Flexible pandemic approach pays dividends for finance firm
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Just when businesses thought they were starting to see the back of Covid-19, the spread of the Omicron variant stopped many in their tracks – as the government once again advised people to work from home if they were able to.
While Plan B restrictions will be lifted in England tomorrow, many firms are continuing to balance commercial necessity with the safety and wellbeing of clients and employees.
Beckett Investment Management Group, a financial services firm with offices in Suffolk, Norfolk and Leicestershire, was awarded Platinum accreditation and won Best Overall Medium Company at the Best Employers Eastern Region 2021 awards. The company adapted its working-from-home policy for employees last summer – and maintained it throughout the Omicron outbreak.
“We decided to put a long-term plan in place, which was the majority of staff to work three days a week in the office and two days a week from home,” explains Ian White, managing director of Becketts. “We're calling it flexible working, although the days in the office are fixed, because otherwise nobody would see their colleagues.
“The only change we’ve made is that anyone in their first six months at Becketts has to be in the office – because we’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t train on Zoom.”
Ian says the decision to adapt its policy was made following feedback from employees. “There was a realisation that the office, in many ways, is actually a social hub where you get to meet your friends and your colleagues, and have a chat about the football, the price of fish or whatever you want to talk about.”
Moreover, clients of Becketts didn’t notice any change to the service they received. “Before the pandemic hit, we’d been making considerable investment in our IT.” Ian says. “This meant that our clients were able to enjoy high levels of service throughout 2020 and 2021, even though they were unable to meet their consultants face-to-face.
“We usually see our clients twice a year, but a lot of them are now saying perhaps once a year will be good, just so we can catch up and have that cup of tea.”
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He adds that meeting over Zoom is no less personal than seeing somebody in person. “Particularly with clients we've had for a long time – we've got a close working relationship, we've built up that trust over many, many years,” says Ian. “We know them, we know their family, we know their pets' names. It's not as if it's a remote relationship.”
This was confirmed when clients gave Becketts an average score of 9.5 out of 10 in a survey. “We believe that our people will perform at the highest level if they are given the right environment to work in,” says Ian. “And the number one priority for Becketts has always been their wellbeing.”
Becketts employees are asked to take a lateral flow test twice a week – and the company is accommodating to anyone who wishes to work five days a week from home. However, Ian says the company has no plans to ask everyone to return to the office full-time.
“I don't think saying you need to be in the office five days a week is a great recruitment tool, nor do I think working from home five days is a great recruitment tool,” he explains. “People like the flexibility, and we have got to attract the best people we possibly can to work for Becketts.”
Ian is also the chairman of mental health charity, Suffolk Mind, and says it’s crucial that employers take genuine care of their employees’ emotional wellbeing – which he says “is not in a great place” as a result of the pandemic.
“There’s been a change in the way that good employers regard their staff over the last two years – they’re realising that you're actually buying the whole individual, and emotional wellbeing is part of that,” Ian explains. “You need to support that in order for them to be the best person they can be, both inside work and outside work.”
Employees at Becketts have access to Suffolk Mind courses, one-to-one help and counselling – all of which is provided freely by the company. “We can't solve all problems, but we can create an environment where people can help themselves and we can support them,” says Ian. “And I think our employees appreciate that.”