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Cover Feature

 

Before the pandemic, many businesses – unless specifically working in the technology or digital sectors – might not have thought of themselves as being particularly tech-centric or digitally-powered. Research clearly shows this. According to the 2020 McKinsey Global Survey of Executives, digital practices (or the move towards digital practices) pre-pandemic were, in effect, moving at a glacial pace. In fact, it was the pandemic itself that enforced digitisation at, as the report states, a rate “not thought possible before the crisis” with respondents to the McKinsey study noting that they now think digital practice is here for the long term, that iterations will come thick and fast and, from those who think they made this change well, that it will only increase the speed of future innovation and experimentation across all areas of business and work life

Regardless of whether HR thinks it is now a digital-first, or digitally underwritten, firm or not, many in the function will know any change (big or small) towards tech-enabled work happened, in effect, overnight. And, those digital changes, regardless of how quick they came about, are here to stay. Whether it is a complete overhaul of work or a change in tools and practices needed to allow hybrid or remote work – never mind what certain big city bosses say, with nine in ten staff wanting some form of remote work after the pandemic has completely subsided, according to Prudential figures, coupled with a changing employer-employee dynamic and a talent crisis – digital is definitely at least part of the way forward.

This issue is, this leaves business leaders and HR functions with the difficult task of finding a strategic way to implement a working future that utilises technology solutions but isn’t in thrall to them, pushing the business down the wrong path. But how to do this? Well, one way could be to look to the examples of companies who utilised technology before the pandemic, to see what they are now doing with the head start they had, learning from how they envision the future of work with humans and technology in tandem.

We’re automating ourselves now

Revolut’s tech identity

One such firm is Revolut. The London-headquartered banking services company is already the UK’s most valuable fintech startup – worth £24billion – and has gained plaudits from UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak during its nascent meteoric rise. Although the firm is just six years old, it has a habit of making headlines for the way it manages, reimburses and invests in staff: 70 of its employees have become millionaires, via company share schemes, and staff have the option to jet off to complete tasks from anywhere in the world thanks to a glitzy ‘work from anywhere’ policy.

It also was one of the firms expanding headcount during the pandemic and despite some questions regarding policies enacted during the pandemic – staff were asked to swap salaries for shares in order to ride out the pandemic and there have been eyebrows raised at high turnover rates in some areas of the company – Revolut seems to be on the up, with technology powering the rise.

Technology at centre of Revolut's business and people practice

It might be seem glaringly obvious that senior staffers at Revolut credit its rise, in part, to a dedication to technology in both practice and product. The business was originally set up to help travellers avoid expensive foreign exchange fees by offering a mobile phone app and card that let them change money into about 30 different currencies at market rates – and has now expanded to offer in-app services including cryptocurrency trading and daily budget management. In fact, so central is technology to the Revolut story that in a recent Financial Times interview, Co-Founder Vladyslav Yatsenko joked that they want to get so good at tech that the leaders are no longer needed. “We’re automating ourselves now,” he joked.

Despite tongue-in-cheek remarks from the top of the firm, according to Jim MacDougall, Vice President of People at Revolut, technology really is at the centre of everything the firm does and already allows them to plan for the future and to navigate big disruptions. One of these examples was during the pandemic, when, due to technology propping up every aspect of company life, they were able to easily switch to homeworking, apparently without some of the disruptions that other firms suffered.

Speaking exclusively to myGrapevine magazine, he explains: “Revolut was already a born-in-the-cloud, digital, tech enabled company. During the pandemic, we were allowed to move our offices into our employee’s homes and made sure they had all ergonomic and tech needs met. It required some adjustments, but nothing substantially changed in the way we already used technology. Technology allowed us to perform extremely well, during challenging times, while teams were estranged from each other.”

 

Humans and technology together

However, just because the disruption was mitigated during the pandemic – 2,500 employees worked from home in the pandemic, leaving 24 offices mostly empty – Jim doesn’t believe that businesses should be led by what technology is out there, especially when it comes to people. “HR should always be about the people, despite the mechanisms we use to reach them,” he explains, adding that the best way that HR should utilise technology, to ensure good employee performance and future business success is by “combining the best of technology with the best of human ingenuity.”

Another way that Jim intimates that firms should be deploying technology for success is by implementing technology in response to changes, and wants for change, in the way that employees suggest. He says that Revolut collects data and surveys employees internally to understand how changes are impacting them, and before rolling out future changes. One example is the manner in which Revolut has managed evolutions in working structures.

 

Back at the start of pandemic, when the firm had to move towards work-from-home structures, Jim explains that Revolut wanted to know if staff would prefer this method of working. To understand, they used ongoing staff surveys to be able to get a dataset big enough to inform a way of working that would allow staff to be engaged and secure going forward; what this did was inform a way of working that would need tech-assistance in the long term, a model in which employees get to choose what works best for them.

“This remote friendly approach will be our preferred long term solution given 68% of Revolut employees want flexibility to come to the office as they choose. For us, it’s critical that we stay flexible in order to attract and retain the best talent,” Jim adds.

 

We thrive in a world and in an ecosystem in which we’re tech dependent...

Staying engaged and always innovating

As most in HR know, this remote-friendly (and, of course, tech-enabled) approach needs constant management for success – especially as, for many firms, just like Revolut, it is still fairly new. Whilst Revolut’s internal data-gathering exercises found that remote working didn’t impact ability to deliver products and projects – internal surveys showed HR that remote work still meant that individual productivity was overwhelmingly high and team performance, alongside collaboration, was still happening in a positive manner – Revolut still underwent a tech revolution in the area of engagement.

Using their ‘Revoloot’ tool, they were able to celebrate work anniversaries and birthdays, and offered engagement vouchers and budgets to managers to plan for their teams, despite being largely remote. Alongside this they were always measuring to see what the impact was. As they see it, this is part of a broader innovation attitude that runs through the company and powers their delivery for both customers and staff, and its underwritten by platforms – from Zoom through to Slack – that allow constant communication and improvement of products. “Technology is the enabler of innovation,” Jim explains, “[and] we thrive in a world and in an ecosystem in which we’re tech dependent, and we see this as very positive.”

 

Revolut’s approach isn’t just about the lofty ideals of innovation and progression – nor is it merely about tweaking engagement policies around the edges – it’s also about taking care of the basics for staff in a world in which work has radically changed. Whilst this might seem a simple point, it’s not something that all firms are doing; that is, they provide employees with a wide range of tools, from platforms to a laptop, to ensure they’re able to do their job. In this way they’re also allowing flexibility, something that employees overwhelmingly now want.

 
 

Employee experience has to be central

Whilst flexibility sounds good – indeed, as previously mentioned, Revolut are so flexible that staff can work from anywhere for two months of the year; “Our employees asked for flexibility and that’s what we’re giving them,” Jim said at the time this scheme was released – it, as well, requires careful management. This involves, as Jim explains, “ongoing focus on employee experience [by] close contact with staff, [to] create a solid engagement plan, develop internal communication initiatives and to measure the success of these plans and assess results to adapt.” Something that all firms should note as they become increasingly digitised and remote in the way that they operate day-to-day.

In practice, this has meant that Jim has overseen mental health first aid training – something clearly key as rising levels of stress and isolation hit during the pandemic – alongside webinars on mental health and different streams of wellness content, all able to be delivered virtually, via employee’s own tech. Crucially, he doesn’t just believe these are fixes for the pandemic. “These worked during a global pandemic but they can become part of a normal day-to-day experience for employees that benefit from hybrid working models,” Jim adds.

Technology allowed us to perform extremely well...

Impossible to run a business without technology

So, what does this mean in the long term? Well, as Jim says – and this conclusion might have increased meaning for other firms as they begin to bed in as a hybrid-first or remote-first model, with an increasingly disparate employee base as they seek to get the best talent – “it’s impossible to think of running a global business such as Revolut, with teams all over the globe, without allowing tech to have a huge stake in our day to day activities.”

The rise of technology at work


Over the last 18 months, most in HR will recognise the rise of technology in powering the basics of work. In April 2020, almost half of the country was doing some work remotely, according to ONS data, whilst Growmotely figures found that this is likely to continue into the long term, with three-quarters of staff expecting some remote work to continue into the long term. Inarguably, this will have to be powered by a plethora of technology solutions.

The issue for the HR will be ensuring they have the right structures in place to make this technology-underwritten world of work, well, work – ensuring that they aren’t being guided by the latest in-fashion trends. This will be difficult. With a 2020 market cap of £20billion, according to IMARC Group, there are a lot of HR tech solutions out there which means picking out what is useful from what is passthrough, and potentially useless, will be yet another HR challenge.

And as more and more firms begin to perceive of themselves as having increasing reliance on technology to do even the smallest of tasks – from recognising employees, to fostering inter, or intra, team collaboration, to delivering wellbeing for the workforce – they will want to think about how to do this. Like Revolut, they will need to think of every aspect of work: from delivery of laptops and tools, so workers have the best opportunity for success wherever they are (this could also boost the employer brand as it drives flexible opportunities, something employees are increasingly asking for), to measuring the changes they’ve implemented to make sure the firm is heading along the right track. They will also have to consider whether any decisions, tech-enabled or otherwise, are right for the business and work for the future.

For those unsure, it is worth looking at Revolut – one firm who are seriously disrupting and making waves in a very traditional industry – as a model of obvious success. As Jim says: “Technology enables us to run a global company and to defy the standards of traditional financial services… so we could say that technology is compulsory to our success and the pursuit of our plans to consolidate Revolut as the first truly global financial superapp.” They are strong words but if used as a lodestar for all HR teams, should work to boost employers in their own pursuit of a better future of work and business in an increasingly digitised world.

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