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What I’ve learned and re-learned about PDMS this year

Insight Published on 21 December 2020

I am fast approaching my 20th work anniversary at PDMS and over the years I have gained a great deal of insight into how the company works.  However, throughout the roller coaster ride that has been 2020, I have made discoveries and have been reminded of things I’d maybe taken for granted about PDMS.  So, here’s a summary of what I’ve learned and re-learned about PDMS in 2020.

Lesson 1 – We were very well prepared for dealing with this type of crisis

I knew we had a Disaster Recovery (DR) policy in place and once a year we’d receive a surprise text from our infrastructure team to say “please work from home today” so that our DR plan could be properly tested. What I hadn’t realised was just how forward-thinking our DR policy was.

Whilst other organisations struggled to source laptops when supply outstripped demand across the world, every single member of our team already had their own laptop.  We replaced desktops with laptops 15 years ago and, at the same time, decided to pay for our staffs’ home broadband internet connection.

All the tools and technologies we need to remain productive and continue delivering our services for our clients are available remotely – hosted on our own infrastructure or in the cloud.  

When the Island went into lockdown in March, we really did have a seamless transition to home working with no impact on the service we were able to provide to our customers. The only additional work we had to carry out was to load up our cars up with desks, chairs, and monitors!

Lesson 2 - We took internal communications for granted

Like most organisations we had gotten into the habit of running the same meeting schedules and communicating in the same ways for years, without really questioning whether they were still fit for purpose.

The move to remote working forced us to review our internal communications and the frequency and purpose of our team meetings.  Our agile project teams were used to the cadence of daily stand-ups and in the early days of home working, we adopted this approach across all areas of the business. Now that we are working in a more blended fashion, we have reduced the daily team check-ins to three times a week.

In addition to our offices in the Isle of Man and Glasgow, we have always had home workers in our team dotted around the UK.  The move from office to home has given us office-based workers a greater understanding of the issues that our homeworkers faced.  I had no idea how difficult it could be to participate in lengthy meetings remotely when you can’t hear everyone properly or pick up on body language.

On the flip side, our home workers now feel that there’s been a big improvement in our internal communications, and it has helped to foster an even greater feeling of “team”.

Lesson 3 - We have great digital tools

OK, as a technology company I guess this shouldn’t be a great surprise, but I hadn’t realised just how good the various platforms and digital tools we use every day in the office were at supporting collaboration when working remotely.  

We had already embraced Microsoft Teams in 2019 but this year it’s really come into its own. It has supported collaborative working on specific projects, has been used to share information across the organisation, supported hundreds of thousands of “chats” between colleagues, and thousands of online meetings.  What’s more, it’s highly secure and the mobile interface is great too.  It is fast replacing e-mails as our internal communication tool of choice.

Other tools that have been embraced include Miro an online whiteboard platform – invaluable when running discovery sessions or workshops and a great digital replacement for physical post-it notes on the wall.

Lesson 4 - We traveled a lot – probably more than necessary

With offices in Glasgow and customers all over the world, before this year, we spent a lot of our collective time traveling.  Members of our Glasgow team would fly over monthly for meetings and we’d regularly fly over to Glasgow.  We would sometimes even send a team of people for presentations to win new business in exotic locations such as Bermuda (there was never a shortage of volunteers!).

Now that we can’t travel and we are much more used to Teams and Zoom meetings, we recognize that not all our previous travel was necessary. In addition, it’s highlighted how many lost hours were spent waiting in airports and how much travel away can impact on an individual’s home life.

Of course, we will travel again once we can. Sometimes you just need to physically be in the same room with people. However, we will now evaluate whether we really do need to physically make the trip and whether it would be kinder to ourselves and the environment to meet online instead.

Lesson 5 - We are adaptable and embrace change

On the Isle of Man, we were fortunate to be able to return to life as normal relatively quickly – no social distancing, no facemasks, etc.  Even though the office was open we decided to let people decide how they wanted to work – either at home, in office or a blend of both.  Some people rushed back to the office and there are some we haven’t seen in the flesh for over 6 months.

It would have been easy to mandate that everybody returned to the office but feedback from conversations and our regular staff surveys told us that people really enjoyed the flexibility of being able to choose how to work.  Productivity hasn’t been impacted and our team is still working just as hard as ever to deliver successful outcomes for our clients.  So, we’ve embraced this change and will continue to leave it up to our staff to opt for a working environment which suits them best.

Lesson 6 - Great relationships are more important than ever

At PDMS, like most organisations, we’ve always valued strong and positive relationships with our customers, suppliers, and colleagues.  However, the pandemic has highlighted the strength of these relationships and just how important they really are. 

We have pulled together to help turn projects around very quickly when the clients have had to pivot or adapt to support their customers.  Staff have gone the extra mile to help their colleagues who may have been struggling at times for different reasons. 

I have also been bowled over by the number of people, with whom I’ve had a loose past connection to, who have been happy to give up their valuable time when I’ve reached out for advice or contacts.

Lesson 7 - Welcoming new colleagues into the team remotely isn’t as hard as we thought

One of the consequences of COVID-19 has been the acceleration of organisation’s digital plans and projects. To meet the growing demand from customers both old and new, we have been able to grow our team.

Initially, we were apprehensive about onboarding new people into the team without having ever met them in person and more importantly, the new recruits not having the opportunity to meet the rest of the team face to face. Starting a new job is a big deal and we wanted to make sure our new recruits felt welcomed and part of the team from the outset.   I’m delighted to report that our three latest recruits have settled into the team really well and have quickly become valued members of their respective teams.

Lesson 8 - Our focus on mental health is important

In the last year or two we have stepped up our initiatives to help support our team’s mental health and in 2020 there has been an even greater focus in this area.

We all recognise that the events of this year have taken a toll on people in many ways. We have staff members who live alone and have had to deal with isolation in lockdown, those who have to juggle working from home with looking after young children when schools and nurseries were closed and those that are missing seeing loved ones.  We all have good days and bad days.

This year many of us who previously thought ourselves unaffected by mental health issues have discovered that we or our family, friends, and colleagues too are vulnerable. Our HR team have been busy arranging online webinars with specialist speakers on topics such as mindfulness and managing stress and anxiety.  And not just mental health but our overall physical well-being too with talks on nutrition and posture to make sure we aren’t all slumped over our dining room tables or sinking into our sofas!

Lesson 9 - I like our office more than I thought I did

Whilst working from home is fine every now and then I really miss the face-to-face interaction with my colleagues.  Being able to collaborate and bounce ideas off one another, celebrate successes big and small and, occasionally having a bit of a moan when you are having a bad day – just doesn’t work the same on the screen.

We were very fortunate in the Isle of Man that we were able to resume normal office working, for those that wanted to, after only three months of lockdown.  I’m enjoying being back in the office, but with more people working a blended pattern of home and office working, the office dynamic just isn’t the same.  We’ve recognised this and are planning changes to our office space to reflect how we are working now and will be working in the future.

Lesson 10 – I’m proud to be part of the PDMS team

I guess I wouldn’t have lasted 20 years if I wasn’t, however, I’m prouder than I’ve ever been! A global pandemic has flipped our lives upside down, but it’s also provided an opportunity to step back and re-evaluate. It has knocked us out of auto-pilot.  I’ve had conversations with friends who have been very unimpressed with the way their organisations have treated their staff during lockdown - so much so that they are now considering their options.

What I have learned this year is that I really enjoy my job, not only because the actual work itself is rewarding, but because I work with a great bunch of people who can be counted on to pull together through the highs and the lows.