In 2015, business incubator Bill Gross gave a Ted Talk that ranked ‘timing’ as the single biggest factor in start-up success. I doubt very much that the research included any company responding to a global pandemic, but given that the number of new UK businesses registered in the third quarter of 2020 increased by 51,269* it would be an interesting research extension.
These new business registrations amount to a 30% increase when compared with the same period last year, so evidently there is an encouraging flip side to the economic and private gloom of Covid.
The pandemic enforced seismic shifts in working practices, but with it a host of opportunities for entrepreneurs who can respond to new consumer demands. Those that succeed will most likely, as Bill Gross’ research found, have not only got a great team and a great idea but critically have timing on their side with a market ready to ignite.
I reflect on this Ted Talk because in 2020 the importance of timing was demonstrated in not one but two different areas of my professional life. At the outbreak of Covid in April I was appointed to the role of Managing Director at FBC Manby Bowdler, a leading Midlands Law firm. Colleagues and my wider business network generally sympathised with me on the unfortunate timing but very quickly (and I am naturally a glass-half full kind of person) I could see the opportunities that the pandemic presented.
I joined FBCMB in 2015 as the company’s first Sales and Marketing Director. Until then I had worked entirely in finance for Lombard, the asset finance business of Royal Bank of Scotland. At the age of 19 I began work as a Sheffield University placement student and over the course of 20 years climbed the ladder to become Head of Sales Development, operating out of Birmingham.
My appointment at FBCMB marked a significant shift in the company’s business objectives to reach new target markets and an open-minded approach to bringing in non-lawyers.
Thanks to the firms responsive senior leadership team I was able to begin a transformation of the sales infrastructure and quickly introduce new management systems to improve overall efficiency.
A longer term programme of technological transformation also began in 2016 to put more investment in technology and specifically artificial intelligence systems that were beginning to take the heavily based paper-led legal sector to new levels of automation. Our timely start to digitalisation/automation undoubtedly supported our transition to remote-working practice and the company’s growth in 2020.
However, I did not fully appreciate the impact of working from home on our staff. Without the physical office, by May I started to notice how the blurred boundaries between professional and personal lives were affecting the well-being and, ultimately productivity, of staff. At the outset it was predominantly junior staff who were most affected by technology overuse but by the end of the year it applied across all levels.
Evidence shows that working from home results in longer working hours. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in the finance and legal sectors workers frequently work up to 18 hour days, being unable to switch off completely for anything other than sleep.
On Zoom meetings I could see how bombarded staff were. They were on a video call yet their mobile would ring, or there would be a constant background ping of email and other work notifications.
Not only had we transferred all of their work online, through the Intranet and document management systems, but staff were also constantly interrupted with messages, emails and notifications via numerous technical devices. The initial flexibility of remote working was basically becoming a life sat in front of a screen and that had to change for the health and well-being of all FBCMB staff.
And this is where I refer back to the factor of timing and in particular the launch of a new business to meet a need exacerbated by the pandemic. Since 2016 I had worked with digital transformation specialists SixTicks on a number of FBCMB projects and the owner Stephanie Henson had also noticed her team experiencing ‘tech overload’ from home working. Unlike myself, she had successfully addressed the challenges.
Working in the IT sector, her team was even more exposed to the ‘always-on’ culture of checking emails and taking calls out of office hours so I was keen to hear how she had managed to pull the plug and consciously disconnect from tech.
My observations and questions led to Steph collaborating with myself and marketing expert, Kate Oakley, to look more closely at the UK’s relationship with technology.
And yes, you’ve guessed – the launch of the UK’s first dedicated company to helping individuals and businesses achieve a better tech/life balance.
Remote-working caused a very specific set of problems and working with HR professionals, psychologists, IT experts and communication specialists, techtimeout is uniquely positioned to help UK workplaces enable better tech habits at work. The business has already delivered workplace programmes, tools, and resources to improve teamwork and promote positive health and wellbeing across a number of industries.
Powys County Council, Biscoes Solicitors, Amber Energy, Moneypenny and LawNet staff have all implemented techtimeout initiatives to build better relationships with technology – ultimately improving staff engagement and productivity.
Participating businesses begin the programme with the techtimeout10 challenge, encouraging their employees to take time off their technology for 10 days in a row. Successful completion helps the company achieve techtimeout ‘Aware’ status and from there they can move through the programme finally achieving the techtimeout ‘Accreditation’ over a period of 6-9 months.
Feedback so far has been encouraging with comments including “the concept has redefined my life. I am now leaving my phone on the side and my screen time is down by 90%”,
“It’s helped me focus more on productive tasks rather than aimlessly scrolling through my phone” and “I definitely found the challenge beneficial! I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and that I could finally relax and properly ‘shut off’.”
The techtimeout team are also working with Aston University’s Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute to better quantify the amount of carbon participants save when they reduce their screen time.
If you are looking for solutions to help your teams develop a healthier relationship with technology or want to find out more about techtimeout’s workplace programmes, tools and resources
please contact Neil Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org