A year of remote working: What we learnt
6 min read
On Tuesday we held Lockdown Unlocked, an online event designed to help scaling businesses with their key challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We were lucky enough to feature an incredible lineup of some of UK tech’s biggest names, including Brent Hoberman, Robin Klein and Check Warner among many others; as well as government figures such as Gila Sacks, Director of Digital and Tech Policy at DCMS, and Francis Evans, Head of Business Finance at BEIS.
Topics covered included: how Covid-19 could affect global economies, the role of the state vs the role of the ecosystem, and leadership under lockdown and productivity. We also took polls throughout the day, asking around 500 attendees for their thoughts on various topics. Here are 14 things we learned.
Futurist Azeem Azhar, Founder of Exponential View, said in his keynote on global economies: “COVID-19 has turned us all into early adopters, and that is a massive opportunity for new tech companies. No one has a roadmap for what comes next. This is a unique chance to let imagination take over – how do you want to see the world change?”. Similarly, on our investor panel, Investment Partner at Seedcamp Tom Wilson said: “When we come out the other side of coronavirus, having the aftermath of this as a base will be a great time to start a business.”
Check Warner (Partner, Ada Ventures & Co-Founder, Diversity VC), who also spoke on our investor panel, pointed out: “People coalesce around things that are working. Investments that happened around the time of the recession generally outperformed expectations”.
Another point raised by Check was one around diversity, and it concerned putting the onus on investors. “You’re 13 times more likely to secure investment through a warm introduction to a VC, so investors need to make sure their contact pools are diverse. Get yourself out there and attend things like Playfair Capital’s Female Founders Office Hours.”
Robin Klein and Brent Hoberman discussed the role of the state vs the role of the ecosystem and how it can’t be a single-sided approach. “Government support is great but what’s more important is what the strategy is. Funds need to be deployed strategically and efficiently. Speed is absolutely key.”
Francis Evans, Head of Business Finance at BEIS gave us some great insights into how the Government has learnt from tech when approaching something as quick-changing as Covid-19. Gila Sacks, Director for Digital and Tech Policy at DCMS, commented: “Businesses and citizens are putting an enormous amount of trust in digital, and the Government. Now we need to figure out which of the recent changes will have a lasting impact.”
Francis Evans said: “The headline terms can be found on gov.uk under the Future Fund … we are absolutely aware that convertible loan notes do not work with EIS … we are working on how we can address that part of the market but don’t expect the headline terms to change.” Additionally the new announcement on Business Rates Relief is “definitely intended” to help co-working spaces, he added: “Let’s see how it works in practice with local authorities using their discretion to allocate those grants.”
“We don’t know what the world past COVID-19 will look like,” said Damien Webb from RSM. “We’re now about six weeks into this thing, so now is the time to develop an integrated financial model that will last for the next 12-18 months of uncertainty – however long a vaccine will take.”
Dave Bailey from Mediatonic gave an insight into how lockdown has altered the outlook on home working. “Diversity is always something we are trying to improve, especially in something like gaming. Lockdown has proved we absolutely can work flexibly from home and, in the future, we will encourage more people to join the business regardless of location or working patterns.”
This is especially so in times of uncertainty. Our session on Leadership under Lockdown featured Asi Sharabi from Wonderbly, who said: “We are the first to admit we are winging it every day. Really, it’s about being able to read the situation as early as possible and inject enough process to give a sense of control.”
Many tech companies have had to pivot in a matter of days, acting fast and reacting quickly to help people and stay relevant. Jill Palmer of ClickTravel has had to lead her team through the crisis, which has hit the travel industry particularly hard. “Every week of the COVID-19 crisis has brought a new mission. For every challenge, I created a small tight project team to deal with it. But I think during this time period we have produced some of our best and most important work.”
With so much going on, it can be easy for founders to get overwhelmed. Jill Palmer said: “Fit your own oxygen mask before helping others; eat well, exercise, and take a holiday. Take a step back to think about how you’re feeling”. When it comes to the workforce, Dave Bailey says it’s best to “reach out and solicit feedback. Mental health can simmer along and people don’t realise until it becomes serious. Take pulse surveys on a regular cadence to check how mood is changing over time.”
Our session on productivity featured Ravi Patel from Zoom and Brad Kilshaw from Slack who, perhaps surprisingly, both agreed on this point. Ravi commented: “I’m saying it through gritted teeth, but when it comes to 121s, going back to old-school phone calls is a great way to allow people to have a break from their screens.” Phone calls allow people to move around and might even improve concentration. Everyone should be allowed to communicate in a way they feel comfortable. Productivity doesn’t mean being online all the time or speaking to others constantly.
The productivity panel were in agreement on this. Company policies should be adapted to focus more on output rather than input. Across the board, companies are considering having more people working from home on a more regular basis, and there was even talk of trialling a 16-hour, four-day week rather than the traditional “9-5” from Monday to Friday.
While no one knows how offices will look on the other side of Covid-19, Ravi Patel is confident they won’t disappear forever: “Offices will eventually be back as people are social animals, but it’s unclear how it will look. Physical space could be reworked to allow for some social distancing, but it doesn’t necessarily spell the bringing back of physical booths.”
Watch the entire event below, visit the Covid-19 hub, and read all our related content.
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