Like many businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything for Omni. Strategies and processes years in the making were effectively scrapped overnight as we came to terms with the new normal. By day two of the lockdown, we had established brand new goals, objectives and priorities for the business, and it will come as no surprise that remote working was a significant element of these.
Speaking honestly, the prospect of our team working remotely made me initially uncomfortable. Would people still be as productive when there’s no one to witness output? How will we identify training needs or recognise achievements? What will be the impact on the culture that we’ve worked so hard to nurture? In short, how could we remain a great employer remotely?
Thankfully, any concerns were unfounded. The team adapted to and embraced remote working to such a degree that Omni’s Charter House HQ has been reimagined as the ‘Collaboration Hub’ which we now utilise for team meetings, with all other work carried out from home. For the first time, we were able to cut out the commute, forget about parking wars and take advantage of truly flexible working. Of course, frontline roles needed to be available for clients and candidates during their preferred hours, but there was now the option to split shifts around childcare and any other responsibilities.
Truthfully, it’s something we didn’t realise we needed. By providing our people with autonomy regarding the hours they worked, we saw productivity levels skyrocket, zero absenteeism and, most importantly, a happier and more balanced team. We missed the personal engagement, of course, and acknowledge that reading non-verbal signals virtually remains a challenge. Additionally, we felt we were losing out on casual interactions as every team catch-up had an agenda and required output. This led us to establish a ‘virtual coffee machine’ in the form of The Brew Crew, which encouraged non-work-related catch-ups between teams and individuals.
Despite these minor challenges, through adapting quickly and placing trust in our people, Omni is set to come through COVID in profit – something we couldn’t have predicted back in March. Personally, the best outcome was the ability to protect the vast majority of our roles and prioritise paying back the staff who took a voluntary salary reduction to aid our job retention strategy. As a collective, we made a commitment to staff that the organisation would not take a penny until everyone was paid back any money they lost out on.
Instead of fighting against the modern world, we’ve embraced it and are excited about the opportunities it presents for everyone. As we advance, we will seek out further ways to be creative when it comes to working patterns that offer greater control and freedom. It’s certainly been an eye-opener, and something we wish we would have embraced a lot sooner as the productivity and employee wellbeing benefits have been both tangible and vast. So, if you’re still questioning whether you can trust your employees to work if there’s no one watching, believe me, it’s a massive, emphatic ‘yes’.
Martin Wainman, MD