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By James Turner, Chief People Officer at Somo

American author and leadership expert Warren Bennis is often quoted as saying “in life, change is inevitable. In business, change is vital”. We have all, in both our business and personal lives, experienced massive change in the last year. New social norms, new digital habits – and a new way of working.

For financial institutions, 2020 was a year of balancing metrics. As the extent of COVID’s economic impact became clear, the pressures to keep customers happy and cash flowing increased dramatically.  But whilst balancing the books is a timeless business challenge – doing so from our own homes and not the office was a new experience to many.

The move to working from home came with its own challenges – some easier to hurdle than others. Tech tools like Zoom, Slack and Teams all enabled us to stay connected and communicate with relative ease. But some facets of business are difficult to replicate from home – and even more difficult to measure.

Remote culture

Company culture is a huge behavioural driver for employees. But how does this adapt or change to the work-from home experience? How can businesses foster positive codes and conventions which keep staff growing and developing even outside the office?

One important element is that of personal development and growth, and Business leaders need to create an environment which actively encourages learning. More than this, to create a culture that fosters positive behaviours from a team spread around the country (or the world), leadership teams need to invest in learning as a priority.  It might not be an easy metric to measure, but plays a defining role in growing businesses.

Logged in, locked on

Digital tools are improving and people are getting better at using them. And though no video call can truly replicate the face to face meeting, there is still an opportunity to cultivate a productive culture from home. Leaders need to have a mentality which promotes learning and encourages curiosity: build learning time into your business plan; crowdsource the best of breed learning content out there rather than limit people to one corporate platform of content; reward learning, and reward knowledge sharing; recognise that people learn in different ways.

What’s harder to replicate remotely is the learning by osmosis: gaining experience from observing how those around you do business, being able to ask questions on the fly, to join meetings on the spur of the moment. In such meetings newer team members learn what to say, and experienced people learn what to look for.

At Somo, we have always believed in exposing our people to as much business experience as possible as early as possible. Even on Zoom, inviting an intern to join a senior client meeting – to gain experience and understanding – remains an invaluable experience for them, and reflects a true learning environment.

Active learning

If learning in the office was all about loading colleagues with all the information they needed – then learning from home is all about encouraging colleagues to grab  everything they need.  A culture of learning which is not pushed, but rather encourages colleagues to pull resources, and then share it out.

It is about giving people the time and the resources to learn, to promote learning and the sharing of knowledge and to celebrate achievements in learning. This can be done in small snackable sessions. For example, we have ramped up our lunch and learn meetings, introduced weekly ‘show and tells’ in which we share learnings and experience from all corners of the business, and also sought insight from external advisors through short, sharp training sessions.

We’ve even taken the opportunity to build Somo’s first fully-fledged, two-week online course, Successful Agile for Digital Teams, available on the Futurelearn platform. Many of these initiatives were not organised centrally, but devised and launched by individuals or groups within the business who wanted to see them happen. Much of the time, it’s about enabling your people to create that learning culture, empowering them to make it happen, and get out of their way.

As we move out of lockdown, the challenge is to take these learnings and establish an effective model that blends home and out-of-home working, and redefines the purpose of the physical office spaces. Somo’s latest whitepaper, Digital Leadership Priorities, addresses these challenges, including conversations around remote working etiquette, understanding where physical gatherings are essential and where virtual can actually be better.

In business, change is vital. The challenges of the last year have not been easy to surmount, but ultimately they are shaping a new era of work. For financial services businesses, investing in the learning, research and training which allows company culture to evolve into this new world is critical.

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