The Godel POD: Recruitment in a Hybrid World with Mark Allen Group

Welcome to The Godel POD. This series is about “Recruitment in a Hybrid World”. In this episode of The Godel POD, we are joined by Gemma Spence, Head of Project Delivery at Mark Allen Group.

Sarah Foster: Hi I’m Sarah, I’m Client Director here at Godel and I’m joined today by Gemma. Gemma, would you like to give a quick intro?

Gemma Spence: Hi Sarah, thanks for inviting me. My name is Gemma Spence, I’m Head of Delivery at Mark Allen Group. I deal with digital projects across the group, I work with the internal team, and also with some external agencies when needed.

Sarah Foster: So today we’re going to be talking all about recruitment within a hybrid world, something that clearing, we’re facing at the moment. So, how was recruitment changed at the Mark Allen Group since the pandemic.

Gemma Spence: Well, obviously, everything has come online, even though saying that for the digital team, I think it’s actually been an advantage. We have a number of office, we have a London office, a Kent office, an office in Wiltshire and an office in Guilford. But our digital team are actually based out of Kent. And so what this meant is that it’s really opened up a lot more opportunities when it comes to kind of recruiting people, because we don’t have those geographical constraints that we had before. So it’s actually been a good thing.

Sarah Foster: So obviously that has found a way that you created a different talent pool for your hirings. And with that kind of looking further afield location wise, are you, given the knowledge that you’ll be 100% remote, or you probably having one or two days a week? How are you managing that?
Gemma Spence: That’s really interesting. The three new people who’ve joined our team recently are 100% remote, which is a completely different direction to how we’ve been before, but I’m actually really excited about it. We’ve got one person based in Sheffield, one person based in Leamington Spa, and we’ve just recruited a UX/UI designer who’s based out Birmingham. What’s really exciting for me is that these people would at least have been on the table before, so I think it’s really worked to our advantage.

Sarah Foster: And how did you find these people. did the interviews take place on teams or zoom or anything, face to face?

Gemma Spence: So they came through an agency and we do advertise internally, and we have an internal recruitment manager but these particular people came through an agency, our recruitment process we interviewed by teams.

Sarah Foster: And how did you find that in regards to gauging the workplace culture and if they will fit with your team?

Gemma Spence: Do you know what Sarah, maybe this is slightly, not controversial but maybe it’s a different opinion, but I actually think that sometimes, interviewing people at home, has its advantages. And mean there are some people who are great at given interviews, and they go into the office and you know they’re happy to pitch themselves. But sometimes, just by the nature of what they are sometimes interviews, that can be quite nerve racking. I think even though an interview is a formal process, I always try and make sure that people feel as comfortable as they can do. And one obvious way of doing that is to do it in an environment that they feel comfortable and where’s more comfortable in your living room.

Sarah Foster: Yeah, I totally agree. And did you change the format of the interview, when you conducted them with people coming through?

Gemma Spence: Not so much, there’s obviously a test part. And then the general interview. I know you’re talking about workplace culture. I think it is never a science and even if you have someone in the office, there’s always a risk that they wouldn’t be a match. However, I’m a big believer that if you can make people feel as comfortable as they can feel, you kind of get a sense of their personality and I think you can kind of gauge whether they’ll fit into the team or not. Another thing I think is really important. I know most interviews like at the end, people say oh have you got any questions for us, but I think myself in the head of development we always try and make it very clear that this really is a two way conversation, and halfway through, we’re like, Okay, now it’s your turn to interview us, because I think it’s so important that it’s a fit both ways.

Sarah Foster: Yeah, I totally agree and I think having that, like you say, in an interview environment is not your normal working environment anyway.

Gemma Spence: Exactly, I think if you know, say you were heading up the sales department. I think there is something quite good about getting someone in an environment they’re not familiar with, so that they can pitch themselves and pitch the products so you can see how they behave under stress in a foreign environment, but obviously in development teams that’s not really that relevant. They don’t make a sweeping statement I think a lot of developers, you know, they’re very methodical they have attention to detail, you know they’re not always kind of massive extroverts, and I think you know kind of using team so all zoom or any other provider. I’m not sponsored by Microsoft [laughs]. I think it makes it more of a level playing field, because at the end of the day you know you want someone who is good for the role you don’t want someone who’s good at giving interviews.

Sarah Foster: Yeah, I totally agree. And since this kind of hybrid world of being able to work from home 100%, how’s the business adjusted to that? Have you opened it up to current employees that can be 100% remote?

Gemma Spence: So at the moment I think the idea is you know we do a couple of days a week from the office. This will kick in until next month. At the moment, the offices have been more or less open the whole time. Interestingly, in my role I speak to lots of different people all over the company. Some people are in now five days a week. Just because they like working from the office they’d like that distinction. Other people prefer working from home. Yeah, I think it’s a really interesting time and I think I think organically, we will find a way that works for everyone.

Sarah Foster: Yeah. So, with the new members of staff that you’ve currently hired. How is that gone about with the onboarding process? So have you changed anything in particular, or kind of welcome packs or email so everyone know that as a new starter or anything to let them know that the office is available, should they want to go in COVID procedures and any anxieties about going into the office?

Gemma Spence: Yeah, so we have an internal recruitment manager who started the group not so long ago. She’s amazing. She’s got a lot of work into this. So we have an like an enhanced onboarding processes, where each new starter there’s an induction for an hour and a half where they get to meet the CEO told about the company, the history, all their questions are answered in terms of going into the office and any fears regarding COVID. We also have a wristband system. So, if you want people to stay away from you, you can put a red wristband on if you’re like hey I’m down with that but maybe just like an elbow bump you go Amber, and if you’re up for a hug you can put on a green wristband, so I think that’s quite a good way, you know, that you can know what people feel without having to kind of have that conversation which I think sometimes can be a bit awkward.

Sarah Foster: Yeah, that’s a really good idea and was that something that she thought of herself or she seen it?

Gemma Spence: I don’t know whether that’s an initiative that came from HR actually but yeah I definitely think it’s a good one.

Sarah Foster: Yeah, definitely, because any kind of eradicates any of the awkwardness.

Gemma Spence: Exactly.

Sarah Foster: I love that. So, obviously, you’ve got new starters that working remotely, how would you ensure they feel part of the team?

Gemma Spence: I think it’s a basic thing. I think a daily stand up are a good first step. I think seeing the whole team every single morning if it’s just for like 10/15 minutes ago from the work is a good start. Before the pandemic, and every Friday, of course, the company we used to have beer and wine, on a Friday afternoon at the end of the day, about five o’clock. Obviously, that’s not something we’ve been able to do. Recently, however, we just within the digital team have introduced something, which we’re going to call thirsty 30, which means that at the end of the day, every other Friday will take 30 minutes at the end of the day just to catch up. The rules are we do not talk about work. And the reason why we’re doing that is you know, just so that we can get to know each other like on a personal level.

I think working with teams, I mean I personally I really enjoy working from home, but I found that every time I speak to someone, it’s for the purpose of I’m answering queries or we know we need to talk about some kind of functionality or something specific, whereas I think working from home you kind of missed all those, those moments I guess when you happen to make a little of coffee at the same time. And so we’re hoping that this kind of this thirsty 30 a little bit difficult to say, I think it will help kind of build the team. I think the first one was a success like we started at the end of the day and I noticed on Monday. Oh, today, that the meeting went on for like over two and a half hours. And I noticed that people at the end were new starters so I think it’s a good first step to team building.

Sarah Foster: Yeah, definitely. And I think it makes a difference doesn’t it having that those water cooler conversations, they’re not business related. You’re building those relationships with them strive for better business.

Gemma Spence: Exactly, exactly. Also we were speaking about like say three of the well, the three new sources you’ve joined at are 100% remote, so we’re also discussing kind of having a get together a physical get together like a few times a year because I think that’s so important.
Sarah Foster: Yeah I was going say it is something that you have done regarding team bonding? And there’s, I mean, there’s multiple channels that you can do that now. So, I know we use a company where you can, It’s all remote team building, so it’s not face to face, you will work as a team but you’re in your own individual locations is quite good that’s come out of this kind of global pandemic. So we kind of the global pandemic. Has there been any new roles that that Mark Allen Group have created?

Sarah Foster: And how do you feel the kind of the whole team, the whole. How do you feel the pandemic has affected in regard to retention?

Gemma Spence: I think in terms of the whole group it’s kind of difficult to say. I know within the digital team. We’ve had a few people leave, but I think that’s kind of more of an organic process of people just leaving. However, there was one developer front end developer who’s, she’s left to become an author, and I don’t know, the pandemic kind of made her think about what she wants to do and maybe that was a reason why she left to pursue something completely different. We’ve also had like another dev leave and then come back after a month.

So I think overall it hasn’t really affected retention, either one thing I would say is that there are so many jobs within the kind of digital space at the moment. I think one thing that has happened, and actually I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s forcing teams to kind of walk their talk as it were, you know a lot of teams, a lot of digital companies, they sell you know we have these values with this kind of place we pursue new technology we perceive best practices. We know it’s so easy. There’s so much talent. It’s so easy for people to find new jobs I think it’s, it’s kind of focusing every team kind of needs to do what they, they kind of say they do. I think it’s a good thing I think it’s going to raise standards. I think it’s going to cause us to be more innovative and look at, just in general look at new way of doing things and new ways to improve.

Sarah Foster: And do you feel, having this kind of hybrid world has increased the output velocity of your teams.

Gemma Spence: I think over time it well. I think at the moment, we are in a period of transition, but I can feel yeah, we’re definitely going to beginning quicker, as you know, as the months go on for sure. Yeah, for me personally, I feel way more efficient, because before, like I said we have like numerous offices. I was based at the London office primarily, but even now kind of arranging catch up with stakeholders, you know we’re a rapidly growing business and it often, you know there wasn’t kind of meeting rooms available or trying to coordinate with someone or you’re meant to have a meeting someone happens to be at another location. Whereas now, just doing it over teams, it saves so much time.

Sarah Foster: So, since the pandemic, everything has changed. You’ve started to understand where the velocity is in your team. Is there anything that that you may have something you may not is there anything that you’ve struggled with, within this kind of improvement within a hybrid world? Is there anything that you’ve looked at other tech leaders or thought leaders for advice for them?

Gemma Spence: And I want to say, like maybe struggle is not quite the right word however something that I become very aware of is when you have a team and you’ve worked with them in real life. And then, a global pandemic happens, who happens to be working online. I mean the last one kind of glitches but it’s kind of an easy transition because you know each other, something I’m very aware of is to put myself in the shoes of a new joiner. I have my own way of working, I’m the kind of person if I have an idea or if I want to speak from about someone, I just click the camera button straight away and I just start speaking and it’s something that, I’m aware that not everyone works in the same way. For example, some people just like to get involved in deep work and they’ll prefer to schedule like catch ups at certain times of the day. So I think it’s really important actually maybe within the first week of a new starter joining just to have that conversation with like a communication about communication, like how best can we collaborate? How best can we work together based on both of our approaches?

Gemma Spence: We don’t have any new roles. However, I would say we kind of have kind of new procedures, as it were, I think when the pandemic started everything kind of went into maintenance mode. I think just having that time it’s allowed us just to take some time and kind of really look at what we’re doing and just make sure that what we’re doing is really, you know where we’re focusing our efforts should be focused. So I’m going to take some positives from that. And then, new UX/UI designer, I mean obviously we’ve had designers before who’ve never had someone specifically, specialising UX/UI so I mean that’s part of the new kind of restructure of a team.

Because as a new starter, I mean there’s no reason why solo couldn’t say, but, you know, maybe the first week you don’t really feel comfortable putting “Do Not Disturb”, you know, as you’re setting, and maybe you just take all the calls, but really the way you work is that you just want an hour or two of quiet time so you can get your head down. So, all those things you don’t really think about where in the office, it may be more obvious over teams or zoom. So I think it’s worth having those conversations as well just make sure that you’re both on the same page, and to make sure the other person also feels that they can talk to you about anything if they’ve got any issues. I think that’s really important.

Sarah Foster: Yeah, that’s a really great piece of advice I think a lot of people can take, take some kind of something away from it. Is there anything else in regards to any hints, tips or tricks that you’ve found that you can share?

Gemma Spence: Oh, I’m still learning myself. One thing I will say, and actually it was something that came up from Max, I think you’re going to be speaking to him as a separate interview, but he mentioned that he uses health checks and that’s something we’re definitely looking to employ too. One thing I found, I’m sure I’m guilty of it too. Like sometimes you know when you look at people on screen. That kind of faces a blank, and it’s kind of difficult to gauge you know they’re happy, they’re not happy. Is there an issue, or is it just, they’ve got screen fatigue?

And so we’re going to be implementing this kind of as part of a retrospective, not just about how, what, Where and how efficient we aren’t etc but also just to look at the morale of the team. And just to keep it anonymous, just so we can track that and if any issues come up, you know, we can have an honest and open conversation about how we can improve and things we can do to address any issues that that the team have.

Sarah Foster: Well, it’s been great to speak with Gemma and it’s been really insightful to hear how things are at Mark Allen Group. Is there anything else you would like to add before we end?

Gemma Spence: Just to reiterate, there have been many horrible things about this pandemic, but I do think there are some silver linings and I think it’s an exciting time to build and grow and improve a team for sure.

Sarah Foster: Well thank you for your time.

Gemma Spence: Thank you Sarah.