The challenges of hybrid work in tech companies: Reintegrating women into the workforce, post-parental leave

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Article by Jamie Turner, Vice President People & Talent at IDnow

It’s no secret that bringing people back to the office has been a challenge for employers nearly everywhere following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The battle is front and centre for many companies and isn’t limited to just a few sectors or geographies. The UK is no exception to this, as recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate: 14 per cent of employees still worked exclusively from home in May 2022 (compared to 22 per cent in February 2022), while the proportion of hybrid workers rose from 13 per cent to 24 per cent in the same period. In other words, more than a third of the UK workforce (38 per cent) is working either fully remote or in a hybrid setting.

Productivity and flexible work in tech companies

Even though tech and software businesses might be best equipped for remote or hybrid work, simply because the work itself is conducive to office or home environments, many of us have struggled to find ways to bring employees back and set up hybrid working schemes that satisfy all sides. This is especially noteworthy since IT professionals have worked remotely even before the pandemic. Particularly for developers, the quiet of their remote surroundings and flexibility to work at any hour can be beneficial for productivity. This has been demonstrated by research, where 68 per cent of developers stated that they are able to get more meaningful work done while working remotely from home, compared to only 32 per cent who said they are more productive when they are fully in an office environment.

Productivity from a home office is not entirely surprising.  Research from back in 2015 already showed that people can be very productive in a work from home setting where we saw the first signs of home office employees being more efficient than their office-based colleagues. And while working from home certainly brought advantages for employers in terms of productivity, it also improved the work-life balance of employees drastically. Three-quarters of people polled by the ONS stated that working from home improved their work-life balance. Plus, it allowed greater flexibility especially for working parents. A win-win situation, for most.

Accommodating parents in a remote work setting

This greater flexibility is also reflected in another statistic: according to recent research in the UK, just one in ten women working from home planned to return to the office. This may very well be because of the need to adjust to balancing domestic responsibilities vs. work during the pandemic. Now, in the face of returning to an office, understandably new parents ask themselves if having their child in day-care in order to go to an office is worth it, especially when taking into account commuting time and the money spent on the childcare services. This is especially true for women (who typically have the longer parental leaves of the two parents) and for those women who spent some or most of the pandemic on parental leave. The preference is a setting where they are closer to home and their children, but is that indeed the best thing for the new parent?

In fact, we even saw an increase in the percentage of mothers who considered leaving the workforce entirely post-Covid due to the additional stress the pandemic created. The decision to return to work is daunting for any new parent, since it is usually the first recurring separation from the child. So, to convince one to leave their home now, after having the proof that working from home can work out and offers increased flexibly for domestic responsibilities, the work must be convincing in and of itself. It must be worthwhile and fulfil a greater purpose and/or provide an environment for enrichment.

A recent Harvard Business Review article on the value of the office cited that:

  • 85 per cent of employees would be motivated to go into the office to rebuild team bonds.
  • 84 per cent of employees would be motivated to go into the office if they could socialise with co-workers.
  • 74 per cent of employees would go to the office more frequently if they knew their “work friends” were there.
  • 73 per cent of employees would go to the office more frequently if they knew their direct team members would be there.

That just proves that people do make the difference! Office environments can foster that for women and new parents.

Reintegration into workforce post-leave

It is especially important to enable dialogue for recently returning parents to reintegrate into the company, particularly after a longer parental leave. Real human interaction in the workplace, without a digital interface or a screen, connects colleagues to one another and it increases trust and camaraderie. This is especially important for new parents. In my experience as a mother of two when returning to the office environment, the small talk that took place, actually brought great value to me and my family. It inevitably led to conversations around day-care integration and child developments, and even getting advice on things that had never come up before as new parent. Sharing tips, ideas, networks and connections to resources, shops, and services, tactics from experienced parents, etc. all came to me from talking with colleagues. This sharing and connecting makes the transition back to work from leave smoother, on a holistic and human level. It sheds light on what the new parent is going through and brings teams to better understand one another.

This also applies for COVID reintegration…a leave we ALL are returning from.

As a tech company, we want to allow women with families and all employees to continue the routines they have set up during the pandemic and provide structures that work well for both for the children and the parents. Which is why we set up a structured, mandatory hybrid model and encourage our staff to embrace working from home partially and return to the office partially with a clear and particular focus on reintegration and team connectivity.

It may seem obvious, but the office environment lends itself to the natural chit-chat about things that are going on or have gone on while being on leave. Team and organisational changes may be obvious, but the backstory, the reasons, and understanding what it means for future developments all come from being part of a change while it is happening. But when learning about changes only after they have happened, one needs the time to digest and acquaint themselves with the change. Such conversations are naturally missing from the agenda of online, “scheduled” meetings. Reintegration needs time and spontaneity. It is a change process in and of itself. In isolation and distance, reintegration will suffer.

We have created so many new ways of communicating since the beginning of 2020. Just think about how the workplace norms in a hybrid setting have adapted over the last two years. Anyone who may have been on leave during these times will need to get reacquainted and accustomed to these new norms and make sure they do not get left out.

Last but not least, a routine and a professional environment can be good for all professional development. Even just the act of dressing and preparing for work in a professional setting can be healthy as it signifies the return to a routine. When at home, work responsibilities can be left at the office, and the focus can be on domestic and/or family responsibilities. Separating the two in the early stages of return to office reintegration can be a healthy step especially for new parents facing the feeling of being pulled in so many directions at once, and therefore feeling unsuccessful at it all.

Making the most out of being “at the office”

Working from home in a hybrid arrangement, also means making a deliberate effort to be around others on the days spent in the office. In practice, employees need to identify the essential in-person meetings for which collaboration is key and then make them happen. Plan office days according to others that will be there at the same time, go to the shared spaces, have spontaneous meetings, drop by desks and make the most out of being at the office.

Conclusion

It’s our belief that having a mandatory, standardised hybrid-working model and a clear focus on providing both structured and unstructured team and social connectivity is the foundation for ‘normalised’ flexibility that is available at all times, because a transition back to work brings with it new situations, new realities and unexpected needs. Only with connectivity and flexibility can an employee and an employer count on one another.

Step by step, balance will be restored for us all, but it takes the structure from the employer and determination of teams collectively to make it happen.


"It was a great platform to test my ability to return to a full-time work environment" | Morgan Stanley's Return to Work program

Debajani Mishra

Debajani Mishra, an alumni of Morgan Stanley’s Return to Work program, reflects on her journey and what she’s achieved.

Morgan Stanley is more than a leading financial services firm. With offices spanning 41 countries, talented and passionate people across the globe bring excellence and integrity to everything they do. Diverse employees work together, to deliver exceptional ideas and solutions to the world’s most complex challenges.

To find out more about Morgan Stanley’s Return to Work Program, click here.

What is your current role?

I am a Transformation Lead and an agile coach for the Enterprise Technology and Services division within Morgan Stanley.

What attracted you to the Morgan Stanley Return to Work Programme?

Prior to taking a 3-year career break, I had worked for 15 years across the Retail, CPG and Telecom industries, playing various non-technical (project manager, portfolio manager, release manager) and technical (Developer, Tech Lead, Team lead) roles for agile/non-agile projects including some key strategic initiatives.

I took the break to take care of my children and mid-way into the break, I tried my hands at an entrepreneurial initiative as a Product owner. However, I always enjoyed working in a corporate setting and came across the Women Returner website, which is where I spotted Morgan Stanley’s Return to Work Programme.

What in your mind makes this programme unique?

The programme structure was filled with opportunities to develop skills and network within Morgan Stanley, not just the Technology division but across the firm. We were given the opportunity to engage with senior leadership who shared their career stories and gave us valuable insights into both their success and setbacks. The team that I worked with were all very welcoming and supportive.

This gave me a sense of inclusion as even though I had taken a career break, I was not viewed as less capable.

The uniqueness lies in the ‘genuine intent’ of Morgan Stanley to leverage this sort of channel for recruitment.

What skills did you gain through the programme? 

I got the opportunity to work with the Change Management Team, understanding the various governance processes the team performs which is essential for keeping Morgan Stanley’s IT systems risk free. I also learnt about the different levels of risk management in the firm.

We were given access to learning portals such as Pluralsight for technical self-learning.

Besides the day job, I got involved in the Toastmaster club to improve my public speaking skills and confidence. Additionally, I was involved in a few ‘giving back’ initiatives which was a great opportunity to hone my presentation and inter-personal skills.

I am particularly passionate about gender diversity in Technology and involved in a lot of initiatives such as Computing in schools, AppsforGood and Step In Step Up, which aim to improve the pipeline of women in technology. Internally within Morgan Stanley, I help drive the recognition of women through internal and external industry awards which helps promote female talent.

What did you find most rewarding about the programme?

The projects I worked on gave me an opportunity to leverage my existing skills and experience. I was offered three different opportunities to choose from; one of which I felt very passionately connected to, which later led me to my current role as an Agile coach.

Morgan Stanley taking my passion into consideration when placing me really helped me to build on my confidence and strengthened my self-belief.

How did you benefit from the flexibility on offer from Morgan Stanley? 

The programme was a great platform to test my ability to return to a full-time work environment. I had the flexibility to work from home 2 days a week, which was fully supported by my manager and the team. This enabled me to still be able to drop off and pick my children up from school, be present for their sports day or an evening performance and most importantly stay in touch with my children’s school community.

In addition, Morgan Stanley places great importance on Employee Wellness and Wellbeing with several initiatives such as ‘Additional holidays in the summer’, extended child-care support, emergency backup care and several other family benefits which can be leveraged for making work life balance easier.

What advice would you give those thinking of relaunching their career?

Work-life balance is possible. We all have transferable skills and how we use those to get the job done is what matters. Have an open mindset to develop new skills and build out your network. I came across several colleagues within Morgan Stanley who are in a similar situation to mine. This gave me encouragement and confidence during the Return to Work programme.

There is a great network of formal and informal mentorship, such as coffee catchups that are available to everyone. These are great ways to expand your network. I get a lot of very useful and practical mentoring advice on my career, as well as work life balance tips from other women and men who are in a very similar situation to mine.

What is next for you and your career?

Morgan Stanley is a great place to explore career opportunities. The firm’s focus on mobility enables you to explore new opportunities globally within the firm. This is evident from the tenure of some of my colleagues, who have been at the firm for more than 15 years in different roles. As a Technology division, our focus is on Innovation, Effectiveness and Resiliency. I am looking forward to establishing myself as an organisational coach and a technical SME to be able to contribute to this goal.


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The STEM Returners Index 2022 | STEM Returners

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The STEM Returners Index is an annual survey with UK STEM professionals who are on a career break, attempting to return to work or recently returned.

We know that STEM professionals on career breaks face hidden barriers when attempting to return to work. The STEM Returners Index aims to further understand these barriers, track the progress UK STEM industries are making with solving them, and shine a light on the change needed to create fair opportunities for all.

This year we are pleased to launch the 2nd annual STEM Returners Index, based on a survey completed by over 1000 STEM professionals in April 2022.

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT

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Recruitment bias preventing talented engineers from returning to work after a career break

Returning to work, recruitment bias, Unhappy woman with resume rejected by employer vector flat illustration.

Bias in the recruitment process prevents STEM professionals who have had a career break return to employment, according to a new survey by STEM Returners.

The STEM Returners Index, published on International Women in Engineering Day, showed bias against age, gender and lack of recent experience to be the main barriers to entry.

The Index asked more than 1,000 STEM professionals on a career break a range of questions to understand their experiences of trying to re-enter the STEM sector.

of women feel they've experienced bias in recruitment

of women think childcare responsibilities are a barrier to returning to work

of men more likely to be victim of age-related bias

Nearly a third of women said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender compared to seven per cent of men.

Despite 39 per cent of females wanting to return to work due to children now being of school age, 40 per cent of females still feel childcare responsibilities are a barrier to returning due to lack of flexibility offered by employers.

In the survey, men (46 per cent) were more likely to be victim of bias because of their age compared to women (38 per cent). Bias also appears to become more prevalent with age, with more than half of over 55’s saying they have experienced personal bias, compared to as low as 23 per cent in younger age groups.

The Index also asked returners about the impact of Covid on their experience. 34 per cent said the pandemic made getting back to work more difficult than it would have been already. It would also appear that for many people, Covid was the catalyst for a career break that they might not have taken otherwise, as 36 per cent said Covid was a factor in their decision to take a career break. Redundancy was also on the rise year on year as a reason for career breaks according to the results.

STEM Returners has conducted the STEM Returners Index for the past two years. The programme helps highly qualified and experienced STEM professionals return to work after a career break by working with employers to facilitate paid short-term employment placements. More than 260 engineers have returned to work through the scheme across the UK since it began in 2017.

Speaking about the findings, Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners, said, “We know that the engineering sector faces a significant skills shortage and yet this group of talented and dedicated individuals are still overlooked.”

“It’s disappointing to see that 66 per cent of STEM professionals on a career break are finding the process of attempting to return to work either difficult or very difficult and that nearly half (46 per cent) of participants said they felt bias because of a lack of recent experience.”

“This situation is being made even harder with more redundancies and more people wanting to return to work due to uncertainty about the economy and the rising cost of living leading to a wider pool of potential returners.”

“There is a perception that a career break automatically leads to a deterioration of skills.”

“But the reality is, that many people on a career break keep themselves up to date with their industry, can refresh their skills easily when back in work and have developed new transferable skills that would actually benefit their employers.”

“Industry leaders need to do more to update recruitment practices and challenge unconscious bias to help those who are finding it challenging to return to the sector and improve diversity and inclusion within their organisations.”

DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT
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23/06/2022: WeAreVirtual: Return from maternity leave courageously | Verena Hefti

WeAreVirtual, Verena Hefti

Returning to work can be an incredibly difficult transition to make. In this practical session, Verena Hefti FRSA will share how to return from maternity leave courageously. 

In this webinar, Verena will share:

 

– practical things to prepare as you return from maternity leave
– different options on how to best settle back into work and make the transition easy
– some tips on making sure to make sure you are still able to progress your career with a young baby
– pitfalls to avoid and what I have seen work well from supporting more than 150 parents on their return to work

About Verena:

 

Verena Hefti is the CEO and Founder of the award winning Social Enterprise Leaders Plus. She set up Leaders Plus in order to support leaders with babies and young children to continue to progress their careers.
She believes that no one should have to choose between becoming a CEO and enjoying their young children. She stands for supporting parents to fulfil ambitious career dreams which she believes is essential to achieving gender equality at the top. Verena is a self confessed career development geek and spends a lot of her spare time reading about the science behind career progression.
She won several awards for her work with Leaders Plus including the Prime Minister’s Points of Light Award.
Verena is the podcast host of the popular Leaders with Babies podcast.


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Have you re-entered the STEM sector after a career break? Help STEM Returners understand the challenges faced by those returning to work

woman working on her laptop, searching for new jobs, returning to work, WeAreTechWomen jobs

Have you returned to the STEM sector following a career break? Tell STEM Returners about your experiences.

STEM Returners has launched its annual survey to understand STEM professionals’ experiences of trying to re-enter the sector after a career break.

The STEM Returners Index is open to all STEM professions who have had a gap in their career or who are attempting to return to work or who have recently returned to work.

The survey is anonymous and will ask a variety of questions including reasons for a career break, what challenges were faced when attempting to return to work and what impact COVID-19 had on finding a role.

This is the third Index launched by STEM Returners, which returns highly qualified and experienced STEM professionals to work after a career break by working with employers to facilitate paid short-term employment placements.

STEM Returners was set up by Natalie Desty in 2017 after she saw how hard it was for STEM professionals who had been out of employment for a period of time, to re-enter their profession.

Natalie DestySpeaking about the survey Natalie said, “We know that the UK engineering industry needs hundreds of engineers annually to keep up with demand, but despite this need, there is a pool of STEM professionals on a career break who find it incredibly challenging to return to work – recruitment bias being the main barrier to entry.”

“We want to get more insight into the challenges STEM professionals face when wanting to return to work and how the last two years of the pandemic has effected that process.”

“We can use this valuable information to work with employers and improve their recruitment processes and enable them to see that a gap on someone’s CV does not automatically lead to a deterioration of skills.”

“I would like to personally encourage any STEM professional who has had a career break to take part in the survey and tell us about their experiences.”

“Our last Index had more than 750 respondents, this year we’d like to get more than 1000.”

The 2022 STEM Returners Index will be open until 30 April 2022.

TAKE THE SURVEY

In last year’s survey, both men (39 per cent) and women (43 per cent) said they felt they had personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to a perceived lack of recent experience.

Nearly a third of female respondents said they had personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their gender while 22 per cent of respondents said they feel they have personally experienced bias in recruitment processes due to their race or ethnicity. Additionally, 67 per cent of BME respondents said they are finding it difficult or very difficult to return to work.

The STEM Returners’ programme aims to eliminate these barriers, by giving candidates real work experience and mentoring during their placement and helping them to seamlessly adjust to life back in work. Programmes have been set up with internationally renowned firms including BAE Systems, Leonardo UK, Babcock International and SSE, with more than 200 candidates joining programmes across the UK.

Katie Ireland, STEM ReturnersGeoscientist Katie Ireland made the difficult decision to leave her role to focus on raising her children.

As her children began to get older, she wanted to return to the role she loved. But unfortunately, returning to work after a break was not an easy process.

Instead of recognising that Katie’s time out had made her a more rounded geoscientist, the career break penalty meant she faced rejection when trying to re-enter the industry.

She explained: “My five-year career break had a major impact on how I viewed myself and ultimately my confidence. My confidence was at an all-time low, my memory and ability to retain information was poor and this didn’t come across well. It was hard to explain to others and so difficult for them to empathise.

“I came across the STEM Returners role with Ørsted and thought the term “STEM Returner” perfectly described what I was trying to do.”

Katie took part in a returners programme with Ørsted and has now been made a permanent member of staff. With decarbonisation and the move towards renewable energy, Katie’s career path will be one that is well-trodden over the coming years in STEM.

“The opportunity (at Ørsted) has changed my career in so many ways. Not only has it allowed me to return to work after a career break, but it has given me the chance to transition from oil and gas to the renewables sector.”

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Supermums launch new campaign to help mothers bounce back from the pandemic

MumsSkillUp Campaign, SuperMums

Supermums has launched new campaign – #MumsSkillUp – to help mothers bounce back from the pandemic.

Women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis than men’s jobs. During the pandemic women have been disportionally effected by job losses and increasing pressure within relationships which has increased the divorce rate and the need for financial independence.

That’s why, during October, Supermums is on a mission to mobilise a global community to help women get back on track across the world, financially, economically and emotionally.

The campaign will help to shine a light on the career opportunities that exist for women (and beyond) that can give them flexible, well paid, resilient careers and financial independence. They will also be sharing positive new stories and sharing educational stories and information to help mums bounce back.

Supermums was founded on a mission to help mums secure a flexible well paid resilient career. The idea originated from our founder Heather Black when she personally experienced the trauma of losing a business and career when new economic and political changes were imposed beyond her control in 2011 which proved to be a turning point in her life. She had to find a way to bounce back and to launch a new career path.

This led Heather to completely change career and retrain as a Salesforce Consultant were she was earning £5k ($10k) a month working part time remotely. She felt that if she could do it then others could do to and she launched Supermums to spread the word in Nov 2016. Fastforward to now she has helped nearly 500 upskill and retrain across 9 different countries.

Speaking about the campaign, Heather Black, Founder, Supermums said, ”I was just about to start a family, we wanted to move out of the city, I didn’t know anything about working in the tech space.”

“I didn’t even know what a CRM was for many years until someone spent the time showing me but then my eyes were opened to a whole new world!”

“I started using a CRM for my business and saw it’s value first hand to improve processes and reporting.”

“I decided I wanted to learn more and consider CRM consultancy as a career choice.”

“Fast forward to now and I’ve got a financially rewarding career that gives me financial independence and stability as a single parent.“

FIND OUT MORE

"Twelve weeks later I was delighted to secure a fulltime role" | Morgan Stanley's Return to Work program

Vivian Obodo - Morgan Stanley Return to Work programme

Vivian Obodo, an alumni of Morgan Stanley’s Return to Work program, reflects on her journey and what she’s achieved.

Morgan Stanley is more than a leading financial services firm. With offices spanning 41 countries, talented and passionate people across the globe bring excellence and integrity to everything they do. Diverse employees work together, to deliver exceptional ideas and solutions to the world’s most complex challenges.

Applications for the Morgan Stanley 2022 Return to Work Program are now open. Find out more and how to apply below.

What is your current role?

I am an Associate in Morgan Stanley’s Technology division in London, where I’m a Product Owner within the End User Technology department. I am currently responsible for supporting the adoption and implementation of Agile & DevOps practices and principles, acting as a liaison between the product and stakeholders.

What attracted you to the Morgan Stanley Return to Work Program?

I started my career in 2012 as an IT Business Analyst for an IT Consulting firm in Nigeria, primarily supporting enterprise IT solutions and applications for clients. In 2017, I left the workforce as a Senior Business Analyst to start my family after making a move to London, which was important to me in the absence of having family nearby to help with childcare. While on my 4-year career break, I had my two children and completed a Master’s degree in Information Systems at Kingston University. I was keen to stay ahead of the ever-evolving technology trends, so I also completed a certification as an Agile Foundation Practitioner.

During lockdown and while staying home, I had a lightbulb moment and wanted to achieve more for myself (not to say that fulltime parenting is not a great choice, my career break was a busy and fulfilling experience), so I started to think about the next step in my career. I stumbled on the Morgan Stanley Return to Work Program while searching online and it looked like it could be a fit for me. When I received the offer, I was extremely excited to join and relaunch my career at Morgan Stanley.

What in your mind makes this program unique?

What makes the Morgan Stanley Return to Work Program unique is how well thought out it is. I was assigned a work buddy who was amazing and a Return to Work Alumni buddy who had been through the process in a previous year. My manager also was incredibly supportive and helped connect me to other previous career returners within the Technology division.

The onboarding experience was great – the training was well detailed and helped me early on to really understand Morgan Stanley’s vision as a business, the firm’s values and how these translate into the day-to-day working culture. We had a host of Return to Work coaching seminars with Women Returners which I found to be really insightful. I had frequent sessions with my manager to discuss how I was doing and openly discuss opportunities to learn and develop. Our discussions helped me to feel that I made valuable contributions to the team early on and I was able to apply my skills to achieve the goals that we set. Personally, and professionally, the Return to Work program provided the support I needed to confidently relaunch my career.

What skills did you gain through the program?

As a Product Owner, I had access to Agile Immersion Training, Product Owner and Scrum bootcamps which brought me up to speed. I also had access to learning resources such as LinkedIn Learning which helped bridge the knowledge gap I needed to perform my role.

I joined at a time where there was an ongoing firmwide Agile Transformation which provided a great learning opportunity. With that, I got exposure to the most recent market trends which added to my expertise in Agile, Scrum, Kanban and organizational change management.

In terms of support, I have also leveraged some of the firm’s employee networks to meet people with similar interests such as Women in Technology and the Family Network. The latter also provided me with a network of other parents who shared tips on how to cope with childcare and advice on working from home while home-schooling in lockdown. Another great benefit at Morgan Stanley, is that the firm also provides emergency childcare, which is a brilliant idea for days when there is no one to watch the children.

I made some brilliant connections with other colleagues who were part of the 2021 Return to Work cohort. The group were, and continue to be, a great support to each other, as we can share similar experiences and can always reach out to one another.

What did you find most rewarding about the program?

What I found most rewarding was the fact that there was a lot to learn. I am constantly surrounded by people with brilliant minds who are passionate about their jobs. For example, prior to the program I had never heard of using an agile roadmap tool called Roadmunk. Yet, by the end of the program I was able to support my Product Owner chapter in building roadmaps with the tool. It’s been great to establish new skills and put them into practice in a professional environment.

What advice would you give those thinking of relaunching their career?

My advice would be to go for it and keep an open mind. Be kind to yourself, stay confident and leverage as much support as you can. There are many transferrable skills from your career break that you can apply. I would also recommend networking as much as you can and maintain a positive outlook.

What is next for you and your career?

Twelve weeks later I was delighted to secure a fulltime role as a Product Owner in End User Technology department, by this point I had bridged the gap and settled into the rhythm of corporate life. I especially enjoy interacting with team members and various stakeholders across the firm. I love learning and every day presents a new opportunity to learn and grow. I am optimistic and look forward to a great future at Morgan Stanley.

Click here to learn more

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How to successfully head back to the office | Key insights from technology leaders

open plan office, people working an office

With lockdown restrictions having been lifted in the UK, many organisations are looking to return to the office.

But while some employees want to jump straight back into the workplace, others are reticent. So, how can businesses help alleviate concerns about the return to the office?

Below, business leaders from a variety of tech companies have shared their reflections on what the future of work will look like and how best to welcome workers back into the office.

 

Clare LoveridgeClare Loveridge, Vice President & General Manager EMEA at Arctic Wolf

“As teams gradually return to the office, many businesses are still working out what this means for their future operations. For many, this is bringing a whole new set of cybersecurity challenges, which in some cases are even more complex than going fully remote was a year ago. If worker devices continue to move between different networks, their company security can quite easily be compromised, identity and access management becomes harder, misconfigurations are easier to miss — all increasing cyber risk.

It is therefore vital that organisations, of any shape and size, are actively taking the time to review their security practices and protocols, with a hybrid, often disparate networks, in mind. Businesses must ask themselves these questions; how fast they can react to an incident; how quickly they can pivot from investigation to containment, and how well do they know the environment and what runs within it? Only then can freedom from cyber risk be truly realised.”

Simon O’KaneSimon O’Kane, Head of EMEA at Asana

“With pandemic restrictions having lifted in the UK, many Brits are evaluating how and where they want to work. At Asana we champion an office-centric approach, while other organisations may prefer to return to the office, shift to a hybrid working model or remain fully remote. No matter how companies choose to work, prioritising tools that enable clarity and accountability for all their staff is key, no matter where, when, or how they are working. But, without a clear blueprint for hybrid work, providing clarity and collaboration across the organisation is a massive obstacle.

In response to the sudden shift to remote work, many companies rushed to introduce a plethora of apps. But 18 months on, it’s clear that teams spend far too much time switching between apps to source information and updates. In fact, Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index showed that knowledge workers switch between 10 apps 25 times per day since shifting to remote work, resulting in longer hours and higher burnout rates across the country.

To tackle this issue and prepare for the next wave of work, organisations need to evaluate and streamline their tech stack. Businesses must eliminate the tools they don’t use while integrating the ones they do into a single platform that removes information silos and drives clarity even when distributed across locations and time zones. Now is the time for organisations globally to reset and reimagine the way they work for the better.”

Asam AkhtarAsam Akhtar, Channel Manager, UK at Envoy

“One thing I’ve learned from the pandemic is that employees want and expect the freedom to choose how, when, and where they work. And for many, that means a hybrid work schedule.  They also expect to return to a safe environment.

To encourage a speedy return, leaders should invest in tech that keeps people safe. Tools that can track workplace density to help ensure social distancing. Technology that can verify vaccine status – or can survey and screen employees before they come into the office.  Rather than relying on gut instinct, use workplace analytics to help guide your next steps. From employee health surveys to aggregated data on how often employees are going in, these insights can provide valuable guidance in setting policies and reconfiguring workspaces.

Data on how many people work on-site each day can help managers right-size the office layout and minimize wasted space.

This kind of data-driven decision-making is going to be critical to rebuilding an office model that works for everyone and offers employees the right resources to do their jobs effectively.”

Dominic AllonDominic Allon, CEO at Pipedrive

“The ‘work wherever, live wherever’ landscape is here to stay and is only the beginning of a continued digital evolution. IT improvements are often confused with true digital transformation. Upgrading your hardware and software is just the start, but acquiring maturing technologies that use innovative data processing methods to automate practices that transform your business for the better is the real future.

Businesses globally have proven throughout the pandemic that a rapid shift in digital mentality is possible, and it is vital that we continue on this trajectory. Successful organisations will continue to adapt to their users’ and customers’ needs. State-of-the-art machine learning tools can now monitor, in real-time, trends, variations, anomalies and foresee any potential errors. Automation is not only what your business needs, but it is what your customer wants.

Replacing human interactions with artificial intelligence will allow for a faster, omnichannel and data-backed positive customer experience. More importantly, these tools will continuously adapt their process and provide feedback and actionable insights about customers back to your business, which can be used to improve marketing, sales and customer service practices. Unifying valuable information to create a customer-centric approach will continue to play a vital role for organisations of all sizes in the coming years.”

Stuart TempletonStuart Templeton, Head of UK at Slack

“The pandemic has shown us that the office is no longer the ‘gold standard’ of productivity. Less time wasted in rush hour commutes means more time to spend on things that really add value. Flexible work also helps retain employees who need to shape work around life in different ways. Businesses must therefore use this moment to take learnings from the past year, and reimagine the future of work. This is crucial as our recent research of over 1,000 UK knowledge workers, examining current working habits and how employees feel about the future of work, found that the majority (42%) of UK employees who have worked from home in the last year are concerned they won’t have the same level of flexible working in the future.

While every organisation will approach this challenge differently, staying aligned must remain the top priority for all business leaders. Now that physical offices are so much less a part of the employee experience, having a digital headquarters—a central place for work and social interactions—has become critical. It’s not just a reflection of flexible, asynchronous work; it’s also an enabler of it.”

Damien BrophyDamien Brophy, Vice President EMEA at ThoughtSpot

“The future of work will be characterised by insights at the core of everything. Not only will every employee be expected and empowered to find insights, but connecting systems together means those insights will trigger actions across the business. This is the evolution of work. Not just more informed, but insights powering processes.

It’s people enabled by modern technology (machine learning, AI, and automation) to drive innovation, uncover hidden insights, and provide business value, using self-service analytics to answer urgent problems.

A world where users can simply ask and answer questions without sifting through data. The future of work will revolve around AI-driven insights using algorithms to uncover hidden insights automatically, surfacing answers to questions that staff didn’t think to ask, yet.

With this freedom we are all empowered to provide more business value using less time and effort. Imagine spending less time writing reports and more time refining business processes, improving operations, reducing financial risks, simply doing the job much better, and adding ever-more more value. Where workers can change the way business is done and how their customers are served through smarter insights, quicker answers, and deeper, more inclusive thought, it’s positively redefining the future of work.”

Jamie MilroyJamie Milroy, CEO & Co-Founder, DASH Rides

“September marked a gradual return to the workplace for a huge raft of employees as organisations kick-started their return to the office strategies. Whilst the transition back to a physical workplace will be welcomed by many, enterprises need to demonstrate that they are empowering people with safe and sustainable travel options.

After almost two years of being in and out of national lockdowns, our relationship with the daily commute has irrevocably changed. Employees are increasingly calling out for new modes of travel that improves their health, wellbeing and productivity but their environmental footprint too. With many UK workers citing the daily commute as a barrier to a full-time return to the office and 82% stating they would like their employer to use COVID as a catalyst to revamp their employee benefits, such as travel or cycle to work schemes, we’re already seeing sustainable travel become central to the future of work.

Attitudes around work have fundamentally changed and as we begin to build a ‘new normal’ in our working lives, employees are placing a higher value on workplace benefits that address these challenges. Perks and benefits that are both easily and immediately accessible and help contribute to healthier, more fulfilling and sustainable lifestyles will be increasingly important as we rebuild. At DASH Rides, we’re working with companies to help supercharge their workplace travel through the cycle to work scheme. Each ride, on one of our e-bikes, is carbon offset by 400%.”


DWP Digital Hack2Work event featured

DWP Digital’s Hack2Work - Using tech to help people get back into work

DWP Digital Hack2Work event

DWP Digital delivered its first virtual hackathon earlier this month. Hack2Work brought together more than 150 people from a wide range of backgrounds to develop digital solutions focused on helping people back into employment following the pandemic.

The hackathon was a competitive event, where multidisciplinary teams tackled real-world problems, developing ideas and bringing them to life by creating prototypes.

Staged over three days using an MSTeams platform, the event began with keynote presentations from the events senior stakeholder Jacqui Leggetter, DWP Digital’s head of integration, and senior labour market operational lead, Nick Mellor from the National Employer Partnership Team. Paul Francis, Universal Credit Director and DWP Digital CDIO Simon McKinnon also addressed hackers via video.

Insights into real-life employment issues

The issues were brought to life for participants in a number of ways. Ahead of the hackathon, DWP colleagues worked with a previous jobseeker, who set up his own business in film production after the pandemic left him without secure work in the TV industry. The result was this video about Shay, a young person who was given a job placement through DWP’s Kickstart scheme. The video provided hackers with insights into the problems jobseekers are facing post-pandemic. Kickstart is aimed 16-24 year olds at risk of long term unemployment. It provides funding to employers to support the creation of new jobs.

‘Lightning talks’ from DWP colleagues set the policy and operational context covering a range of topics from jobcentre work coach challenges to DWP Digitals Innovation Lab’s objectives. A number of external speakers were also invited to present, including the employer TalkTalk, who covered the relationship between employers and the jobcentre and the National Careers Service who explained how they partner with DWP.

Once the scene was set, hackers were invited to pitch their ideas around the problem statement and what they’d learned from the presentations. As a result, 11 teams were formed based on the pitch ideas. The teams comprised of DWP colleagues and digital specialists from across the tech sector including: GDS, NHS, CreatorSphere, Solidatus and sponsors MongoDB, ScottLogic, Opencast, Kong, Red Hat and IBM. Hack2Work also had external participants including global attendees with one hacker saying: “I joined from the US. I enjoyed the event very much, waking up at 2:45am here was worth EVERY second.”

Developing solutions

Securing the support and sponsorship of six DWP suppliers, Hack2Work provided an online platform for participants, access to software and engineering sites, technical help as well as entertainment and prizes.

Numerous impressive concepts and prototypes were presented on the final day, including the two winning teams’ ideas: a solution to bring jobseekers’ skills and experience together in real-time and a self-service app to enable jobseekers to match their skills and apply for local jobs in their own time, rather than depending on work coaches.

Karam Agha, a Computer Science student, who was part of one of the winning teams said: “I really enjoyed watching our team’s idea go from words to a full design and prototype with mocked functionality in such a short time.”

The idea was ‘RouteToWork’, a tool that ties together functionality from various government services, such as the National Careers Service and data accessed using the Office for National Statistics APIs, to match jobseekers to the opportunities that are relevant and local to them.

Karam added: “I also learned about MongoDB‘s Atlas and Realm and used Red Hat‘s OpenShift to deploy and host our application. The site we built follows Government Digital Service design and WCAG2.1 accessibility standards, tested with Axe accessibility tools, to ensure its usability and has a user interface that’s familiar to our target demographic.”

‘RouteToWork’ was built using the gov.uk prototyping kit. Nunjucks was used as a template and it was written in JavaScript and HTML, with an Express.js server running the whole thing.

Reflecting on the ideas that were created over the three days, Jacqui Leggetter said: “I was blown away by the quality of the entries. Everyone was working remotely alongside people they’d never met (even virtually) until the first day of the hack, and yet they still came up with incredible ideas and developed them to a really impressive standard. The amount of working code we’ve seen is unprecedented for a hack event. It was difficult to choose a winner but the amount of thought that had gone into both the front and back end made the two joint winning teams stand out.”

CDIO Simon McKinnon said he was “amazed by what had been achieved in such a short time.” He also spoke about how impressed he was that every team had created working code.

DWP Digital is always on the lookout for new talent. To find out more about career opportunities visit DWP Digital Careers site or subscribe to the DWP Digital newsletter keep to update with the latest roles, news and information.