As a tech company, Nimbla was already well positioned for remote working. The entire team uses a range of online workflow management tools to coordinate and prioritise work. But not being co-located due to the social distancing measures has still come with its challenges.
What we did right
When the lockdown began, Nimbla looked at furloughing and even redundancies, but decided that the long term cost of these measures outweighed the short term gains. Instead, the entire team took a pay cut and were retained. This strengthened morale in the team and helped to manage anxiety levels during this challenging period. Avoiding furloughing also meant that Nimbla’s workflow wasn’t interrupted. Since other businesses rely on Nimbla during difficult times, this was crucial for us. Nimbla was the only UK invoice insurer to stay open and continue covering small businesses throughout the lockdown period.
Before leaving the office, we made sure that everyone had the equipment that they needed to work effectively at home, including comfortable chairs and desks. And since remote working dramatically increases the risk of a cyber attack, we established new protocols and security systems, and completed cyber security training. Nimbla also published guidelines to support working from home on our company-wide docushare system. These remote working guidelines include strategies for managing mental health and time management outside the office. Team surveys and face to face feedback have helped to address concerns and clarify any areas of confusion.
Another area we think we’ve nailed is flexible working. Meetings have involved new Nimbla colleagues whether miniature or furry, and various people from Porlock. Though distracting, these interventions have humanised the workplace. So rather than fight the new normal, Nimbla has embraced it, winning employee loyalty by offering team members the flexibility they have needed to juggle competing priorities successfully during this challenging time.
"Joining any new business can be challenging, but joining a company during a period of social distancing could have represented even more of a challenge. Since joining Nimbla the whole team have been amazing and very welcoming. Coming from a more corporate environment, it has been a breath of fresh air experiencing true and pure departmental cooperation and collaboration from the off. It's made settling into my role significantly easier."
- Jamal, Business and Partnerships Consultant
Things we’ve learned
Nimbla welcomed several new starters during the lockdown period, so team-building has posed a challenge. Virtual coffee breaks, Red Flag check-ins and Townhall briefings have helped to break the ice, as have the newly humanised working conditions. Onboarding has also grown to include an orientation in Nimbla’s strategy and lockdown guidelines. These additions help to engage new starters in Nimbla’s immediate and long term objectives, and help them prioritise their work. In the absence of face-to-face team engagement, we have found that Nimbla’s usual company-wide personality assessments especially helpful.
“I feel we dealt with the lockdown situation well. It was easy for us to move to a remote setup for everyone. We did our best to give each team member what they needed to be effective. The challenge was (and still is) to keep the team connected, as humans relate better in person. Yet overall, it's helped us realise that we can be more flexible in our hiring practices, and that in itself is a great opportunity.” - Steph, Head of Customer Success
Communication is key
As already mentioned, Nimbla was lucky enough to have the software to support remote working prior to the crisis. But we have noticed that remote working misses ‘micro interactions’, which can be crucial, both to decision-making and trust building. Overhearing conversations can be helpful for clarifying tasks and communication styles. We’ve tried to replicate the ‘in-office experience’ by joining ‘background’ calls with several team members while we work. While the lockdown measures were tentatively lifted for offices, reduced numbers of team members occasionally met at the office. Combining home working with occasional in-person meetings has given the team a broader range of communication tools to work with. We have noticed that these in-person meetings improve teamwork and empathy, moving our thinking forward.
“It was definitely a challenge starting and learning a new job completely remotely. Even more so during this period and all the additional anxiety added by external factors. Added to that equation for me was the additional complication of trying to juggle having my 3 year old son at home with us while both trying to work.
Whilst Nimbla have done everything in their power to be supportive and make that situation work, there are certain intangibles that you can't easily replace. Being in an office environment with people gives you certain interactions that can assist you with your work, but more importantly getting to know colleagues on a more personal level and therefore knowing how best to communicate and collaborate with them.” - Demetrios, Data Scientist
Boundaries outside the box
The initial months of lockdown increased team productivity, giving most of us an additional two hours a day. But after a few months, we started to flag. Few team members had taken any time off, and the combination of increased childcare demands, expanding working hours and stressors associated with the crisis left some of us approaching burnout. Nimbla’s response has been to encourage the team to take holiday, and to set clearer boundaries around working hours and screen-breaks. Several of the team mute their Slack accounts while they aren’t working, and block out diary time for lunch breaks and school runs. Rather than team members abusing this freedom, the team is more engaged and motivated.
On the whole, Nimbla has stayed true to its name and nimbly negotiated the new parameters of working life, whilst taking opportunities to build the trust we are known for. For this we have to thank compassionate leadership, technical readiness and a product that was designed to help businesses manage the unforeseeable.