There’s no doubt that the pandemic accelerated some trends which were already in motion before the virus struck. One of which is flexible working, and after two years of living with successive lockdowns and enforced working from home, many SMEs have made the decision to fully embrace working from home and enact policies which mean employees can work wherever they like.
One of the huge benefits to this shift to flexible working for small businesses in particular is access to a much larger talent pool. Previously most SMEs were restricted when it came to recruitment to hire those people who had the right skills and talents and lived locally, or were willing to travel or move for work. Now, small businesses can advertise remote roles and have access to the very best talent, not just in the UK but around the world.
This offers a huge amount of opportunity for small businesses to not just access talent but to also diversify a team and introduce multi-culturalism. This in turn creates broader business benefits as a more diverse group of employees is proven to positively impact bottom lines as more diversity of thought means better decision making. Whilst all of these benefits should be explored by businesses, it also potentially creates some challenges. How, for example, do you integrate a team which is working remotely, for all over the world? And how do you make sure everyone feels included and respected?
Operating a multi-cultural team
My law firm supports international businesses and families in the UK and our client base is comprised of 95 per cent non-British clients living and working in the UK. This means diversity is very much part of our DNA and in our team of 29 people, 15 languages are spoken. However, this doesn’t mean an inclusive culture came naturally to us. In 2019 we recognised we had a problem with high employee turnover and ever since we have made building and maintaining an inclusive culture a priority.
Although we operated a very multi-cultural team, our lawyers were based in the office in Manchester and London pre-pandemic, which did mean integration and ensuring inclusivity wasn’t too much of a challenge. However, last year we took the decision to offer all team members the option to work from home permanently. Although we have always had flexible working options, we recognised the value in offering our diverse team an option to work from their home, wherever that may be in the world. Our hybrid model has allowed team members to work in a way which suits them and, in some cases, relocate, with three team members now working permanently from Wales, Romania and Poland. It’s also widened our talent pool and we’re no longer restricted to hiring lawyers based near our physical offices.
Creating a company culture
However, with such a diverse team we knew our challenges to create a cohesive culture could be great – especially when we add hybrid working into the mix. And this is where a really strong company culture can come into its own to ensure integration, teamwork and that all members of the team feel included.
We took a number of tangible steps to strengthen our culture and ensure hybrid working didn’t impact our inclusivity. For example, we invested in the YourFlock platform, which uses team survey and feedback. The platform has helped us stay engaged whilst working remotely and quickly identify individuals who need our support to stay happy and motivated.
We also enacted a schedule of regular contact to ensure everyone, no matter where they are based in the world feels included and involved day-to-day. This includes daily check-in meetings and weekly one-to-ones. Our informal weekly calls are an opportunity for everyone to connect, but they also give us an opportunity to shape the culture.
A focus on mental health is also very important – especially when the team is so physically disparate and creating bespoke mental health policies and having an ongoing focus on staff wellbeing can be crucial in ensuring all team members feel supported.
Finally – don’t forget the fun! Social events which get the team together in-person or virtually and revolve around enjoyable activities can be a great way to create a feeling of togetherness. For multi-cultural teams, weaving an element of this into the events can also be a nice way to promote inclusivity. For example, we host internationally themed lunches once a month so our multinational team can showcase their home country’s cuisines and culture.
For many small businesses, the pandemic completely altered their course and exposed them to new opportunities and ways of working which has transformed their day-to-day. Whilst there have been many positives to this, it’s important not to neglect team integration and make sure company culture is carefully cultivated and maintained. Letting a culture simply drift along could cause issues with retention and staff satisfaction.