Here at Chiumento we know a thing or two about homeworking success. We started talking about it as a potential future business model way back in 2010. At the time we were reviewing our property portfolio and starting to ask some serious questions about how much of our hard won income was being spent on mortgages, leases, utility bills, cleaning and other overheads associated with physical office spaces.
What prompted that debate was a notable swing in both client and delegate behaviours. We increasingly found that clients wanted us to travel to them. In fact 90% of our customer base was more than 10 miles from any of our offices.
Delegates were also increasingly reluctant to invest time and money travelling in to City centres. “Can’t we meet somewhere closer to home?” was an increasing request. One we responded to by identifying hundreds of local delivery points around the UK and Northern Ireland.
Put the two factors together and the occupancy rates in our meeting room usage plummeted. Paying for rooms full of nothing but air makes no business sense. So we scaled back. That inevitably led to the question: do we need offices at all in 2017?
By 2017 we’d closed all our offices
Limited hybrid working was already established at Chiumento when I joined in 2008. I’ll be truthful and say it was a major factor in saying “yes” to an offer to join the Company. Commuting every day to London, Oxford or Manchester would have been unsustainable for me. Especially with a young family. From day one I was based from home two days a week. Spending the other three in London or Oxford. All that travelling added up to me covering over 30,000 miles a year by car. Hardly a green credential at the time we were looking to achieve ISO 14001…
Factor 1: Getting the technology right
In those early days I had to travel to the office three days a week as there were systems I simply could not access from home. We didn’t have video conferencing technology so a meeting meant physically being present in a room. And we had lots of paper files still. Many delegate referrals to our outplacement team were still coming in by fax.
Duncan Hamilton’s arrival at Chiumento in 2010 initiated a major digital transformation journey. One he’s still leading in 2023.
Getting the technology right took several years and a considerable investment. The ability for any of our staff to work from anywhere with power and a broadband connection was a key requirement from day one.
For many organisations, getting the technology for homeworking right became a major issue with the COVID pandemic. By then Chiumento was well into its third year as a fully remote working business. We barely skipped a beat. Plus of course we had the big advantage commercially of not paying for office space that COVID restrictions would have stopped us using anyway.
Factor 2: Getting the people right
Once we’d made the decision (in around 2013) to build towards a remote working business it became very clear we needed to change our approach to hiring. We needed new starters to not just be a fit for our values and have the right technical skills they also needed key personality traits. In particular we discovered that certain preferences were a strong predictor of remote working success.
We had a lot of psychometrics experience in the business and trialled a number of personality questionnaires before settling on one that seemed to offer the best predictive validity. Today that’s core to every permanent hire we make. We don’t follow the psychometrics slavishly but they form an excellent basis to explore whether our homeworking model is right for a specific individual.
Offering homeworking has undoubtedly helped us both hire and retain some fantastic people. Some of whom have made major lifestyle changes thanks to the “work from anywhere” flexibility we can offer. That includes enabling relocations to dream locations.
Factor 3: Getting the environment right
I am glad to say we only lost one employee in the shift to remote working. And that came down largely to their home environment. They simply didn’t have the workspace at home to be able to work comfortably and effectively. Balancing the laptop on the arm of a sofa may be OK for an hour occassionally. It isn’t a sustainable long-term solution that delivers homeworking success.
When hiring we talk a lot to people about where they are going to work, the distractions they might have and the simple logistics of things like local broadband quality and mobile phone signal. If we aren’t convinced the environment is right we won’t hire.
So many more people today have a “home office” or workspace because they had to create one during COVID.
Factor 4: The nature of the work
What you are asking people to do from home plays a big part. There’s obviously lots of jobs you simply can’t do because of the equipment or materials required. The pandemic did force people to re-think this. And in many cases realised that jobs they thought could only ever be done from a traditional office could indeed be done remotely or in a hybrid way.
We had to re-design a lot of processes and systems to make them work remotely. And in the process train and develop new skills in our people.
Factor 5: Leadership mindset
Trust is a massive part of homeworking success. If your top team are inclined to supervision and control it won’t work. You can’t be constantly monitoring people working from home. We’ve learned that you have to change the way you measure success.
We achieved that by focusing on outputs not inputs. We avoided the pitfalls of monitoring who logs in when and instead focused on are targets being met? Are we contacting every delegate within 24 hours of their referral? What’s our current Net Promoter Score – is it up, down or constant? Are we meeting our commercial KPIs? If the answer to all those questions is positive, why do we need to dig deeper? We only go on a deep dive if things aren’t being delivered.
Homeworking success is largely defined by five key factors. Get any one of them wrong and you are likely to run into problems.
We are always happy to chat about our culture, our business model and our approach to talent management generally. Just reach out and we’ll be happy to chat.