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Transitioning to working from home: Nesta continues to thrive

Transitioning to working from home: Nesta continues to thrive

Founded in 1998, with the first ever publicly supported national endowment in the UK, Nesta’s mission revolves around backing innovations that are destined to make positive change. After being established as an independent charity in 2012, Nesta has continued to evolve, pushing new ideas that tackle the challenges society faces, to grow and change the world for the better.

In its earliest phase, Nesta backed individuals whose ideas showed ambition and promise as well as the technologies it believed would make the most vital, and needed, changes. For example, Nesta supported the development of one of the earliest driverless cars which went on to be used in Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and then in the UK’s first experiments.

Since then, Nesta has discovered that its biggest impact comes from helping new fields to emerge, backing them with a mix of research, events, advocacy, investments and grants to guarantee the most positive outcome.

The Nesta story

Since relaunching as an independent charity eight years ago, Nesta has established new policy’s, pioneered new funding models and launched initiatives such as The Longitude Prize – a £10m prize to reduce the lethal rise of drug-resistant infections within a range of sectors including education, healthcare and government innovation.  Now, Nesta works on projects and partnerships in dozens of different countries, working with everyone from the United Nations and the European Commission to international charities and foundations.

But with the increase of projects and partnerships, comes a dramatic growth in the number of innovation experts and voices to be heard, particularly when making critical decisions around funding and investments. Nesta has a total of 24 board members who are spread across the globe, working in different environments. This meant that correspondence, internal documents and forms required a physical sign-off and were often sent via email, post or courier. The uncertainty of knowing whose eyes were seeing what, even if the documents were arriving to the right recipient, posed a significant risk as the organisation grew. Not to mention the overheads of printing documents and courier charges alongside the amount of time being spent unnecessarily on admin tasks.

Not satisfied with being an innovation hub that didn’t embrace the technology it was encouraging others to seek, Nesta make the decision to streamline its internal communications. Quickly, they came across Passageways, a leading provider of collaboration solutions for boards and employees which seamlessly integrated with the likes of Google, Microsoft and Zoom to make board meetings more efficient, secure and cost effective.

Nesta soon discovered the benefits of OnBoard, a remote meeting platform that enables board members to stay organised, make timely and agile decisions and plan progress in a cohesive manner, all with the reassurance of greater security.

The portal provides Nesta and its team with a complete suite of meeting tools that can be accessed anywhere, from any device allowing decisions to continue to be made even when leaders are apart.

Nesta’s chief technology officer, Sean Croghan, explained: “As an organisation with numerous projects all over the globe, we have a lot of important documents and files, as well as regular rounds of voting and critical agreements that are discussed during board meetings. Using a board portal has allowed us to access all of the files and conversations in one place, as well as continuing to follow company procedures, making our decision-making process a lot quicker, more collaborative and more secure. Even some of our board members who are used to the traditional way of doing things with a pen and paper, have been converted to the ease of using OnBoard.”

The Passageways story

OnBoard is Passageways flagship product, working through the cloud to provide all the features needed to conduct remote and in-office board meetings efficiently, transforming the way decision makers communicate with one another.

The portal adopts the real-world frustrations faced by board members ahead of and during meetings to make them more functionable and valuable.  Recently, Passageways integrated with Zoom to provide a singular experience that enables directors and CEOs to meet face-to-face directly within the platform, with no need to switch between apps.

The management software also incorporates instant messaging, board meeting analytics, synced notes and annotations, and a secure voting and approvals system combining the requirements needed by the 2,000+ organisations using the portal already.

OnBoard also offers a gold standard in Cloud Security through using Microsoft Azure. With this, Passageways is able to deliver full disaster recovery, active geo-replication, and the peace of mind board members require when making business critical decisions.

The perfect solution

Particularly in the current climate, it has never been more important to ensure that businesses can continue to run smoothly, even if that is from the comfort of its employee’s homes. A singular board portal, that can be accessed outside the organisation, is making the transition easier.

Businesses are no longer restricted by the constraints of location and anyone can be involved in the decision-making process, as Nesta very quickly learned after implementing the software three years ago.

“If we didn’t have a personalised software like OnBoard already in place and fully integrated into the organisation, we’d be scrambling around to get something in place as quickly as possible that probably wouldn’t work as well.  We’ve already been able to conduct one full board meeting, as well as several other internal meetings, during lockdown and the whole process has been easy and secure. Working with a company like Passageways that understands the struggles of remote board meetings and makes the platform fully customised to our needs has made a huge difference to the way we work and how we will continue to work in the months and years to come as we find our feet in a slightly different world”, Croghan added.

There is no doubt that the current crisis will shape the future of the workplace, with an increasing number of employees having to adapt and work from home more regularly. This is just another hurdle for board members and business leaders to face, but with the ease of a portal that combines everything, staying on track has never been easier.

Business

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key

Return to work: Flexibility, preparation and communication are key 1

By Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK

As lockdown restrictions ease for the foreseeable future, conversations across the business world are starting to turn to how employers can safely and seamlessly prepare for their workforce to return to the office.

Research from Robert Half has found that over half (54%) of employees are worried about working in close proximity to their colleagues, while a similar proportion are eager to return to the office due to loneliness working from home (45%) or concerns about missing out on career opportunities (30%).

Unsurprisingly, after everything companies and their employees have done to successfully adapt their operations and working practices to social distancing rules over the last few months, immediately returning to the old ways of working will likely neither be sensible or practical. With safety being the key priority for the ‘new normal’ of office life – communication, flexibility and preparation should be the main focus areas for employers.

With this in mind, what are the challenges and opportunities that employees anticipate as they prepare for the return to work, beyond government and industry supplied health and safety best practice? Furthermore, how can employers best support their staff during this period?

Keep people at the heart of change

It is important to recognise that your workforce has been working through an intense period of uncertainty and change for months, which can be incredibly unsettling. On top of this, working for weeks in isolation without the usual physical interactions with team members could be potentially detrimental to employee engagement and mental wellbeing.

Having adjusted to keep staff connected with one another from a distance with virtual team building exercises, video calls and daily check-ins, as teams begin working in hybrid models with some in the office and others remote, staff engagement will need to adapt again.

Managing people with greater sensitivity and maintaining positivity throughout will be crucial. To help instil a sense of normality and engagement, encourage maximum collaboration between individuals (in accordance with social distancing rules), and make sure teams feel part of company goals and opportunities through regular meetings and communication – no matter their location.

Continuing to invest in technology and offering flexibility will also be important to ensuring that people can continue to work remotely or on-site, either in accordance with their own wishes or as part of your staggered return-to-office plan.

Communicate, communicate, communicate (and listen)

Reassuring staff that they are able to safely return to the office will require continuous communication. From expectations of the physical office, to expectations of how to operate within hybrid teams, these new expectations and new workplace requirements should be communicated to all staff clearly to avoid confusion.

Regular email updates, updates on the company’s intranet and social media channels, as well as frequent town hall meetings (either online or in a smaller setting) could be key elements of an effective communications approach.

Also, consider a feedback channel to allow staff within the team to offer thoughts on their experience of returning to the office and any suggestions on improving the process. Whether on a company-wide basis or a team-by-team approach, schedule regular check-ins to engage with employees’ questions and concerns.

Maintaining open communication channels with your team will be essential for keeping up employee morale and ensuring clarity. For example, if some employees aren’t comfortable with coming to the office every day, then they should have plenty of opportunities to voice their concerns and have them dealt with promptly, respectfully and fairly.

Staggered return-to-office planning

Depending on the size of business and density of office space, maintaining home working arrangements across teams on an alternating basis could make it easier to implement safe social distancing. This involves select teams working remotely while others work on-site on any given day.

An alternating approach to remote working might also reduce the risk of staff feeling pressured or overwhelmed by an immediate return to the office five-days-a-week. After all, some families might be juggling temporary disruptions to childcare arrangements and public transport systems will likely become crowded again. So, a transitionary period will help everyone adjust to post-lockdown office working.

Finally, if you have developed your technology infrastructure to facilitate remote working, you would do well to continue to leverage these new capabilities as in all probability, a mixture of remote and at-office work will be needed for some time.

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Business

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy  

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy   2

Leading payments provider, Contis, has applied for two grants from the RBS & BCR Alternative Remedies Package, totalling £35 million.  

Unlike most applicants who will deploy funds through a single brand, Contis is taking a completely different approach. The funding will be used to drive fintech innovation in the UK by developing an off the shelf, B2B electronic and card payment technology platform for SMEs. With Contis’ powerful tech stack and regulated status, this will empower hundreds of fintechs to support the SME market with groundbreaking technologies, payments and lending capabilities. Contis today services over 800,000 consumer accounts, 14,500 business accounts and processes £4bn in transactions per year, demonstrating a proven track record.   

UK businesses are facing a challenging economic environment with the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit. As large corporations and entire sectors are affected, SMEs will play a vital role in the recovery. Contis’ approach is completely disruptive, offering three channels to maximise support for SMEs and sole traders, through three unique brands, all powered by APIs from Contis’ modular and configurable engine. 

1.       Canvas for Business 

Contis is a super-vendor in the world of fintech, offering payments through proven banking rails and card scheme capabilities including issuing pre-paid, debit and virtual cards. They’re linked to digital delivery like Apple Pay and Google Pay, and a trusted tech stack that boasts 99.99% uptime.  

With funding from the Capability and Innovation Fund (CIF), Contis’ technology and regulated services will be made available to the whole fintech community, enabling them to provide dedicated SME accounts with the latest leading-edge capabilities delivered via Contis’ wholly owned, secure, cloud-based technology and apps. Contis’ solution has a firm eye on the need for SMEs to compete internationally, particularly after Brexit, and offers FX integration as standard.  

Canvas for Business will increase competition by providing fintechs serving the SME market with technology that outstrips the big banks. Contis will also provide credit referencing capabilities and empower fintechs to lend to their SME client base through Contis’ own credit licence. Without the constraints of legacy systems, it will enable simple connectivity to accounting and payments solutions, as well as to unlimited future innovations.  

2.       Engage for Business 

Over 150 Credit Unions currently use Contis’ Engage service and technology, and hold an estimated £400 million in undeployed cash reserves. Developed with CIF funding, Engage for Business will enable Credit Unions to launch business accounts and payments products for the first time, and allow excess funds to be redeployed in the SME sector through business support loans. This will revolutionise access to funding for sole traders and small businesses. 

3.       Freedom for Business 

With CIF funding, Contis will also offer large scale SMEs a direct-to-market solution where Contis holds the relationship and provides a bespoke offer to meet the business’ exact needs. 

Contis’ application to the Capability and Innovation Fund is focused on creating the widest possible impact for UK SMEs by fulfilling their accounts & payments needs and driving innovation in SME financial services. 

Through the grant, Contis will empower over 200 fintechs and Credit Unions to provide credit, simplify payments integration into everyday business needs, offer digital credit referencing, provide budgeting tools to SMEs, enable automated payments, give predictive insight on cash flow, provide rewards to SMEs on spending, and much more. 

Peter Cox, Founder and Executive Chairman of Contis said: “Our mission is to democratise payments and financial services for all SMEs, so they’re spoilt for choice with innovative and affordable solutions that meet their exact needs. Our approach, based upon proven technologies, will broaden and disrupt the services available to SMEs far beyond the capabilities of existing providers such as the big banks.  

“By driving competition and innovation, while improving the availability of funding, our approach will increase the services on offer to SMEs and make them more affordable, therefore becoming easier for every entrepreneurial person with vision to run their own businesses.” 

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Business

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver 3

Nearly a third (32%) of consumers would switch providers if a brand’s website is unavailable for more than 24 hours

A study released today reveals the scale of omni-channel pressure brands now faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as consumers flock to apps and websites to as the priority destination to transact with brands.

The UK has experienced a huge leap in use of online services thanks to lockdown, with the public appearing to have less concern for the availability of a brand’s physical location. Research by Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) uncovers a “window of availability” that UK businesses now have before consumer loyalty changes:

  • If a brand’s website is down for 24 hours – 32 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a brand’s app is down for 24 hours – 28 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a physical store is closed for 24 hours – 20 percent of consumers would switch provider

The results by industry paint an interesting picture of the availability timeframes brands are expected to adhere to:

  • For online retailers, excluding grocery retailers – 23 percent of consumers would switch provider if they could not access online services for 12 hours, rising to over a third (34 percent) after 24 hours
  • For financial services and entertainment streaming platforms – 21 percent of consumers would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to 33 percent after 24 hours
  • In the case of online grocery shopping – 20 percent would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to one third 33 percent after 24 hours

The findings also highlight that as digital reliance increases, so will consumer expectations towards availability in the future. Over the coming two years, a third (33 percent) of consumers expect online financial services to always be available, rising to 35 percent for streaming services.

“UK consumers have become reliant on the constant availability of online services, and lockdown has only served to heighten this,” comments Chris Huggett, SVP, EMEA at Sungard AS. “What used to be a choice between physical and digital has now firmly accelerated into digital environments across various industries. As online worlds continue to outpace bricks and mortar as the face of businesses, ensuring constant availability and clear communications on downtime will be key for brands to build trust and loyalty.

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