have a digital first approach. What does ‘digital first’ mean? The way we work, act, behave and design processes has a digital first approach by default. This ensures, no matter where our people work, they will all have the same experience. All stages of the employee life-cycle, from hiring to onboarding, performance reviews to promotions, learning and development opportunities, to team meetings will all be run with a digital first approach.

There are opportunities for in person collaborations, but they will not be the norm. Our Hubs/offices will be designed to support a digital first way of working, with space to work, collaborate, and socialise. In all of the tools we use (HiBob, Google, Slack, etc ) we encourage people to upload a profile photo. This helps us to get to know each other.

All meetings are run digital first – one person, one screen. The only exception is if all meeting participants are in the same physical space together

Make data-driven decisions. Invite feedback wherever you can and really understand what your people want and how they do their best work. Use that information to guide your decision making.

Don’t force ‘water-cooler’ moments. They’re just a little awkward. Instead, create meaningful opportunities for people to collaborate, connect and enjoy each other’s company. Offer both in-person and virtual events so no-one is left out.

Get your onboarding right. It’s your first opportunity to make a positive impact on the people joining your business. 7 hours on Zoom is exhausting for anyone, let alone someone who’s trying to learn about the culture, their job and the people they’ll be working with. Make sure you’re building their network by giving them plenty of time to meet with their colleagues from around the business. You only get one chance to make a first impression.

Over communicate. Don’t assume people have the information they need to feel supported, valued and thrive. Make sure you’re honest and transparent in your communication and there’s lots of it. It can be helpful to give your people-managers some insight around the cadence and structure of things like one-to-ones so they’re set up for success too. 

And finally – a tip from me – trust by default and verify by performance. Whether you opt for a hybrid, agile or digital-first approach; there needs to be high-levels of trust all round. 

Our next event, Building a Scalable Learning Culture, will be on 20th September.

If you’re local to Brighton and want to join ‘in real life’, we’re super excited to announce the event will be in person (woop!) but we’re putting our money where our mouth is and the event will also be accessible and inclusive of those wanting to join us from elsewhere. So, however you choose to join us, we can’t wait to see you there!

More about the host…

Ally Jones helps high-growth companies to scale by equipping Founders and their leadership teams with the tools and confidence to create a culture of high-performance. She’s an executive coach and founder of the Brighton-based leadership development consultancy, Alison Jones Coaching