What Happens After Lockdown? Preparing For a Hybrid Working Model Post Covid-19

Video Transcription

Hi, everyone. My name is Een Plano and I head up digital services at the Bank of England. So I look after the services that our colleague and colleagues at the bank rely on to communicate and collaborate as well as all the teams that support them.So what this means is that during the pandemic, my role and that of my team have been content center in terms of enabling the bank to continue to operate normally and it continues to be. So as we move into our post lockdown strategies, so today, I'm going to talk about three things. So first, some of the challenges that we and I'm sure most of you have faced uh to move to remote working. Then secondly, we'll talk a bit about how this new way you're working that's emerging in all post lockdown discussions. And it certainly appears in my conversations at least 1000 times a day, which is hybrid working and specifically about how to strike the right balance between on site and doing that work. And then finally, we will look at how to make a change into a post lockdown where you're working stick. So let me just move on to the next slide. Fantastic.

So, um you know, and, and you might think, you know, what, why is the bank a good example of this? Well, this was a significant leap for us, which we had to do quite swiftly and very little margin of error because we were quite firmly in the public eye. So to set the scene a little bit before March 2020 I think it's fair to describe the bank as an office based organization. With our 5500 strong workforce spread across three large offices in the London area. We had a large number of office bound roles such as the operation of critical national infrastructure, a low take up of flexible remote working in a deeply ingrained face to face meeting culture with more than 1500 meetings a day, we did transform our telephony system in 2019 and with the soft bounds.

However, in January 2020 the transition was still ongoing and there was only a small take up of this with only about uh 5000 calls weekly made using the service. There was some use of external video conferencing, but it was strictly controlled and not something that we could use our standard laptops for, for example. And then after March 2020 this face to face office based ways of working had to change quite radically in some instances as you can see. Um Here, let me just put that. Yes. Uh as you can see, um from the uh the take up of calls and meetings that were held of our telephony system after the start of the first lockdown. And obviously, clearly, we faced some um cha challenges along the way. So first and foremost, when you are remote, you can get worked on if you can get online. And we have all become so reliant on our ability to connect and the ability for companies to tackle their day to day is most certainly depend on it. So at the start of the pandemic, the bank was very swift in taking measures to protect staff. And two weeks, in about 90% of colleagues were already working from home.

We faced unprecedented demand on our remote working infrastructure which became the front door of the bank traffic increase more than threefold, meaning that we had to up our internet bandwidth accordingly. During the first weeks, our BPN capacity was just enough to cater for all colleagues connecting remotely.

Our teams worked very hard in the background to carefully plan how to increase the amount of available connections without disrupting a service that had effectively become critical for all our users. We can't forget that this was a time when the bank was performing work critical to the economy, things such as launching new funding schemes for financial institutions and businesses, but also continuing our standard bau services which are responsible for settling over £600 billion worth of payments on a daily basis.

That meant that disruption was simply not an option. So no pressure, we achieve this a couple of weeks in and we also build a resiliency to allow for seamless fado and reconnection. Should any part of the remote working infrastructure be impaired? So our next challenge was that all of a sudden, all our colleagues found themselves doing things differently on the slide is an example that I'm sure you all have experienced is how meetings used to start before and how they start. Now, we already um had a soft phone and video conferencing solution. And this meant that we didn't have to create anything from scratch, however, it was under used and the service was not designed for the types of volumes and reliance that the bank had placed on it almost overnight. We quickly expanded capacity by more than 300% with a platform regularly. Now supporting over 60,000 meetings a month and we also post additional guidance and training sessions. And then late last year, our colleagues asked for a more user friendly interface to allow them to perform the roles even more seamlessly.

So we've now also deployed um Microsoft teams a massive milestone for us was to hold meetings such as NBC or the Banks court of directors completely remotely showing that all the layers of the organization were adopting the technology and resulting in a great, great role modeling across uh for all colleagues and finally, our networking platform, which was originally used to share events and, and work on across the bank became the focus point for sharing experiences of lockdown, well-being tips and a cornerstone tool to help us rebuild sense of community that has always been so important for everyone at the bank.

And then our final challenge which was connecting the bank externally. Again, this is a familiar scene. But if this happens to our governor, when making a speech at the IMF or G7, it can really impact uh both the banks and the U K's reputation. So during the pandemic, up, up, up until the pandemic, non-bank staff could not join meetings on our conferencing platform, which meant that we had to make changes quickly to allow video and screen sharing externally for the first time. Similarly, we had tight controls um around joining meetings hosted externally and we had to relax styles to allow our people to continue to perform the roles all the while keeping the bank safe. We also had to update and republish guidance on how to use these tools appropriately, both more functional but also behavioral perspective. And finally, I've already mentioned external perception. The bank plays a big role in some eu and worldwide forums such as the G 20 the G7.

There is significant reputational impact of not being able to join those meetings or having technical issues while in those meetings. Additionally, it's important to have a level playing field for complex discussions and negotiations because these guys can't afford to miss out on any part of it.

So we also provided additional level of support, make sure that everyone had the correct apps, the correct access and facilitated pretesting on all those platforms. And that's something that we continue to do even now. So now we're all nice and settled into working remotely.

But the question is, is that really the final answer? And II, I really like this vignette because I'm sure many people think that's actually what technology are trying to do in the background. And actually most people in my role at least have once thought, probably God, this would be a lot easier without all these users having opinions. However, that the reality is that our ability to function and perform normally throughout this past year has been largely thanks to the relationships that we built, prepa remote working, makes things like building new relationships harder, more effort intensive and less effective.

There are studies that show that net our networks are shrinking and reduc reducing to those that we work with regularly. We've also got um extensive feedback from new joiners telling us that it's harder for them to get the feeling of being in a team. Um because they lack the social part of the relationship, the part that makes us connect at a different level and, and supported by the spontaneous conversations or after work. Um Reunions, I've had manager join my team. And they said to me, you know, we're a bit of a loss. We usually would just walk around the floor meeting people, taking them out for a drink. Perhaps. So, they're having to figure out a brand new way of connecting with the teams. The other types of relationships uh such as mentoring are also made harder because it's more difficult to build that level of trust between the two, between the two. Um So if we are unable to build strong relationships, this will eventually impact our ability to work effectively.

And the bank has had a significant amount of new joiners in the past year. So their ability to create relationships will affect theirs and the bank's effectiveness soon. The reality is that technology can never fully replicate this type of human interaction. As many fancy gadgets and services we are in the mix we know from focus groups and discussions that the main reasons that our users and managers want to go back into the office is to get that team together, to reconnect and to recover that bond. So this then creates a need for an effective hybrid working model that allows us to hold on to the benefits of remote working at the bank. We're seeing hybrid working as a way to continue unlocking talent, irrespective of geographical boundaries, provide the flexibility that our workforce has come to expect and to maintain inclusivity and diversity of thought. All the while providing an environment where human relationships can still grow and develop.

And perhaps the most important part is we are not making our users choose between the two. So for this model to be successful, we have to strike that right balance between in person and remote collaboration and make sure that our users have the right tools for the job. So before I talk a bit more about how we are planning to do this for the job for the bank, I just wanted to briefly touch on the importance of cultural change. So moving to remote working has been an incredible step change for the bank. However, the reality is that most of these technologies were there previously and were available and the bank was heading in that direction. But at a slower pace, perhaps, which is probably the case for many organizations out there, we had proposed strategies to increase remote working, to use the new collaboration tools to break geographical boundaries and also to give more flexibility to our workforce. However, when I presented these strategies previously, it felt a bit like facing the room, uh a room like the one in in this picture which by the way is the bank's court of directors in 1903. 1 of my favorite pictures, the um challenge was always unlocking that cultural change. Then the pandemic hit and everyone understood why there was a need to work remotely.

No challenge, just support and buy in to make things work the ability to continue to work meant make or break the ability to continue the bank's mission. At a time when there was key, this was key for the economy and our workforce really takes huge pride in working at the bank. And so everyone understood that continuity of the mission was more important than personal preference. And we put our people fast thinking outside the box to transform roles that had always been considered to be on site only to keep our people safe by allowing them to work from home. So all the usual barriers getting people to understand the why linking change to things that matter, to create that adoption and open mind. They were all taken down one to A T and even one more that no one expected because with the move to remote working, many barriers to inclusivity were also taken down by simple unspoken norms such as using the chat box to signal that you had a comment or you wanted to share your thoughts.

This simple method increased the volume and diversity of contributions significantly, bringing a richness and a breath to the conversation that has been found incredibly valuable by all. And you know, speaking from experience, I can tell you it's a lot less intimidating to speak up when you're meeting the governors. If you're, you can just simply put a star in the box and then wait for your time. So with the introduction of hybrid working in order to make it the same level of success, we need to find common ground again and bring the whole organization along. So how are we doing this as an organization? So the first step really is to understand what hybrid means for our workforce. So for this transformation to be successful, it has to be planned with our people at the center. The bank has created a steering group created by one of the chair, actually by one of our most senior leaders to develop this understanding and to find the norms that will set the boundaries for our future ways of working. It's important really that this is done from the business side to avoid any bias towards any solutions. But also to keep conversations purely around people's opinions and experiences.

This work has taken into consideration focus groups across all levels of seniority and diversity, but also involves external consultation to define the right mix between on site and remote working that would allow colleagues to be most effective at their roles once our offices um can reopen the the steering group.

Findings really show that an overwhelming majority of people have a preference to be in the office around 40 or 60% of the time. There was an interesting range of opinions as to how that mix could work. Meaning that flexibility needs to be at the core of the proposed norms, but also that there won't be a single approach that will necessarily please everyone and as such, the group has proposed some minimum requirements for time spent at the office. But the details of what that looks like for each team is actually left for the teams to decide then from a role point of view, while not part of the steering committee, um we have remained engaged as, as the group was keen to make sure that to ensure the feasibility of anything they would be proposing, that's very important to avoid unrealistic expectations.

But for us, it's been very helpful in terms of early planning and making sure that our solutions supports the desired business outcomes. For example, you know, colleagues have told us they perceived meeting room technology is key to make habit working a success. So we plan our investment accordingly and had a number of options ready to deploy as soon as the norms were approved. We have also made all of our assumptions very clear from the start both to rope, test them but also to get leadership buy in. So for example, we have checked all of our assumptions on expected building occupation with property and recovery task force to prioritize that work. And as a result, our expectation is that meetings that are run in a hybrid way will have fewer attendees on site. And as such, they will mainly be hosted in small medium meeting rooms. So we're planning to refurbish around 70 of the house of size 12. And under these discussions have also highlighted the importance of making certain policy meetings a success. The idea is that if key decision making committees can run effectively in a hybrid model, then this model will trickle down the the organization contrarily, if participants feel that they cannot participate effectively while being remote, then they will inevitably move back to face to face interactions which again will cause the same um trickle down effect and potentially every time to previous way of working as such.

This is another area we are prioritizing to drive leadership buy in by creating a solution that will meet everyone's needs. And the final key principle is that we have to consider our unknown unknowns. So that basically we don't yet know, we don't know. So we're starting small number of pilots over a period of months to help us finesse our final approach and solutions. We're deploying some rooms with team technology, others with enhanced cameras and mics for users to plug in. We're also testing technology for collaborative spaces like surface hubs and other other tools like noise canceling headphones to promote dialing into meetings from desks. So let me tell you a bit more about how this works in practice. And this is this is my final slide, as I said, which I've moved off too quickly. Um As I said earlier, moving to hybrid working is yet another huge cultural change. It feels like we have all just moved to remote work to, to to working remotely and made it work. So we need to remind our people why making hybrid working success is important technology on its own cannot make this happen. So we have worked very closely with our hr and coms department to inform the proposed behaviors that will support hybrid working.

These are really linked to the desire to preserve those unscripted norms so that we have that have been introduced quite organically as part of the move to remote working. And I mentioned some of these earlier like things like putting a star in the box to make a point during a meeting. This has been incredibly valuable in terms of getting a much more diverse range of views into meetings. And so we are looking into how this can be brought forward as we move into hybrid working to make sure we are keeping this inclusive environment for those that again that that are, that are working remotely. So um our approach is to promote the mentality of virtual first. So just because someone's in the office doesn't mean they need to be in a room or that a meeting needs to happen in a hybrid manner, getting colleagues to dial in from the desk as a first protocol will be a huge step in driving new ways of working. This means we can then make the best use of the resources such as meeting rooms or quiet spaces to support specific types of interactions. For example, using acoustically sealed pots to have 1 to 1 performance discussions or booking meeting rooms uh for collaborative team days where a number of participants might also be working remotely.

So to do this, we have to make sure that we give colleagues the right tools for the task, but also make sure that they know that these exist when to use them and how so we are structuring our documentation and communication. So that behavior and technology guides go hand in hand and we are standing up teams of floor workers and a whole bunch of training sessions to support those colleagues that will be in the office in the initial period and pilot those ways of working, we can't forget that the key component to hybrid working success is actually the human element technology can enable and support the practices, but we will make a break.

It will be people feeling that the interactions and the atmosphere continue to foster this level, playing this level playing field and that um and it's an environment where they can be at their best without being in the room. So we need strong role models who can control these early interactions, call out any undue behaviors and showcase what that looks like as well as encouraging others to feed back on what didn't work. We've had a number of examples where our senior management team has helped us identify those um those areas for improvement both in technology, but also, you know, in terms of how certain sessions are chaired um which have then helped us reshape the behaviors and the tools that we're using.

So I would expect this cycle to continue all the way up to September and potentially beyond. From a technology perspective, we will continue to listen to the feedback from our users and work with the departments across the bank to provide that support needed to make hybrid working a success. Letting our colleagues tell us what they need and helping them reach the solutions that they're after regardless of where we end up. I think both the way and the reliance for the day to day work with which uh all our colleagues use collaboration. Technology has forever been changed and, and really the focus now shifted to create services that are fit for this new purposes with emphasis on the user experience and reliability, but with an absolute need to guarantee speedy evolution and transformation just to allow us to keep up with the world that's really changing at a faster pace now than, than ever.

Um And with that, I, I thank you for listening. I hope you find it interesting and useful and I think I've got a couple of minutes of for, for, for questions. Um Yeah, so uh you know, um Simone, I'm just looking at some of your questions. Absolutely. I think it's been, it's been really great and really easy to um to work with, you know, the likes of hr finance and, and, and really all of our, what we call central services. So all of the services that we uh that we used to, to, to support uh colleagues of the bank. Um I think we're all on, on the same page and actually all of our proposals have been joined. So, you know, from communications to hr to behaviors, to uh budget for this um and, and property and, and facilities as well. So it's been really great and everyone is very supportive of where we're trying to get to, which is, which is absolutely, it has been absolutely brilliant.

Um uh And in terms of uh I think your first question uh was around the, the work plan, business continuity plan, actually, we didn't have to move to business continuity because the services that we had and the, the, the infrastructure that we had actually allowed us to support uh the services without needing to invoke um any major continuity plan.

However, though we had large, um we had what we call a uh uh uh management framework around it where we were doing daily reporting and, and updates to our senior managers to flag early, any concerns that we might have either with the VPN connection with any of our key services, you know, email and so on and, and even through, in terms of call to the service desk and so on.

So um that was all very, very closely monitored and yes, indeed, indeed, there's a, there's a whole bunch of changes that we're doing to all of our continuity measures as a result. But mainly I think for the better because, whereas before it was dual site now, it is, it is actually, uh you know, we have three sites because, you know, your home becomes, it becomes a new, a new site um where you can work from easily as well. Absolutely. Indeed, it's such a trust factor, Uh business continuity. Absolutely. So, I think, um I think this is this, uh we, we're now at the end of our, our time slot, but really thank you so much for um for all your uh your questions and, and for listening. Um and hope you, hope you found it interesting and um hope you enjoy the rest of the, of the day and with all, all the other sessions. Thank you very much.