How a software company has innovated its way out of lockdown [Q&A]
Lockdowns have presented a challenge for all businesses and it's clear that some have handled the situation better than others.
We sat down with Neil Everatt, CEO of Selenity to discuss how the business has been coping during lockdown and what changes to productivity and innovation he’s seen.
BN: What effect has the coronavirus pandemic had on your business?
NE: Ultimately, all businesses around the UK have felt the effects of the pandemic and here at Selenity we’ve been no different. We made the decision to put 20 percent of our workforce on the Government's furlough scheme, a figure which we are continuing to reduce as business starts to return to 'normal'. It was very important to me that our colleagues continued to feel valued and involved in the business. That’s why we decided to call it 'standby' as opposed to furlough, with a view that colleagues would return to work in the coming months.
BN: How has the transition from office-based working to remote working been for you and the team?
NE: Following the Government's advice and daily briefings, we were well prepared for the transition and facilitated practice runs to make sure that both our remote systems and colleagues could cope with the new way of working.
As a business we already had Microsoft 365 rolled out right across the workforce, so Microsoft Teams was a natural choice for us. It's allowed the wider business to continue communicating and enabled us to keep in contact with all our teams.
For those put on standby we've used Workplace, a Facebook product that has allowed us to continue communicating with all of our colleagues. Workplace has given us a direct and consistent channel of communication which has proved to be very valuable during this time.
We did come across some challenges in the beginning such as accessing our client services and payroll systems from home. However, modifications were made so that colleagues could access these systems remotely from any location.
BN: In terms of productivity, how have you fared during this period?
NE: With more people working from home, we've actually seen an increase in productivity. Face-to-face meetings have now been replaced with virtual ones and there has been a more efficient use of time across the board. Before the pandemic, we didn't use video conferencing very often but it has now become the go-to form of communication for our teams.
Tools like Microsoft Teams allow our colleagues to work flexibly and that is something I'm encouraging. As long as important deadlines are met there is no reason why our employees can’t fit their work around their family and home life commitments. It all forms part of what I like to call 'the life work blend' which we have created here at Selenity. All colleagues are now full-time home workers but the office is still there, providing flexibility for staff who need it, this way of working is proving to be very successful for us.
BN: How has the increase in productivity impacted innovation?
NE: We wanted to take advantage of this period and use it as an opportunity to accelerate the development of new features for our products, enhance the user experience and stay ahead of our competitors.
Developing software is all about creating products that people actually want to use, so the way you design them must be collaborative. Being away from the office hasn't impacted our product developers at all. In fact, design and development discussions have actually increased through our use of the remote working model.
BN: Have you been able to continue innovating though this time?
NE: By maintaining our technology team throughout this period, we’ve been able to forge ahead and accelerate the timeline for updating our case management solution, Selenity ER Tracker. We set about rebuilding the entire reporting engine, adding in new functionality to allow customers to extract even more rich data from the system by building custom reports. This was no mean feat but the team worked diligently and the whole project was carried out remotely. It just goes to show how well our colleagues have adapted to home working and their commitment to giving our customers the best possible experience.
Last year we introduced OCR (optical character recognition) technology to the Expenses Mobile app. Our customers have been taking great advantage of this feature which is helping them to record receipts digitally, without the need to be at a computer. Ultimately, these enhancements to the user’s experience contribute towards our mission of creating fun and fast expense claims.
BN: How have you been supporting your staff?
NE: Everyone at Selenity has been so dedicated during this time and I really wanted to thank them personally for all their hard work. I wanted to send them gifts through the post, similar to giving them a virtual handshake. This idea ultimately led to the development and creation of a new company called Colleague Box -- a way to send employees a thoughtful gift directly through their letterbox.
Although the idea started out as an experiment, we realized that it fed nicely into our focus on employee well being. It worked so well that we decided to expand it out to clients and it is now being used successfully to boost morale and togetherness during home working. What started as a nice thing to do for our colleagues developed into a flourishing start up and we’ve seen some amazing responses to the initial launch. We're excited to see where we can take Colleague Box.
BN: What future trends do you expect to emerge from all of this?
NE: It's an uncertain time for all businesses so it isn't clear what direction the future holds. With the success of remote working and rise in the technology sector, I expect this way of working to continue with more businesses offering a flexible working model.
Being a digital business and offering online services, Selenity is uniquely positioned to continue supporting our customers during these difficult times. In terms of software and technology developments for the future, I envisage there being more application integrations, with different types of products working together more than they have ever done before.