Will Serle was into remote working long before it went mainstream. Before joining Capita, he spent 20 years running virtual teams across 16 different timezones. But as a senior people leader he never enjoyed the advantages himself: twice a week, he was forced to undertake gruelling eight-hour commutes to London from his home in Aberdeen.
Now, in the wake of Covid-19, Will’s schedule is perfectly inverted. He spends most of his time in Aberdeen, but is able to travel elsewhere for meetings and other essential purposes. As well as enjoying the convenience of this new arrangement, he feels there are wider benefits. The pandemic, despite all its turmoil and anxiety, can create genuine equality for those working remotely, and Will is determined to achieve it.
“People talk about the privilege of remote working,” Will says. “But this isn’t about privilege. It’s about involvement. If you’ve got a smartphone or tablet, there’s something quite engaging about everyone working in the same way.
“The pandemic has been a great leveller in terms of inclusion. We’ve seen that maybe people don’t need to find ways to work in London to progress their career. If they’re sitting in, say, north-east England or Scotland, their career doesn’t have to be limited by location.”
Prior to the pandemic at least 90% of Capita employees worked on-premise, either in a customer’s workplace or the company’s own. But Will, who joined the company in 2018, says he had already started to make significant changes to how people were managed within the business.
“One of the first things I did was to distil a purpose for Capita. We involved hundreds of employees and asked them to help define that purpose. Then we put in place a series of commitments around managing people, which has included giving constructive feedback and creating a positive environment.”
Lockdown provided a pretext to go even further. Within a month of the restrictions, Will had put together a team of people to look long-term, and begun undertaking surveys of the entire Capita workforce. The Shaping Tomorrow Together survey garnered 20,000 responses; a further 24,000 responded to the Future Ways of Working questionnaire. A Yammer site gained 4,000 sign-ups.
Colleagues have been asked whether they are enjoying remote working, and how they want to proceed long term. Do they want to move to remote working five days a week, do they want to go back into the office, or are they looking for something in between?