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Developing an agile workforce

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As a part of this year’s Deloitte Private UK Technology Fast 50 programme, we took a deeper look at the theme of agility, and the Fast 50’s ability to quickly make and execute decisions. As global markets and consumers continue to evolve, the Fast 50 have demonstrated their ability to respond and position themselves for success.

The following is an excerpt from our 2020 Fast 50 CEO report, in which we dive deeper into the business strategies of this year’s Fast 50 cohort; we invite you to explore more on our other themes and findings in the full report.

Developing an agile workforce

Workforce is a core driver of business performance and Fast 50 respondents have continued to evolve their workforce makeup and structure. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the Fast 50 successfully executed a move to a fully remote-working model, likely fuelled by the agility already embedded in the business and availability of remote-working technology. In addition, over half added more flexible working or part-time solutions for their employees. The balance between home working and office working is a topic being considered. In our discussion with CEOs, the benefits of home-working are appreciated, whilst there is a recognition of how office working can support in-person collaboration and team culture.

In this section, we consider the importance of talent to the Fast 50, the ways of working that increase agility, and how they have evolved in the face of the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Echoing the findings in previous editions of the Fast 50 report, this year’s respondents place talent at the centre of their success. The team supporting the CEO to build and run these organisations bring a range of ever‑evolving skills, from strategy to marketing, to sales and finance. As explored in previous editions, a diverse and inclusive talent base, with different cultures, skills and experiences brings a number of benefits to organisations, including driving product development and easing market expansion.

A wider market survey found that 90 per cent of employees consider a flexible working policy a key motivator of their productivityv. Employees cite fewer distractions and shorter breaks as reasons for this and enjoy added perks, such as the flexibility to look after their family.

Reacting to COVID-19: Transitioning to a fully remote model

On the 16th March 2020, the government advised that all employees should ‘work from home’ if possible, to curb the rising impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic. This forced many companies into a fully remote‑working model with limited or no planning. Whilst there are many well‑documented challenges that companies faced during this transition as highlighted in the Deloitte 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report, our conversations with Fast 50 CEOs surfaced their encouragement in their company’s ability to transition into this remote model relatively smoothly.

The respondents cited the ability to transition to remote‑working as the most important factor that enabled their overall response to the pandemic (Figure 6). Reasons for increased ease of transition included the high level of existing remote‑working, and the tools in place to support this – notably the use of virtual software to collaborate and conduct meetings.

The Fast 50 respondents also offered employees additional flexible working options to help with transitioning to a fully remote‑working model (see Figure 7). Furthermore, the respondents were quick to offer these changes. 89 per cent launching these initiatives within four weeks of responding to the UK lockdown measures’. Other initiatives to help with the workforce transition cited during our CEO interviews included an increase in internal communication to help keep employees informed, to promote employee wellbeing for remote‑working and support team collaboration. An example highlighted by Andrew Bone, CEO of the AI‑powered planning partner that boosts business agility and resilience, Dayshape (30th place overall, three‑year growth rate of 1,008 per cent, and Scotland’s winner), mentioned that “We have used a range of tools to drive internal collaboration, alongside adopting a virtual coffee pairing tool to help sustain our culture and morale”.

Optimising for home and the office

Remote‑working has potential positive and negative impacts. Market studies suggest it can lead to higher productivity, reduced office space costs, and the ability to access a geographically diverse talent pool. However, market studies indicate this could come at the expense of employee health and wellbeing and work‑life balancevii. Additionally, remote‑working is potentially a more challenging environment to foster collaboration. This collaboration is important to promote culture, build networks within the company, and harness the power of group idea generation and discussion. This was referenced by Mike Bistrow, CEO of funding property projects through peer to peer lending’s partner, CrowdProperty (41st place overall, three‑year growth rate of 1,008 per cent, Midlands winner), who remarks that “The ability to speak face to face allows you to be nimble, agile and free‑thinking in developing and creating new innovative ideas, something that is very difficult to completely replicate in a remote environment”.

The anticipation from the Fast 50 respondents is that they will, when permitted, transition back to offering employees access to work in an office environment. Despite this, the expectation is that employees will work remotely for, on average, two and a half days each week, an increase from one and a half days a week before the pandemic

The pandemic is influencing decisions companies are making in relation to their workforce, work patterns and locations. Many CEOs across our interviews noted the benefits and increased availability of a diverse talent pool given the lack of restrictions to a single office location. It will be great to see how this evolves and if this begins to impact the proportion of scale‑ups that are based outside of London, a topic we will look to revisit in later editions.

Explore more of our findings on resilience and agility within the high growth industry, and the Tech Fast 50 more specifically, in our 2020 CEO Insights Report. Or see the 2020 Fast 50 winners here.