Two years ago to the day, we sent all Guildhawk staff to work from home to protect people from COVID-19. At that time, working from home constituted less than 2% of all UK staff working patterns. This move was a big cultural shift, unprecedented in its scale of change, and swiftness of implementation. 

This week, we formally announced our move from an office-based company to one operating a Remote-First Hybrid Model. We’ve gone from 2% to 80%+ remote working in under 2 years, and I’m absolutely delighted.  

Like all Managers navigating those first few weeks of the pandemic, we had long to-do lists. IT equipment provision, remote-access infrastructure, information security, responding to changing client requirements, maintaining staff productivity and well-being. The lists, the risk assessments and frankly, the worry, felt endless. As a result, we had no sense of permanency, only of ensuring business continuity; of making sure our clients were serviced and our people were “ok”. This was survival. Our ISO9001 and ISO27001 certifications mean we have practised years of business continuity stress testing, but the real thing, of course, feels different. 

Farewell empty offices

After paying rent, rates and utilities on empty offices for six months, we surrendered the leases for our Sheffield and London offices. Then, we did something remarkable with the money we saved, we implemented company-wide training initiatives with Harvard Business School, London Business School and Kellogg School of Management.

We won new contracts, we recruited and inducted new staff entirely remotely. We commenced and completed the development of new powerful technology products. Our Innovate UK-backed Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Sheffield Hallam University continued and recruited extra developers. Also, virtual social contact increased with weekly socials with imaginative quizzes, gin tasting and parties. Staff performance was consistent or better than pre-Covid times. These improvements were not fleeting. Our assessment of the last 2 years has shown that 70% of our core KPIs saw improved performance, and the 30% that didn’t were impacted by macro-economic conditions or changes in strategy.

Remote working fostered trust and more results 

We’ve seen team productivity increases of up to 30% thanks to remote working. Our staff sentiment analysis showed 91% of staff felt supported by their line manager, part of a team and part of the wider company and 96% have felt a positive or neutral impact on their ability to fulfil their objectives. There are also some interesting counter arguments to the concern over creativity and collaboration diminishing outside the office. Nikil Saval, author of Cubed: The Secret History of the Workplace, argues this is “a way of trying to give cover for control — people think you need offices [to] make sure people are in line…. We rationalise open plan offices as an exercise in creativity. But it’s largely because they’re cheaper.”

Alf Rehn, Professor of Innovation, Design, and Management at the University of Southern Denmark says: “For years we complained about coming to the office, now we are free from the office we complain. I’ve been in big corporations for decades, the number of endless meetings I’ve been to. There is space for creativity in any work, there is innovation, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves. Modern corporations [are] built on routines, processes that aren’t conducive to creativity”

Remote working fostered Creativity

Increasingly, the work our clients commission us to do is a unique blend of creative, linguistic and technological. This became ever more important as our clients strived to engage remotely with their global staff and client base. Our AI-powered Guildhawk Aided machine translation enables clients to translate reams of content instantaneously. We also had Guildhawk Voice turning written content in to virtual human presentations. We even started to produce “digital twins” for clients who wanted to address staff or clients personally, but digitally. Green screen studios were hired, and Covid-safe production kicked off in the summer of 2021.

Guildhawk employee creating her virtual human, as the team started remote working

Our creative work didn’t stop at bringing content to life. We worked with the Alex Mendham orchestra, who were pioneering technology for online concerts throughout the pandemic. As London emerged from lockdown, we enjoyed a wonderful night of music at the Fascinating Rhythm concert at Conway hall. As much as I advocate remote working, you can’t beat getting your glad-rags on for an in-person celebration. 

The Guildhawk Team at a performance after years of remote working
Bandleader Alex Mendham and his Orchestra

More real contact  

It’s not all rosy, I know. There have been positive wellbeing impacts for most of our remote working staff, but not all. Even those that state they have felt the positive impact are still craving more in-person time, especially to assess complex problems. We have all felt zoom fatigue and have had to blur a background to hide the washing! Our strategy aims to hear what our staff want and combine that with what the data says we need. We seek to truly find the optimal working environment that is not bound by real estate commitments, historical business norms or macro change adversity.

In June 2021 McKinsey & Company stated that this period is a “once in a generation opportunity to reimagine how we work”.

Guildhawk is ready.