Lunch hangout

Five things we’ve learnt as a start-up in lockdown

By Darren Buckle, FocalPoint COO

Being a founder makes you accustomed to dealing with uncertainty and responding to changes that can fly out of the blue - but it’s fair to say that these past few weeks have seen a whole new level of change that none of us saw coming.

So, as we adjust to new scenarios and new ways of working, we’re doing what every good start-up should do by making sure we learn quickly, adapt and embrace the new normal.

Here’s our first take of what we’ve learnt:

1. Don’t manage for the Lowest Common Denominator (aka: trust your people)

Open, trust-based policies create happier, empowered workers. It seems obvious, but policies can often be formed in response to outliers (someone behaving way outside of expectations) and very quickly a situation escalates whereby managers start treating everyone via the behaviour of the lowest common denominators in your company.

It’s imperative you do the hardest task of management and deal with your poor performers first hand and in doing so, keep the policies as open as you possibly can. Because trusting employees first until they prove you wrong is the way to forge great things together.

2. Know when to get out of the way

Here at FocalPoint, we are incredibly fortunate to work with a talented, motivated and dedicated workforce and it’s why even in times like this, we need to continue to get out of their way. The hardware, the tools, the communication methods should all be aimed at allowing people to get on with what they need to do rather than trying to enforce some dystopian archaic view of “control”. Employ great people, give them the right tools to fulfil their job and empower them - they will be productive regardless of the scenario.

3. Stay bureaucracy-lean

The past week has crystalised for us how important our core belief, formed back in 2015, remains: to use all of the tools that can support our team:

  • flexible working arrangements;
  • mobile working tools;
  • modern communication methods;
  • cloud services;
  • and coupling that with a good dose of trust and humanity.

    As business leaders, much as we may think we have the perfect recipe for goal success - ultimately, we only have one view of the challenge and the further separated we are from the skill of the task at hand, the less useful our opinion is.

    Too many generic processes stifle productivity innovation. We’ve found that time and giving staff the freedom to find the best way to complete their goals in a guidance-based framework leads to wins all over.

    4. Treat people as an extension of your family

    We’re going to have to pull together even more now. If you can show understanding, it WILL be reciprocated.

    Right now, we have to balance our ongoing drive for the success of the business with an even more important focus; that is the wellbeing of our people. I feel like perhaps we aren't doing enough, but even as an early-stage company we are giving people extra leave to ensure they are able to connect with family members who may be most at risk. We recognise and support childcare needs now that schools are operating from homes, that working-from-home was not some “only when the government insists I do it” option but a viable and sensible step in helping to minimise exposure to our staff.

    5. Be proactive and creative

    As you can imagine for a Series A funded start-up, we’ve been anticipating and planning a lot of scenarios and projections on our cashflow and expenditure over the coming months, and while there are plenty of concerns, we have also found ways to get creative with how we manage the changes that have been thrust upon us.

    We’ve been able to do two things which will hopefully make a small impact on wellbeing and livelihoods.

    1) Instead of cancelling our office fruit deliveries, we’ve redirected them to the local foodbank

    2) For our employees we have managed to redirect spend to enable us to give each of our team members a ‘working from home’ top-up payment to cover additional bills that they might incur - or for the small treats that we’re all going to need at some point in the coming weeks.

    I really feel for the organisations where cash-flow is wholly dependant upon them remaining open for business. Their ability to trade is dependant upon someone physically being there and I hope the government continues to support small businesses that will need financial aid the most.

    But for those that run offices where the only barrier to flexible working is out-dated hardware, poor business practices and archaic mindsets about how to motivate and manage a modern workforce... I hope this is a rapid wake-up call.