Star Interview

HR’s lightbulb moment


After the UK was sent into lockdown, some companies struggled to get to grips with the new world of remote working. For one company though, this way of working has proved to be a positive move…

Words by Jade Burke | Design by Matt Bonnar

Words by Jade Burke


Design by Matt Bonnar

 

Who is Bulb?

Founded in 2015 as a privately held company. It was co-founded by Hayden Wood (CEO) and Amit Gudka (Chief Energy Officer).

The firm is headquartered in Bishopsgate in the City of London.

It currently operates in four markets: UK, France, Spain and US.

Bulb has 800 employees based in London, Paris, Madrid and Austin and is a London Living Wage Employer and a certified B Corp.

The world of work has changed a lot this year. Communication between teams is now virtual first, learning and development has become a function leading on personalisation, and engagement tips and tricks have been moulded, more so than before, to remote work environments. Workers thoughts about work have also changed. A survey by Engage and YouGov discovered that 55% of Brits (those employed who usually work from home or are currently working from home or have been furloughed) share that they are not very or not at all comfortable returning to work.

As these concerns are shared throughout organisations, the importance of harnessing technology has never been more critical, particularly for HR teams looking to make the transition to home working more permanent. This is something that energy provider Bulb is familiar with. Speaking with the company’s Chief People Officer, Tom Fraine, HR Grapevine found that thanks to the company’s background in tech, it was successfully able to be agile to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. “Our ability to be agile and to move quickly and respond to what’s going on is one of the things that helps us be successful,” Fraine says. “I think lots of non-tech businesses have started to adopt agile working practices and I think we are going to see those continue to be adopted. Part of that is being adaptable about where and how you work.”

 

The ‘honeymoon’ period

Although the stats show that many workers are worried about returning to a central work location, this does not mean remote working is without negative impact. While many employees were happy at the thought of working from home at the beginning of lockdown – some may have been pleased they would no longer have to commute for hours, while others were thrilled to spend more time with loved ones – studies have indicated that home working is taking its toll on worker wellbeing.

In fact, a study published by Canada Life revealed that 46% of working UK employees have felt more pressure to be ‘present’ during lockdown. Similarly, research by LinkedIn in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation, discovered that four in five HR managers think long-term homeworking has unearthed a culture of ‘e-presenteeism’.

According to Fraine, he believes that there was a ‘honeymoon’ period when lockdown started, where employees were thrilled about working from home, but are now growing fatigued and fed up. “When we shifted to companies working remotely there was a bit of a honeymoon period where people were really happy about the change,” he continues. “I’m increasingly reading stuff about how difficult people are finding this new remote world, where their place of work is also the place in which they live, where it’s difficult to find a start and finish to your end date and where your home life and work life blends together.”

He notes that to move forward, employers and employees need to find a happy medium between flexible home working and a physical workplace, where individuals can communicate and collaborate with one another face-to-face at a safe distance. Fraine suggests: “I think we just have to find a balance and I really hope that we can keep some of the best bits, which is having a bit more flexibility with people about the times in which they work and more family connected working environments for people that is important for. But I also think there are bits form the office that our team members would really miss.”

Bulb’s futureproofing

With this new way of working looking to be a main fixture for many businesses across the UK, Fraine was keen to map out several changes that would ensure employees are kept-up-to-date on company moves and decisions, while also ensuring that the company’s culture was boosted on a virtual basis. To make this a possibility he shares that a lot of time was spent with managers within the organisation to make sure they were equipped with the skillset to make sure team members were motivated and connected. He continues: “This means making sure that everybody gets to speak to their manager and check in each day. Our role of the leadership team is to communicate the important things that are going on at Bulb and to highlight the achievements of individuals in our community.”

He points out that while businesses may not be able to replicate the same buzz and atmosphere of an office, where team members can group together and collaborate, he is hopeful that everyone can remain as supported as possible during this unusual time. Fraine concludes: “Unfortunately, there are some bits you just don’t get to replace, such as the buzz you get from a party where everybody comes together. But you can make sure that people are looked after, supported and motivated by their managers, and that they get inspiring and clear massages from their leaders.”

Bulb’s futureproofing

With this new way of working looking to be a main fixture for many businesses across the UK, Fraine was keen to map out several changes that would ensure employees are kept-up-to-date on company moves and decisions, while also ensuring that the company’s culture was boosted on a virtual basis. To make this a possibility he shares that a lot of time was spent with managers within the organisation to make sure they were equipped with the skillset to make sure team members were motivated and connected. He continues: “This means making sure that everybody gets to speak to their manager and check in each day. Our role of the leadership team is to communicate the important things that are going on at Bulb and to highlight the achievements of individuals in our community.”

He points out that while businesses may not be able to replicate the same buzz and atmosphere of an office, where team members can group together and collaborate, he is hopeful that everyone can remain as supported as possible during this unusual time. Fraine concludes: “Unfortunately, there are some bits you just don’t get to replace, such as the buzz you get from a party where everybody comes together. But you can make sure that people are looked after, supported and motivated by their managers, and that they get inspiring and clear messages from their leaders.”

How has Bulb adapted?

Managing this newly fraught workforce is difficult but throughout this unconventional time Bulb has been able to utilise its tech capabilities to manage staff. One way they’ve done this is fairly simple: effective digital communication. Recognising that worker wellbeing may have taken a hit during this time, Fraine informs HR Grapevine that Bulb has increased communication between teams and provided additional mental health support. “We now have a daily update email that goes out from the senior team from a different leader each day where we talk about Bulb’s achievements, so everybody knows what we’ve accomplished, the highlights and successes in the organisation,” the HR leader explains.

He adds: “We were already working on providing increased mental health support for our teams and we are going to trial some new tech for that. We had those pilots scheduled and before we went into lockdown we moved really quickly to extend and expand them, so that more team members would have better mental health support when they were going through a period we knew was going to be really uncertain and anxiety-inducing.”

There has also been digitally-enabled learning, sometimes around sensitive issues. Fraine points out that it was essential for Bulb to acknowledge the Black Lives Matter Movement following the death of George Floyd in the US earlier this year, sharing that it was one of the initiatives he was most proud of over the course of the past few months. “One of the things I’m most proud of over these last few months is the quality of the conversations we have hosted about diversity, inclusion and systemic racism,” he enthuses. “Following the death of George Floyd, we hosted an event that 180 members of our team turned up to digitally and BME team members hosted breakout sessions with other team members where they talked about their experiences of systemic racism. We also talked about what we could do to be anti-racist as an organisation and what individuals could do.”

 

Strategic HR

Being tech-minded has also allowed Bulb to seamlessly continue with operations as usual. During the pandemic, the firm embraced virtual recruitment, something which Fraine is keen to maintain in the future following the success the firm has experienced. His team onboarded 150 new team members, which equates to 20% of the company’s team who have never worked in the office or who have physically met each other before.“Rewind the clock six months I never imagined we would be onboarding people virtually at Bulb, let alone 150 people,” he adds.

He continues: “Getting to know our culture, the office and our workspace is such a huge part of our onboarding. What we try to do is to keep that spirit in our remote onboarding and so we make sure that when they are onboarded that they get to meet a variety of people across the business. We also spend lots of time talking about our mission, our values and our working culture.” These words hold a lot of follow-on value for HR. Whilst it must embrace and facilitate new modes of working, it must remember company values and the type of firm that employees, together, have created in order to be successful going forward.


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