Business case studies
Case Study: Brewin Dolphin
Brewin Dolphin is a wealth management firm employing around 2,150 staff, and managing over £50Bn in assets across 30 offices, of whom 40 are based in Glasgow. The business continued to grow during 2020. No staff were furloughed or made redundant.
2. Adjusting to lockdown
All but two offices were closed completely, and everyone bar about 30 staff moved to home working. Digital investment over the previous few years meant the business was already geared up for remote working. Staff dialed in through a virtual private network, and the business functioned as normal, but remotely.
But even for a business already accustomed to flexible working, this was a major shift. Before lockdown, about 95% of staff had been office-based so experience of working remotely was not extensive.
Key to a smooth implementation was central support, for managers and for staff, and the importance the leadership placed on communication.
The business focused on the human impact of lockdown, and prioritised the physical and mental wellbeing of the staff. Within the first couple of days, staff were offered £100 each to help with adjusting to home working; and health and safety assessments were carried out, where appropriate.
“It was up to leaders at a local level to make sure we could cascade the information we were getting from the business, so that we could reassure people, deal with all of their concerns. It’s all about information, isn’t it? When these things happen.”
Because Brewin Dolphin has to ensure its service to investors is maintained, individual targets were not reduced during lockdown. However, people were working from home, many with care responsibilities or home schooling. It was an advantage that line managers have no more than eight in their teams, and they had the autonomy to offer very personalised support.
“Particularly with schools being off, that had a big impact on families, so we were very insistent that people had to deal with those things first and then fit in the meetings. As things have been adjusting over time, they’ve been able to deal with that a bit more. So people have probably extended their working day, but had more flexibility during the day.”
Leaders were open about the challenges facing the business, and themselves personally. Frank communication across the business paid dividends in engagement.
“We had these great calls where different Execs would come on, just chatting to say 300 staff members, to say ‘this is what we’re doing’ and just being as honest as they could. Also [they] were talking openly about the bits of lockdown they were struggling with. It just felt really human and real.
“The feedback from the staff opinion survey is that engagement has been really high, and interestingly, whilst a really difficult situation, staff are generally saying they actually feel closer to the business.”
Prior investment in IT enabled the initial seamless transition to working from home. New digital processes resulted in efficiencies and productivity increased, despite the challenges of working in lockdown.
Not everyone enjoys working from home
Line managers had to be aware of the impact of isolation, or of not having a suitable or safe home environment, or simply of personal preferences, and offer appropriate support.
Managing performance remotely was NOT a challenge
Managers had been used to having their team in the office, but because teams are small, people knew each other well, so trust when it came to remote working was not an issue. They have realised that managing performance and flexible working are two very different things and have to be handled as such.
Volume of comms to begin with
Getting the balance right with comms took time, but the result was improved, more thoughtful, communication between senior managers.
“I would say that at the initial period, it probably felt as though we had too many meetings, and then thankfully, we all relaxed, adjusted and adapted.
“Between the senior employees in the office there was more communication because you had to do it that way, because you weren’t seeing folks in the office.”
How to deliver new business, without face-to-face meetings
Brewin Dolphin deals with financial advisor firms, whose clients’ assets they manage. Making the firm’s own internal resources available to clients as value-added services (for example, around building staff resilience, or making better use of social media) has built goodwill and supported continuing new business development.
“We very quickly geared up to saying, how can we support these people who give us business who are also business owners, who have their own challenges, and who are also adapting to working from home…”
4. Flex in the future
Expect hybrid working to become established as the norm
“It will be more flexible, but not at the expense of productivity and development. So that’s evolving, but all those difficult questions are getting asked just now. It won’t be everybody working in the office all the time, and it won’t be everybody working at home all the time, it will be some sort of half-way house, depending on people’s styles of jobs, their work life balance, whether they are business winners or support staff.”
Flexible working, especially hybrid patterns, will enable the business to support employee wellbeing and mental health.
“[A couple of my team] said to me ‘I’m really enjoying working from home. When lockdown ends will there be an option to be more flexible?’ I didn’t even have to think about that twice. Of course, because if you’re telling me that for your wellbeing, productivity and general happiness levels, it is going to be better for you, and therefore we’re going to get the best of out of you if you work from home a day or two a week, no problem. The ability to embrace the concept of agile working will be key to our success in the future”
Better use of technology will improve quality of life and also reduce business costs.
It’s been proven that targets can be met, and productivity maintained or increased, without spending time travelling for in-person meetings. Although some face to face will continue, especially for establishing new relationships, less travel is likely in future, saving costs and time.
There will be much less presenteeism
The equality of everyone working from home has broken the assumption that presence equates to performance.
Cross-organisation communications will be retained and developed
The whole-organisation communications that were initially simply a response to lockdown have proved their worth, in breaking down silos and enabling increased cross-organisation sharing and learning.