Like all businesses around the world, Kainos has quickly had to adapt to the challenges brought on by COVID-19. The pandemic has presented business leaders everywhere with an opportunity to evaluate current ways of working and engage staff and customers to think about the conditions necessary for future success. 

The question we asked ourselves in Kainos was how do we keep our people safe, engaged and equipped to continue to deliver high quality services to our customers both now and in the future? It’s a complex question. After all, no company exists in isolation. To do what we do in Kainos, we work in partnership with customers and other organisations who themselves are trying make sense of this ‘new normal’.     

How do we keep our people safe, engaged and equipped to continue to deliver high quality services to our customers both now and in the future?

As Chief People Officer of a talented 1750-person global workforce with offices across the UK, Europe and North America, I read with interest the latest research, what other companies were doing to respond and the impact of continued COVID-19 spikes and alerts on our people and our business. As we embarked on our discovery phase for how to successfully move forward, we asked ourselves:       

  • How as a company we can protect our workforce and keep them safe?
  • What will the “New Normal” working practices be for Kainos both during the COVID-19 threat and thereafter?
  • What impact would these revised working practices have on our people, our customers, our company, our local communities, and on the wider environment?

Fortunately, Kainos was not coming at this from a standing start. As a digital technology company, we already had the infrastructure and tooling in place to support remote working. Within 3 days of closing offices, every member of our global workforce was able to work remotely. Knowing that our people were safe allowed our leaders to focus on the immediate and longer-term implications of COVID-19 and set about investigating what our working model options could be.

To do this, we set up an internal team with representatives from across our regions. Its first step? To speak to our people. We issued a comprehensive global questionnaire to understand how people were feeling, to assess their wellbeing and feelings of connectedness, and to explore their current and future working preferences. We captured views from over 70% of our workforce, and the analysis gave us valuable insights into:

  • What immediate support was required to assist our colleagues to effectively work from home
  • The personal and business benefits being realised through remote working
  • The challenges that people were experiencing
  • An idea of their views and preferences about continued working from home, office working and working on customer site.

Within 3 days of closing offices, every member of our global workforce was able to work remotely.

Of course, any survey only provides a snapshot of preferences at a particular point of time. The team recognised that preferences may change as people become fatigued in lockdown, and as childcare or caring responsibilities change. So, a shorter follow up survey was completed (with more planned) to help us capture any changing views and invited feedback directly from staff as part of our regular C-19 comms and engagement events. 

The discovery phase has told us that we are right to consider a “new working model” for Kainos. Our research showed:

  • 66% of our global workforce want to work remotely 3 or more days per week post COVID-19.
  • 68% of staff feel they have a good home office set up
  • 60% of staff feel they are delivering the same level of value to customers

The analysis also told us that we must maintain a relentless focus on supporting wellbeing, and that we need to be creative about supporting social interaction and connectedness within and across our teams. 

The next step was talk to our customers to share insights, to explore what more we can do to support each other, and to understand how they intend to work following COVID-19.  From these discussions it was clear that more remote working is the strategic direction of travel. 

The team evaluated various working models, including: 

  • Returning to how we worked prior to COVID-19 – typically office-based with assigned desks for our staff
  • A fully remote model – no office presence with all work conducted from a place of choice.
  • A blended model – remote working with office space to support “activity-based working”

Further discussion and consultation took place, leading to a comprehensive set of recommendations for an “activity-based working” model. Defined as “working from the right place for you, your team, your customer and the work you deliver”. This model was selected because it suits our people and our customers, and directly addresses our key design principles, namely that the model must:

  • Support staff safety
  • Support improved staff development and wellbeing
  • Enable us to continue to successfully deliver projects to our customers and provide access to our global talent pool
  • Facilitate reduction of our carbon footprint 

As a second wave is experienced, it has helped reinforce the need for Kainos to be agile, flexible and able to rapidly adapt and respond to workplace disruption and change. Whilst no-one can predict when (or indeed if) life will return to “normal”, what we do know is that as employers, we need to be prepared to face ongoing uncertainty and effectively plan how to create engaging, productive, safe and inclusive environments for our workforce.

As a second wave is experienced, it has helped reinforce the need for Kainos to be agile, flexible and able to rapidly adapt and respond to workplace disruption and change.

At Kainos, we have now moved onto the detailed planning phase, which includes implementation of the ‘quick wins’ identified by our people, and a closer look at the requirements of activity based working in the context of our overall company culture and our staffing model.

We’ve learned a lot over the last seven months – most significantly the incredible power of our people to support each other, to innovate, to adapt, and to challenge the status quo. Although we have lots more to do, I believe we are on the right path and that activity-based working will give us what we need to continually attract, develop and retain the best talent for the benefit of our customers, our company and our local communities.