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The new Kyan era: Thinking fast and putting our people first

A Kyan employee's home office, featuring multiple screens showing colourful content, surrounded by plants, artwork and desk accessories.

2020 has been a shockwave that few of us could have predicted. It’s tested the mettle of companies large and small, with many business owners forced to think fast about how they can adapt.

At Kyan, it’s been a time to learn and change. Across just a few months, we’ve reconsidered how we operate as a business and how our technology teams function together. I recently gave a talk with Jisc, a not-for-profit education community, on just this, touching upon the cultural shift that we’ve felt since COVID-19 first appeared. Here’s what I covered.

Embracing a hybrid remote model

Our transition to remote has been more than just enabling everyone to work from home. It’s spurred a change in who we are, how we communicate, and how we maintain the inclusive culture that we’ve become known for. During the early weeks of lockdown, we had three clear goals:

  • Maintain an uninterrupted service to our clients

  • Continue our strong workplace culture in our new remote context

  • Support our team’s wider commitments and wellbeing

Back in the more office-centric times of 2019, we were delighted to win the Surrey Business Award for ‘Employer of the Year’. We were praised for our working environment, the opportunities and autonomy we empower our staff with, and the strong social element that we run alongside our work. We have changed a lot since then, and we’ve reassessed many of the fundamentals.

 

A red resin trophy displayed in front of other awards at the Kyan office.

 

Home is where the heart is

This is perhaps the biggest change to Kyan since our foundation. Pre-COVID, we didn’t openly push a remote working culture. Of course, people could ‘WFH’ for a boiler service or if somebody had childcare commitments. But for the most part, we were 95% office-based at our Guildford hub.

We polled our staff 8 weeks into lockdown, with 80% of them preferring remote working, and 57% feeling more productive. This wasn’t a huge surprise to us, with many of the tech businesses that we respect offering incredibly flexible remote working packages that are sometimes hard to match. By listening to our staff, we’ve been able to create a hybrid model that provides something for everyone.

There’s a degree of trust needed with any form of remote working. But it’s an exercise that very quickly repays itself. Trust your employees to do their best work in their chosen environment, and they will put greater trust in you as an employer.

“Trust is hard earned and easily lost. The gap between what leaders say and what they do must be as narrow as possible.” Colin Lange, Executive Director of Culture & Engagement, Landor

Agency uninterrupted

We’ve covered this already in our pieces on The digital products behind our business and Why it’s a great time for Saas products. Check out those blogs when you get a moment, but the long and short of it is that our switch to remote was remarkably easy, and we have our gradual shift to web-based and cloud-based tools such as Sketch, Miro and Slack to thank for that.

As a technology agency, great digital products are what we live and breathe. Thankfully, every single piece of software behind our business, whether admin, engineering or client-side, continued to work uninterrupted. Not only has this made our lives easier, but it keeps our clients happy too.

 

Two Kyan employees sat at a desk, smiling and discussing some work.

 

A sum of all our parts

Whilst we’ve moved through this as a company, we must remember that Kyan is made up of individuals. Our employees have their own unique needs, and this is something we’ve dedicated ourselves to for a number of years already. We regularly survey our staff through Officevibe, and this indirect feedback is crucially important to our inclusive culture.

This hybrid remote journey is new ground for us and there are (and will be) some things that we won’t solve right away. So to have our finger on the pulse throughout our community means we can be responsive to feedback and retain the spirit of Kyan. We can take these learnings and not only apply them to our remote approach, but combine them with a new method of ‘asynchronous communication’. Here’s a little clip on what I mean by that.

 

 

The serious business of having fun

Our high functioning teams, whether design, engineering or client services, all deserve to blow off some steam. We’re thinkers and doers, and if that’s all we did all day, it wouldn’t make for a very healthy company. Our Kyan socials, which were once physical endeavours in or out of the office, have now become online activities. Some recent examples being ‘Recreate a piece of famous artwork only using items from around the house’ or ‘Find the smallest and largest thing you can, and photograph them together’. This transition has been easy, and whilst it’s mostly a bit of larking about, it remains an important part of the glue that binds us as a team.

Offices in a socially distanced world

That being said, we do miss our office greatly. In the last few weeks, we’ve been able to open up with social distancing measures in place, so those who want to can take advantage of a change of scenery. But a socially distanced world did leave us wondering what becomes of a space that we’ve put so much love, time and energy into. We think of Kyan HQ now as more of a clubhouse. It’s open for anyone at any time (numbers permitting) to come in and get some work done, have a meeting, or even take some Zoom calls, much like I did for my talk with Jisc. It’s a community hub for colleagues and clients alike.

What’s next?

We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and each other over the last few months. We’re thankful to have a strong and understanding team who have been happy to go with the flow, but have also told us when something could be done differently. We got here not only through trial and error, but also through the community aspect of listening to our staff and ultimately striving to live up to our values – Generosity, Geekiness and Drive.

 

Kyan staff playing video games

 

If you can take away one thing from this blog, it’s to strive to live up to your own company values. If you don’t have any, it’s a good time to create some. These are ours:

  • Generosity. Make time to help each other and your clients. Share your problems and work together. This is especially important as teams become distributed.

  • Geekiness. Embrace your inner geek and don’t be afraid to show it. We all love products, books or articles. The more we show and share, the more we can learn from each other.

  • Drive. It’s infectious. Going the extra mile really does make a difference. As a company, when you all push together, great things happen.

We had to think fast back in March, and I’m sure you did too. Putting our people first has meant adapting to a hybrid remote model has been a relatively straightforward journey. But we’re keen to hear how you or your business has adapted. What’s been your greatest challenge or success over the last few months? Has your agency or brand gone through a radical change? Drop us a line or get involved on LinkedIn or Twitter. We’d love to hear from you.

We are Kyan, a technology agency that’s powered by people.