Post-Covid, is flexibility the answer to business success? 

A man working at a desk with two computer screens

Superstructures has developed a hybrid working model - Credit: Friel

Sue Wilcock speaks to managing director of Superstructures, James Potter, about running a running a structural engineering consultancy post-pandemic. 

Although the world is in a very different place to this time last year, we still haven’t seen the back of the pandemic. There may still be some challenges ahead, but one thing for sure is that most of us have accepted that Covid will be with us for a while, and we need to learn to live alongside it. 

And as James Potter explains, for Superstructures, this has meant making changes in the workplace and re-thinking some functions going forward. 

“Probably the biggest shift for us is around hybrid working. As a structural engineering design business, we’ve always been used to working in and out of the office, blending visits to construction sites and design meetings with time in the office. So, for us it’s been a case of listening to our team and making some decisions about what’s best for the business in the longer term. 

“The key for us is flexibility. We have successfully developed a hybrid working model, which is based around our commitment to provide a quality of service, alongside the continued learning and development of our team. We make use of efficiencies created by home and office working, as well as the energy sparked by working in other different environments. 

“For instance, our degree apprentices spend more time in the office, so they can learn from their peers and absorb as much information as possible. We enable our more experienced team members to work from home from time to time should they wish, making use of flexible systems to keep in touch and manage projects.

"Our senior team are rising to the challenge of supervising their team members, wherever they are working. One thing in no doubt though, is that being flexible attracts better talent into the business.” 

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Like most, James is finding that for the hybrid model to work effectively, video calls and meetings have become part of working life. Yet, how is he combating Zoom fatigue? 

“The short answer is we try to use this medium constructively where possible, to aid us in the design process. 

“Importantly, we work collaboratively with other members of the construction design team. Video meeting software provides great opportunities to share information virtually and sit down more often to resolve design details. This helps everyone involved in the project, as a more thoroughly designed building is a building that’s easier to construct and use in the future. Videos from site can also sometimes negate site visits, meaning solutions can be delivered far more quickly. 

“Cutting down on car journeys has obvious benefits, but there is a balance to be struck. We still need to see things in the real world, along with having face-to-face contact with the project team, as this builds stronger relationships.” 

Speaking about building relationships, how has James managed without the larger networking events taking place? 

“Business development has been challenging over the last 18 months, and personally, I have missed seeing the friends I have in the industry. 

“Without meeting people by chance, making new connections has been difficult, but amongst these challenges, some good practices have emerged. 

“Larger group events have been replaced by one-to-one coffees and lunches. Bacon baps and instant coffee have been replaced with great food and drink at some of our local restaurants, which is no bad thing, as you get a chance to build stronger relationships and understand in detail the challenges that your peers are facing. Also, some online networking events have been really successful. 

“The last 18 months have proved that a good online presence is now more essential than ever. We were fortunate to already be working with some talented consultants before the pandemic; we have been able to build on this, making sure that we’re talking about the great projects that we’re delivering, as well as all of the great stuff that we’re doing internally as a team. 

“When it comes to our office use, we’re currently tracking this to make longer term decisions on the size and type of office space needed as we continue to grow. But, across the board, we’ve found that we thrive on change and use technology to solve operational problems where possible. The result is a more robust business, that’s able to operate at its best without all of its people under one roof. 

“We’re forecasted to have our best year in business. That’s not something we would have predicted when we started 2021 in another lockdown with huge uncertainty ahead!” 

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