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21st Century Work Life and leading remote teams

Brought to you by Virtual not Distant, the 21st Century Work Life podcast looks at leading remote teams, online collaboration and working in distributed organisations.

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Jun 23, 2022

David Stoddard is COO and Partner at Barnett Waddingham, a leading independent UK professional services consultancy at the forefront of risk, pensions, investment and insurance, with almost 1,500 employees in 9 offices. 

(By the way, Pilar was very impressed by their website, have a look.)

David is the Chief Operating Officer, one of 100 partners, and he leads the non-client facing areas of the business, including the transformation across the business - Work Smart. The company has 9 offices across the UK.

Pre-pandemic, the office was at the centre of the work and the hub of connection.

David and his team surveyed the employees through a regular pulse check throughout the pandemic, as they were concerned that people felt disconnected and were going through difficult times. They surveyed how people were feeling, what was working well, what wasn’t working well, etc.

Some of the things they found when they surveyed their people confirmed their expectations, like people seeing a benefit of working together, and the benefit of having more time to work in a focused way, and the work life balance that the pandemic had provided. It was also very clear that everyone’s experience was personal, and had different views on what the best ways of working were.

The team also found a few surprises amongst the survey replies, like the fact that some people had adopted pets during the pandemic and so were concerned about having to leave them in order to go to the office.

The organisation is now adopting the Work Smart framework, but with the knowledge that each part of the business is very different, eg some dispersed team which are client-facing, some teams where individuals benefit from focus solo time etc.

Clients shared much of the feedback with what they’d had from their colleagues. Clients also find the benefit of getting together in person, for example every three months, or at the beginning of the relationship. However, when there is already trust within a relationship, this is not as important, and meetings can take place online. In fact, throughout this process, they have been able to share some of their learnings with their clients, as they were also adapting to different ways of working.


The intention of the Work Smart framework is to create a framework that’s best for clients, colleagues and culture. Underpinning it is the belief that some activities at Barnett Waddingham are done best face to face, for example being immersed in a call when you have just joined the company. Apprentices and graduates can learn by osmosis by being in the same physical space. 

At the same time there are some activities which are best done in quiet spaces, and for some people that will be the home - but some people will prefer to do these activities in the office.

Being conscious of what you’re doing and why during these experiments is important. Asking people to come back to the office needs to be more deliberate and the benefits of people being physically together need to be made explicit.

The “contract” with work has changed from the default being to go into the office, to consciously choosing to do so, or request so.

Leaders in the organisation also need to change how they work, as working with an office-based team is different to learning a hybrid team.


There is a risk of “cultural drift” happening over time, if you don’t deliberately work to sustain the culture of the organisation. People tend to be members of different teams, so there is the question of where do you form the greatest sense of connection or belonging? Probably with your immediate team, but then how do you connect to the broader culture? Social events are one example of bringing people together from different parts of the organisation.

There will be a period of adjustment as people discover what it’s like to be in the office now, as opposed to in the past.  Meanwhile, David and his colleagues are still testing new ways of working, refining the technology, adapting their facilities and training their people. David believes hybrid is here to stay, and you can resist it, or embrace it. If you embrace it and get it right, you can create a sustainable and competitive advantage.