As part of our Look Up From Lockdown campaign, we’ve invited senior leaders from our clients’ organisations to reflect on their experiences and learnings from addressing the challenges of the pandemic, and to look ahead to how their organisations will be returning to the office. Having found the insights from others fascinating, we thought it was time we shared our own views.

Here, Rob Smith discusses his and Scott Logic’s experiences through Lockdown.

How would you say your organisation has fared during the pandemic?

Despite weeks of planning, the initial lockdown in 2020 was still surprising – like us, I’m sure few predicted the breadth of its rules or the duration. I for one fully expected the whole thing to be over by June – wishful thinking!

At Scott Logic, we were very fortunate in that our long-established and proven regional delivery model meant we were already equipped to move seamlessly to fully remote, home working. We don’t use contractors, and therefore everyone was already equipped to securely access our systems, and this certainly helped. Importantly, we could rely on dedicated, hard-working individuals from every part of the business, who were determined to ensure the continuity of our services.

I was the last person to leave the London Office in March 2020 and cycle the eerily empty streets of London to home. By then, the rest of the company was already comfortable in the new modus operandi.

A small number of our customers scaled back activity as they assessed the consequences of lockdown, and as a result our revenues dropped in Q2. But ultimately 2020 was a growth year for us, and also laid the foundations for a great 2021 – already we are forecasting over 25% growth this year. So overall we fared extremely well, but I’m pretty sure we’re all now looking forward to a more open, relaxed summer.

What would you say have been the biggest challenges, professionally and/or personally?

I’m sure the biggest challenge for all of us has been the lack of face-to-face contact. We were already accustomed to using video conferencing on a day-to-day basis, but not to the level of intensity that lockdown demanded, and now with the absence of regular screen breaks. On a personal level, I found the working patterns exhausting. I missed watercooler conversations, coffee chats, and client meetings – my word of the year for 2020 was “relentless”.

I also realise my wife and I are in the fortunate position of having separate spaces to work in at home, and a garden to escape to when the weather permits. As we return to a new normal, which will heavily feature more flexible working, it is essential that we remember that many don’t share these luxuries, and that office working provides an escape, and important social interaction.

What would you say have been the biggest opportunities/unexpected positive outcomes?

Lockdown has demonstrated conclusively that remote working is effective, and that productivity can increase under different models. During lockdown, we’ve successfully kicked-off new projects in clients as diverse as the DWP, Saxo Bank (in Copenhagen), NatWest, Dun and Bradstreet (in the States) and the Scottish Government; and we’ve seen countless organisations rethink their approach to office accommodation and flexible working.

At Scott Logic, we’ve always delivered projects remotely, and we see this experience as an opportunity to push the boundaries further. In the future, our offices will be configured to better support collaboration, and project teams will be self-determining, deciding themselves how best to organise their working patterns to best deliver value.

What effects do you think the pandemic has had in relation to diversity and inclusion?

It’s difficult to be definitive on this as the impact has yet to be realised, but we fully expect new flexible working arrangements to make it easier to balance life commitments, and this should help everyone on a day-to-day basis. Will this be positive for diversity and inclusion? I hope so. Greater flexibility in the working environment should naturally lead to greater diversity in the workplace, but we will have to see how this pans out. We’re determined to do everything possible to make it a positive change.

As a leader, how have you coped with the challenges of this unprecedented year?

I’ve really missed face-to-face time with my team, and I’ve been very conscious of the isolation felt by others, even those with their families around them. At the beginning of lockdown, I introduced a daily standup meeting for our team, which had as much focus on social interaction as it did on work. At the beginning of the week, we’d discuss what we’d done over the weekend, and at the end of the week, what we planned. We talked a lot about the things that don’t really matter: the weather, TV, films, books, exercise; and we told a lot of rubbish jokes. Anything to keep spirits up.

The meeting helped retain the sense of “team” rather than a group of individuals working from home, and allowed me to gauge the mood, spotting where individuals may need more support. Ultimately, I think it brought an already geographically dispersed team closer together.

What does the transition to the New Normal in the post-vaccine world look like for your organisation and will you carry forward any new ways of working?

As mentioned earlier, the biggest change for Scott Logic is the introduction of new flexible working patterns, which will be self-managed by delivery teams. It heralds a whole new era, and it’s exciting to see how it beds in and adapts over time. I’m also looking forward to seeing how the office spaces are reconfigured to support the new working patterns. Already, our new Leeds office has been configured to facilitate flexible working and collaboration, and I can’t wait to see it (particularly the roof bar, where I plan to collaborate with a few beers).

How, if at all, has your organisation been able to give back to the community during the pandemic?

When I joined Scott Logic, one of the things that most attracted me was its commitment to social impact and inclusion, and it was great that this focus remained through the year. We continued to support the Altitude Foundation through a very difficult period for the charity; and we provided a pro bono team to NHS Digital, to work on COVID-related data projects.

However, the thing that pleases me most was our use of furlough. Early in the year, when a number of projects came to a premature stop, we utilised the government scheme to protect the jobs of our consultants. As the year progressed and the business grew, the need for this support diminished. In November we agreed, with a unanimous board decision, that we return all of the government money we received through the scheme. It’s an example of the kind of decision making that is so intrinsic to Scott Logic’s values – the very thing that attracted me to the company in the first place – and still fills me with immense pride.

When you look back over the last year, what are your organisation’s biggest achievements or the thing you are most proud of?

2020 saw some significant milestones for Scott Logic. Undoubtedly, the one we’re most proud of was the award to deliver the Beta of the Scottish Government Payments Platform. Having already delivered a successful Discovery, POC and Alpha, the win was testament to the quality of the work, and the open, collaborative working environment we have created with the ScotGov teams.

The project is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s digital transformation, and we’re delighted to be a key part of this.

As you look to the year ahead, what are you most excited about?

As I mentioned earlier, we grew during 2020, and laid the foundations for accelerated growth in 2021. We are already exceeding demanding targets this year, and conservatively forecasting growth in excess of 25%. With our new CEO on board, it’s exciting to see how Scott Logic will shape and mature; the opportunities it creates for our colleagues, and the new recruits currently coming on board.

Of course, most of all, I’m looking forward to spending an evening in a pub with a group of friends talking absolute nonsense.