Episode 4: In the Future of Work with Version 1

Cathal Divilly

In this new episode, Great Place to Work CEO Cathal Divilly is joined again by Jarlath Dooley, People Success Director with Version 1. They discuss how having trust in the bank helped Version 1 delivered excellent client services in a pandemic year and how they have shifted to a hybrid working model. Jarlath Dooley also shares their strategies around employee ownership, recruiting and onboarding virtually, along with adapting recognition programmes.



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> In this podcast


Jarlath Dooley

People Success Director

Version 1


Cathal Divilly


Great Place to Work Ireland


> Transcript

Cathal Divilly: Hello, listeners, and welcome to the latest episode of The Red Cube. We are delighted to be joined again by Jarlath Dooley, People Success Director of Version 1. You probably caught Jarlath on an earlier episode he did for us around some of the great things that Version 1 have been doing for their people and culture. Jarlath, you're very welcome again.

Jarlath Dooley: Thanks, Cathal, great to be back with you.


Cathal Divilly: So Jarlath, I suppose the hot topic, right, on the mind of workplaces and people at the moment is “what's our future way of working going to be?” Really delighted to hear your insights and your experience in terms of Version 1, and I suppose a good place to start Jarlath would be I suppose is what has the experience of Version 1 been like since COVID has come into our land in terms of: how work, how has work been in Version 1?

Jarlath Dooley: I preface this by saying that we're fortunate in the business we're in and I'm well aware of when I'm talking that a lot of businesses didn't have the opportunity we have in terms of be they be in hospitality, or tourism or other industries that were literally shut down. So we're an IT business. And one of the things I think that COVID forced companies to do was to invest in their IT. So that's, that's been good for us, in terms of least protecting the organisation and the jobs and the people in it. So it's just over a year ago, since we moved almost 1200 people to remote working. And because of the investment we had made in our own internal IT, it made the move pretty seamless, and without too much stress. And, you know, I'd like to think if I'd asked my IT director two weeks earlier “how long will it take to get 1200 people working remotely?” He probably would have said, three years or never because the company won't do it. But we did it in five days. And, as I said, pretty seamless.

But look, that's only a technicality in terms of getting people connected and remote working. After that, it's about ways of working. And there's been a lot talked about resilience, and connectivity, and loneliness, etc. But I think a high for me, last year, we're seeing the return on our investment in the years we spent building a culture of trust and empowerment because it meant we didn't miss a beat in terms of delivering excellence to our customers. And we continue to build on the Best Workplace: only now we’re focusing to change on building a best digital workplace.

So all in all, for Version 1, I mean, we survey our staff every quarter and have done for years, and Q4 2020 was our highest ever result on that. And very positive feedback in terms of the whole COVID experience from people. So we've been lucky that it's mainly been positive. You know, there were lows, and in the early months, mainly due to the uncertainty we all faced, you know, so we had to make decisions like holding back on paying profit share, which was the first time we had held back in 38 quarters, I think. You know, on awarding pay increases, and just cutting budgets around marketing and other areas. You know, which was what we felt prudent and we had to do, but against the backdrop of uncertainty wasn't our most pleasant quarter. It's actually the quarter we did the Great Place To Work survey, I wish we'd done it in Q4! But I think from then on you know, we were able to reverse all that later in the year: pay the quarter we missed profit share, so there was a double quarter for people. And when people saw how prudently we managed and I think it just reinforced to trust that the company will take balanced decisions and do the right thing. So highs and lows, but for us it was mainly a year where we reaped the rewards of investments we've made in previous years.


Cathal Divilly: Isn't it incredible to think: five days and 1200 people and we're all working remotely? Now was there a rhythm in place already for people or some people within Version 1 around remote working?

Jarlath Dooley: Yeah, we've had flex policies and we've had remote working and we've: including people who left Version 1 to go to places like New Zealand and Taiwan and Canada and continue to work for us remotely. So we've, we've always had the technical capability for it. And you know, we've had a lot of flexible patterns be it: three day weeks, half time, term time, sometimes in the office, sometimes remote, but this is a whole new scale. So yeah, we had experience with it. And we had the technical capability. But I think the biggest thing we had was that culture of trust and empowerment that we just knew productivity would improve, because we just know the people we have and the empowerment we’d given them. And I think because of the trust side, the people knew that we would make the right decisions and protect the business and drive forward so that trust and empowerment was the key thing.


Cathal Divilly: I agree, Jarlath, I think this is a key piece. Right so, a track record of building trust since 2009, building up those trust levels with employees: how does that tangibly play out when it comes to either a new way of working or making difficult decisions, the fact that you have trust in the bank?

Jarlath Dooley: One of the things that people look for from their leaders is that they act decisively and communicate clearly what our plans are. So we did that very much in the first few months, but quickly got to a point where we said to people, whatever happens, everything changes. So we're designing our own future, and we're going to control our own future. And we devised a strategy called Becoming Naturally Digital. So we said, the one thing that will come out of COVID is the businesses that are Naturally Digital will be the businesses that go on to thrive. You know, I would equate it back to the .com era, the companies who saw the internet, as you know, just a place to put your brochure went out of business pretty quickly. The ones who saw it as an e-commerce platform, you know, some of the made it, some of them didn't. The ones who went naturally all into the Internet, and design their business models around it – you know, the most amazing example being Amazon – are the ones that went on to thrive.

And I think this is this is the same as the internet the companies who think COVID is a year or 18 months and things go back to normal, I think are at real risk of going out of business. I think there are others who are sitting and waiting and they’re tinkering around the edges, and some of them will survive. And then the ones who embrace and say, well, the one thing that will come from this is that everything will change in some way. And the common thing across all that is about being a Naturally Digital organisation. So that was the strategy we communicated to our people. And that is what we've driven on with.


Cathal Divilly: So as always with Version 1 when it comes to challenge, and this is a track record over the years, when we're faced with challenge, there's always an ambition to flourish and an ambition to come through whatever challenge we're faced with. Just thinking about that remote working piece Jarlath: so people working remotely you know, everyone in the business. Is there particular practice areas that you over-index on in Version 1? Like that you really do a lot of a particular practice area: the fact that things have now gone fully remote?

Jarlath Dooley: If you take a naturally digital example: the traditional one is somebody submits a CV, they come in and do the first interview, they might do a technical interview, they might do a culture/HR interview, all face to face. And, you know, we were a company that was looking to hire 300 people, so that was the first one we had to major on and over-index in terms of: we have to get, without losing any the quality or any of our standards, we have got to ensure we create a full naturally digital recruitment process, right from the employer brand through the application process, automating the tests, to the psychometrics being done online, to video interviews, right through to the offer being signed electronically. And that was one of the first things we did, and we were able to hire close on 300 people in the last year because we went and created a naturally digital recruitment process and trained our managers in it, and put the tools behind it.

Of course, when you’re hiring 300 people the next thing I’d say to you is: oh, we always get them into the Conference Centre, and we spend a couple of days inducting them, and people come in and talk to them, and then they go and they sit with their teams, and they learn through a mix of osmosis and sitting-by-nellie, and all the traditional ways that people got onboarded. And that's all gone. So we had to double down and major on digital onboarding, and create a better and more prolonged experience for people. So we didn't just take the one or two day Conference Centre experience and just have people talk to people ad nauseum on video, because that's not going to yield a lot. But instead look at giving them pre-boarding material, and then leading them on through their first three months, putting a lot more focus on connections and belonging, because otherwise, you mightn’t meet anybody, only their manager and the two people to work with every day. So again, to take that and turn it into something digital.

You look at, when you talk about culture, one of our core values is Excellence. And every year we have a very big Version 1 party across all our offices that celebrates excellence in our annual Excellence Awards. And of course, we couldn't do that because people couldn't get together. So instead, we designed a digital Excellence Awards that ran over a month rather than one night. By doing it digitally over a month, we actually got much, much… actually doubled the engagement we got in previous years. And it served a much greater purpose of embedding that core value of Excellence right across the company. And that was, again, not just taking a physical event and putting it online: that was redesigning in a naturally digital way.

So it's all our practices, so our Becoming Naturally Digital programme currently has 125 initiatives in it. 30 of them are complete, most of the rest are in progress. And the key thing about it is that this is owned by people. So it is not a transformation programme run by a programme manager. It's not an IT driven programme that is just about tools and tech. This is a Ways of Working programme. And what we've done is empowered people in their teams to say: look at how you do things, and you design digitally, how it needs to be, to be fit for the future. So that's why there's 130 initiatives, and there will probably be 200 by the end of Q2, because it is team-by-team designing their digital future. And we're just providing them with the technology, the consultancy, bit of project management to help them make that real. And what's really come out of it is there is no silo approach, people are working together, saying: oh I see you're doing that in your team, that could work in my team. So it's massively encouraged sharing. To me, it's the most successful change programme I've been involved in because it is completely bottom-up. And there is an impetus, you know, we have to do it, and everybody sees the relevance of it. And I think that's what will ensure that Version 1 thrives post COVID: that was a long answer, but it's an important one!


Cathal Divilly: No, absolutely. And it's clear how much importance Version 1 put on it: 125+ initiatives, a branded strategic approach again, and, you know, what we know is that any solution that comes to the business with a real sense of ownership from the people in the business, will be appreciated so much more. So it's great to see. One of the things Jarlath that we've heard back from businesses is that some of their people have found it easy to get into a rhythm working remotely, and then some people not so much. Has this been your experience for your people in Version 1?

Jarlath Dooley: Yeah. It's kind of led to new thinking which we will touch on. But we've gone from a homogenous environment, you know, where people sat in hundreds of cubes and had the same experience and the same tools and technologies available to where, you know, there’s four people in a flat around the kitchen table. There's people in parts of the country where broadband isn't good. There's people who have young children, there’s people who have elderly parents. You name it: there is every type of variety of situation. So that poses challenges and you know, some people simplified it down to: oh, this is great for the introverts, they love the working remotely on their own and the extroverts are going mad, but it's way deeper than that.

And, you know, our response was we designed what we called the Welltech programme, which is combining wellness and technology, again, to cater for all of those different needs that people have. So you know, for some people, it's a broadband booster that improves the broadband within the house they're sharing with four others or whatever. And, you know, they're expensive items at 160 quid for a good one. And it's great to get that delivered to your door. For other people, it was Bluetooth headsets, and that where if you're on a meeting and your child falls down the stairs, you can just walk out and pick them up and still talk, or if someone comes with a delivery to the door, you've got the Bluetooth you can move around. It was putting Teams on people's mobile phones so they could go and have a walk and do what we call walk and talk meetings. So we encourage people to do one-to-one meetings, when they're out walking and talking and getting a bit of air and getting away from your desk. So the whole thing was to untether people from their desks, encourage movement, give people the tools to ensure that they could have the best working environment, and the most well working environment, no matter what their environment was.

So for someone like me, I was well set up, I didn't need much. But for other people who had different environments, they needed a lot. And one of the key things in it is there was, we deliberately put no approval process in place. So, back to the trust and empowerment, we just said: people aren't going to order stuff just to give it to their mates if they don't need it. And that's been our experience, it has not been abused. You know, we learned that from our recognition programme, our call-out platform, which allows people to give points, and points mean prizes. Again, we didn't put an approval in place by senior management, and it was not abused. People weren't awarding points to their friends and to each other just to get prizes. So that's worked really, really well. I think that if you talk to our people and say that Welltech is probably one of the best things we did in the last year.


Cathal Divilly: It's brilliant, and a real nuanced approach in terms of, you know, what's the needs of our people? What is it that you need, and getting that to them? Whatever it is, and as you said, some people, you know, obviously, people have different needs. You touched it there in terms of the new way of thinking Jarlath. And of course, the hot topic, right for workplaces is: what are we going to look like as a workplace post-COVID? And we nearly got through the interview without me saying COVID, so apologies for that! I know you touched on it already, but future way of working for Version 1: how are you approaching that topic, how do you see that playing out?

Jarlath Dooley: Yeah, so I think the Becoming Naturally Digital is about changing the ways of working. And that's underway, and it's got a momentum that will carry itself through, it's almost like a continuous improvement piece. But I think there's a couple of other areas that haven't yet come about, because we're still in lockdown, but definitely the hybrid working model, and what that means. And you know, for a company like us with 14 offices, and 1400 people and growing, it's a complete rethink. So we've started to remodel our main offices, our larger offices, you know, I think there will be an imposed increase in space per person. And so we've removed many of the cubes and made it far more pleasant place to go into, but it's going to require sophistication like guest booking software, so teams can book parts of a building to go in on certain days. So it's a rethink of the structure of the building, it's a rethink of the IT and the software to support people coming and going. It's going to require a rethink on policies, because a lot of people, I'd say most companies are still working off old employment contracts have: your hours of work are nine to five, and your location is this. So we've restructured our contracts to cater for hybrid working that, we know we've gone from nine to five to a much broader working structure, we've hundreds of examples. But you know, I know, one person worked 6 to 11 in the morning, and then went on childcare till 4 in the afternoon, and then went 4 to 7. So that’s a key thing of that hybrid, hybrid working.

I think a second thing we're going to see is a massive increase in the mobility of people. And I think this is, like all of these things, it's a huge opportunity. And it's a massive threat to business. So people can change jobs seamlessly now. If you think pre-COVID, a big consideration a change in job was your commute, a big change was moving location. Now people can change jobs seamlessly from where they are, or if they were living, for example, in Dublin city, just to be near thei work, they can now move to Cork, or to Kerry, or overseas, and continue to work.

You know, so it means two things: one is you can now source people globally. And we've had to change our workforce sourcing to be more global in perspective. But it also means that your people can work for any global organisation. So a company in Silicon Valley can, say, rather than setting up an office in Dublin, they can still do a campaign and hire 20 people in Dublin, have a little hub that they go to once a month or every now and again for meetings, but mainly work from home. So I think that mobility is going to be a massive change and that's something we are examining closely and planning around as well.


Cathal Divilly: And that mobility piece, it can be a double-edged sword as well. So we're opening up a pool of opportunity in terms of talent and where we can source talent from, and then it also creates a bit more competitiveness in terms of how we hold on to our people.

Jarlath Dooley: Yeah, and if I believe if, you know, if companies have might have done a lot of the right things in the last year, but if they haven't been able to maintain a sense of belonging and culture, then what hold is there for somebody to stay when they can just get a new laptop delivered and they're up and running with another organisation? I think it puts a new emphasis on the Best Workplace, the Great Place to Work type model for people to say, it's actually going to get even more competitive, and particularly in IT, which is going to just continue to grow as a result of this.


Cathal Divilly: Yeah, of course. And it's, you know, it's never been about the stuff, right, as you know, or the office perks or anything like that. And it's about that belonging piece, it's about the trust. It's about the environment that we create for our people to be at their best at… their job has to be about something more than just the stuff that they get, you know, which I know Version 1 have done a phenomenal job in terms of how you've, you've cultivated that type of environment. Jarlath, for our listeners, any advice to them, as they look to consider their own future way of working post-COVID? Any advice, or steps, or things they should watch out for? And, and of course, our listeners are across all different industries, right?

Jarlath Dooley: Yeah, I think it's common to all industries. And I may be wrong. But I think, you know, we've seen the next stage of change that followed things like the Industrial Revolution, and the internet and the breaking of that office-based homogenous 9-to-5 experience. And the last four or five years of the employee experience movement, which really concentrated on your experience from once you came in the door at 9 o'clock till you went home in the evening. I think that that has to move on a level now. And this this is just speaking from my own personal experience in Version 1 is that we got to move from treating humans as employees, and we need to go and start treating employees as humans.

So it is going beyond the 9-to-5 and getting into, you know, who is this person, what is their circumstances, their environment? It is taking a far greater interest in the overall wellness of that person and not just the productivity 9-to-5. And looking at how the organisation can extend not only its help, but also its responsibility to ensure that they're considering the whole person. And I think that will see a much bigger payback than employee experience ever saw. So that's our current thinking. And that's how we are approaching it.

And I think in terms of trust and environment, if you can extend beyond employee experience to a human experience, then I think it will hugely add to that. But also, I think it will help with the threats like the global sourcing threats I talked about, because that human experience is what will create the belonging and the connective to the organisation in a disparate remote-type environment or a hybrid environment.

So I think that's what I would encourage people to shift their thinking, from employee experience to human experience. And the second thing is to look at how you design your organisation digitally, and that that means redesign in a lot of areas. It's not just moving things online. It's a brilliant opportunity to step back and say how can we do this better and faster and create a better experience for people along the way? So there's kind of the two things I would say to people are imperatives.


Cathal Divilly: Jarlath there’s really great advice there. It's great to speak to you again: mind you, virtually! Hopefully we can have a coffee soon, but really appreciate you joining us Jarlath.

Jarlath Dooley: No always a pleasure, Cathal. Thank you.


Cathal Divilly: Thanks a lot. Talk to you soon.