Podcast Ep 107: Welltel chief people officer Denise Hayes and the company’s CTO Kevin Paige talk about putting a workable shape on hybrid.
Across the world people are slowly and carefully returning to the office, with the majority of offices proclaiming they are now hybrid workplaces. However, there are many different takes on what hybrid actually means and many employees are fiercely protecting the remote working routines they embraced during the pandemic.
Founded in 2007, Welltel is one of Ireland’s fastest-growing business communications providers. The business last year announced 25 new jobs spanning project management, product management, pre-sales, sales, marketing, and engineering in cybersecurity, IT, and data networking. Currently with 180 employees, CEO Ross Murray recently said Welltel is on an upward growth trajectory, supplemented by a combination of strategic acquisitions and organic business growth.
“I think we’ve settled into a pattern and we’re quite happy with the blended approach”
The expansion follows a year of growth through strategic acquisitions of Irish and UK players, beginning with the €3m acquisition of Novi in July 2020, the €5.5m acquisition of Intellicom in August 2020 or €5.5m followed by the €8.5m acquisition of Capstone in April last year.
Some of Welltel’s high-profile Irish customers include Permanent TSB, KBC Bank Ireland, An Post Insurance, Three Ireland, and AA, as well as a number of local authorities. The company has strong links with industry partners including Palo Alto Networks, Fortinet, and Avaya, and is also a Microsoft Gold Partner in Cloud Productivity and Cloud Small and Mid-Market Solutions.
Find out what employees want
Hayes agreed many companies have different takes on hybrid working with different amounts of time in the office required. However, what Welltel decided to do was survey the company’s staff to ask them what they wanted.
“We wanted to get people involved in it. What we got was a mixed bag of responses; some wanted the availability to go in but didn’t want it to be part of a rigid pattern. While others wanted the connectivity of being back in the office and seeing others face-to-face.
“So what we’ve come up with is a blended approach to working as opposed to hybrid working. What we want to achieve is the best of both worlds. You can be at home, run your own day, do your school runs if you need to. But then when we do meet it is about connecting, collaborating, interacting and trying to come together with a real sense of purpose. It’s about dialling up the social aspect of it as opposed to just coming in for meetings or sitting at a desk.”
She said that various roles differ and Welltel encourages its staff to sit with their managers and come up with a plan that could work. “There is no one-size-fits-all. In this blended approach we’ve come up with three types of personalities. These include: the flexitarian, who like myself, could be living in the countryside, but may go to Dublin, Cork or Limerick once a week; the rovers who flit between home and the office continually; and then the residents who could be engineers who are needed on-site or at client sites.”
Hayes said that most employers are mindful of the ‘great resignation’ trend and aim to offset this by asking employees what they actually want. When hiring, she says it is about cutting to the chase and asking recruits what they want too.
From a leadership perspective she said that business managers need to adjust their posture and be more available than ever before. “We’ve introduced stand-up meetings and catch-ups where people can ask questions. Leaders need to be available. Culturally, it is a two-way street. People need to feel empowered. They need to know they can manage their own day and have ownership of their work. But managers need to be communicating enough to know what’s working and what’s not.”
CTO Kevin Paige adds: “It’s become more important than ever to specify the work that people are doing, set objectives and have daily and weekly progress reports and checking in with people. It’s more outcome-driven rather than the perception of someone being hard at work at their desk.”
Protecting the hybrid workforce
When the pandemic struck, many companies had to move fast to ensure staff were properly equipped with secure laptops and smartphones and crucially, VPNs. Moving just as fast were the cybercriminals who saw ripe opportunities to hit companies with targeted phishing attacks and more to steal data and potentially hold organisations to ransom.
I asked Paige how organisations can make hybrid work from a tech and cybersecurity perspective. “I think it’s a real challenge. It was a challenge before the pandemic balancing all the security controls you had to have. But it is even more challenging now. I’m starting to see a lot more security layers in terms of how an employee will access applications for the company. We’ve seen a lot of transition to the cloud.
“When applications are critical to a company, when you put them in the cloud they’re much more accessible in terms of the capability of the business. There’s an inherent capability in cloud platforms like AWS or Azure that provides a new level of security.”
Paige emphasised that organisations need to have standardisation across devices like laptops to ensure better protection as well as implementing continuous patching of infrastructure from the network to the end device.
He said that the pandemic and the rise in cyber threats contributed to a greater emphasis on identity management and multi-factor authentication. “It’s about practice and making sure that you’ve got good up-to-date products that help the end employee to operate without any stress.
“Security awareness, especially around phishing attacks is also key.”
Hayes said that Welltel is planning to move to a new Dublin headquarters later this year that will feature more collaboration spaces for employees to gather in when they are in the office. “It used to be the case that people would do away days in hotels, but now we will do that in our offices and have all our technology and infrastructure in place.”
Looking to the future, both Hayes and Paige agree that the old world of nine-to-five, five days a week in the office, is definitely a thing of the past.
“It’s just not going to happen,” said Hayes. “A lot of companies waited to see what others are doing. I think we’ve settled into a pattern and we’re quite happy with the blended approach.”
Paige added: “From a technology perspective we’ve obviously brought down the barriers around video conferencing.
“The next phase is making applications in the cloud more accessible to remote workers.
“We’re seeing a change from where remote working technologies were a stop gap and are now going to be a permanent requirement in terms of how technology is delivered.”
Main image at top: Welltel chief people officer Denise Hayes and chief technology officer Kevin Paige