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  • Originals
  • 10 March 2022
  • 8 min read
  • Words: Laura Clifford, Elena Pantazi
  • Images: Personio

The future of work: discussing flexibility and frameworks with Personio

At Northzone, we regularly sit down with our Operator Network advisors to share insights with our portfolio. Since our investments in Personio and more recently Hopin, we’ve been very excited about the prospect of the future of work, while recognising that there are real challenges to moving work digitally and remotely. Solutions to these modern-day challenges can’t just be a web version of some existing business workflow. There needs to be careful consideration of the impact of work shifting from one medium to another, and in some cases, we need entirely new paradigms.  

In this session, we spent some time with Ross Seychell, Chief People Officer at Personio and Northzone advisor on all things people, talent, organisation, and culture. We discussed the new Personio framework, PersonioFlex, to understand how to find the best of both worlds as we move into a new way of working. This conversation brought up some incredibly valuable insights on the future of work, including more complex questions around how we, as companies, can get to the point of developing our own frameworks. The conclusion? Listen to what your people want to keep your people. 

Don’t mind me, I’m just flexing over here

The PersonioFlex framework which was implemented in summer 2021 is led by Personio’s ‘5 Guiding Flex Principles,’ putting their key learnings from the last year and a half into practice, and making sure that what follows is consistent with the strong culture their team has created. 

(1) The Best of Both Worlds addresses how a combination of in-office and remote work is the best way forward. (2) Collaboration and Celebration emphasises the importance of bringing colleagues and teams together in an office-led but remote-friendly way. (3) Finding Your Flex promotes an aspirational 50%+ office attendance while (4) Empowering employees to find their balance and keep Personio’s best interests and values in mind. Last but not least, (5) #CustomerEmpathy prioritises customer success above all when considering various work modes — a nod to how highly Personio values their customers. 

Glancing at the numbers we collected in our Future of Work survey, it looks like a flexible and/or hybrid model is slowly becoming the most popular option for Northzone’s portfolio companies. 54% of teams are either maintaining or moving towards a flexible model, with a hybrid presence between office and remote. Others, naturally, are yet to find an exact solution to this pretty big question, but it’s great to see how our founders and their teams are adapting to the ‘new world.’ We’re also excited to see how talent pools will become more international as 44% of our portfolio companies will allow role function to determine a work-from-anywhere structure, and 7% will have fully remote teams. *Flexible working: some days in the office, some days at home

A holistic approach to enabling better organisations 

One of the most beneficial things about every organisation going through the same issue at the same time is the value of knowledge sharing and real-time collaboration. The PersonioFlex model, based on trust and empowerment of team leads, shows us the importance of speaking to those both internally and externally going through the same problem as you. We’re coining new terms, with #wfh now part of every worker’s vernacular, and phrases like ‘remote working’ encompassing multiple variations: fully remote (i.e. never going into an office/physical collaboration environment), remote but office-based (i.e. popping into the office every so often), remote from a different hub (i.e. working from a different office to the rest of your team), or even rotating between different countries. 

A key theme in discussions with our portfolio companies was defining this grey ‘remote’ area, addressing concerns and problems that come with developing a framework, and looking at how teams will function moving forward. There is much value to be found in acknowledging employee experience, so we were thrilled to use Personio’s approach of diving deeper into the critical touch points and viewing them more holistically. 

Remote only roles — only for a particular department, or an option open to all?

As part of our Flex framework, we invested time in reviewing and framing how we see fully remote roles in the future. Unsurprisingly, most offices saw their tech and engineering teams become early adopters of remote working. For them, working solo meant more efficiency and autonomy to execute the tasks at hand. 

Recognising which other jobs or teams could be remote was important: Customer Service, Talent Acquisition, and other similar roles can quite comfortably work remotely, while teams such as Sales often enjoy spending time working in the office — valuing a tight-knit team that can be together in the same place. This is also important for our entry-level roles, and especially new joiners, who can benefit from onboarding faster in an in-person working environment. 

Having this visibility on which teams prefer which environment is a great predictor of how the future of work will look. 

Some were worried about remote working snowballing, eradicating the need for an office at all — did this happen in the end?

Many were worried about the fall of the office environment, and the resulting implications on things like culture, internal communications, or sense of belonging. In reality, it wasn’t as big an upheaval as some were expecting. 

 Some roles will evolve into being fully remote, but that will often depend on having a process (which needs to be as light as possible) for an individual to raise it with their lead. What is most important is to be flexible and adaptable, and for leaders to make the decision based on the scalability and demands of the role.

Some thought it would open the floodgates to remote working, but only a handful of requests have been received so far. The key to managing these was transparency, sharing the reasons why some roles can be fully remote so employees and their leads could feel comfortable having an open discussion about it.

How do you make sure that there is consistency and fairness across the organisation when deciding on who can work where?

Part of HR’s role is to keep an eye on that. There is no silver bullet, but getting data on people’s take on the situation, a few times a year, is a good way to keep a pulse on things. Talking through the idea with people on an informal basis, spending time in the office, and chatting with people are also great ways to get a candid view on what they think. 

 Office use is also a pretty clear way to track who wants to do what, especially if there are no concrete rules for who has to be in and when. Personio will be implementing office space and desk software soon. This will also help us better understand how our offices are being used, when, and where as well as how trends in some teams differ. Correlating that with our engagement data will give us even more information to implement objective and fair policies. 

 

Working from anywhere — not just from home — definitely sparked some interest. Does it work?

Those who embraced it (like a pretty well-known music startup in Northzone’s portfolio for starters…) had a very clear and explicit framework which allowed a lot of flexibility when choosing where people could work. For those looking to do this, it requires some heavy lifting on understanding the different geographical regulations, often aided by having an existing footprint, e.g. offices in that location.

For most companies, it was important to get to a place where they could be clear and consistent about it. With still so many unknowns, opting for an office-led but remote-friendly model was the right approach for us, aligning with our culture and how we work moving forward. Transitioning to a more extensive hybrid model can certainly work — as long as you recognise the significant work it takes, especially if you were in-office first before the pandemic. From what our people tell us, they want the best of both worlds, enabling them to have the right environment for their work and their customers. That’s why we decided on Flex. 

Ross Seychell, Chief People Officer at Personio

Some roles will inevitably transition to either mostly or fully remote — how do you make sure that people still feel included?

This is one of the most important questions, especially when looking at maintaining culture and retention rates. It will probably be the last thing to be ‘solved’ when looking at the future of how we’ll work, but you can take some simple steps to get the ball rolling:

  • Follow remote-first principles for things such as onboarding, meetings, or documentation. Making onboarding completely remote (i.e. all onboarding materials are accessed online) or having a compulsory in-person meeting in a ‘hub’ to spend time with your team before you go fully remote will add that invaluable human-interaction to joining a company. 
  • Use events to bring people into the mix. If they are full team events, think about how you can make travel more accessible, or look at bringing in more than one geographical focus point. Finding a blend between online and offline events means everyone should have an opportunity to join in. 
  • Rotate the focal point in meetings to ensure everyone communicates in the same way, with each individual signing in on their own computer. 
  • Use messaging systems like Slack to signal where you’re working from that day. These notify your colleagues about whether you’re at home, in the office, or in another country altogether. 

It’s important to reiterate that checking back on how people respond to these changes will allow you to effectively adapt to be more inclusive. 

 

Now that the makeup of teams has changed, how will this reflect on office spaces?

After a year of people working in their homes, transitioning back into an open office can often feel very loud and distracting. Recognising that you can’t customise the experience for everyone’s needs is important. To remedy this, we’re now seeing that having varied spaces across each office means space is more appropriate to the new normal of work. 

There are various restrictions in place that will impede some office’s options when changing their layout, such as office ownership or overall space, but there are some improvements that don’t require an entire revamp. Investing in phone pods or having team zones can be effective, especially when using a booking system to optimise the space available (this also gives you an idea of who is actually coming into the office). 

Office spaces and usage will change, that’s inevitable. We prefer to see this as an opportunity to redefine how an office should look and we’ll continue to ask questions about how to make it an even more effective place for our teams to be at the top of their game. 

Our key learning from this discussion was the importance of just that — discussions! There will be no one-size-fits-all approach, but giving people the opportunity to voice their opinions and be heard will give you the most appropriate option for your team. 

 

And food. People will come into the office for food.