FLUENT: Perspectives from Softcat

LOVE IN A COVID CLIMATE.

A MANAGEMENT VIEW

We’re coming up to four weeks of working from home and have just heard from the government extending the lockdown for a further three weeks. Add to that the four-day weekend we’ve just enjoyed (I think it was Easter, but I can’t really be sure) and it feels like a good time to reflect.

Just what the hell has been going on since Softcat, like every other company, transitioned to a WFH environment?

It may already be difficult to imagine back to 5 or 6 weeks ago when we were still office-based, but even by then we were already making difficult decisions due to the reach and impact of COVID-19. We had to make tough decisions to cancel or postpone events like our Lunch of the Quarter, our Half-Year incentive trip which was planned for May, and our annual Partner Forum and Charity Ball. I say they were tough decisions because they are things that we had planned for a long time; were looking forward to as important dates in the Softcat calendar that would be enjoyed by many; and, in the case of the Charity Ball, would bring joy and benefit to many more outside of Softcat. However, in hindsight and with the context of what was to come and is still going on, these weren’t tough decisions at all.


Respond with alacrity

When it became clear that in a very short timeframe we would all – every one of us – need to be ready to work and be fully operational from home asap, all manner of activity sprung into life. For an organisation that is largely office-based this was quite a challenge. Getting the right technology kit procured, getting it configured and out to people’s home addresses, ensuring our security was as good as we recommend to our own customers… there was lots to do.

We thought about the personal impact this was going to have on our staff. Most of our staff belong to a young demographic and consequently may live alone in flats or house shares; some others have young children and with schools closing, we knew childcare and challenges with home schooling could become problematic. Or they may have other responsibilities such as caring for a vulnerable adult or elderly relative. What impact would these changes have on them? How would our people cope mentally, what kind of anxieties would develop? We knew we needed to help so enhanced our mental health service provision and stepped up our regular communications that go out to everyone in the company.

We also introduced separate interactive sessions with our senior management team to ensure messages and support were consistent company wide. All of these communications were a combination of the factual, ‘here’s what we’re doing and why’, and the more emotion-based updates where we provided assurance and signposted different sources of help that were available to all our staff. These updates continue regularly, have a consistent tone and are extremely transparent in terms of keeping people up to date with our thinking, and they draw a very positive response.

Being authentic, laying out our plans, signalling next steps… all of this is intended to provide our employees with the full picture and not leave then guessing, or worse, worrying more than they need to. There continues to be a lot to focus on what we do with outstanding job offers, current job searches and vacancies. We’ve been running scenarios on our full year performance outlook (our financial year ends in July), as well as pretty much ripping out any work we’d already started on our FY21 budget. Do we furlough, and if so, which roles? We decided not to, for now, by the way.

As you’d imagine we’re looking non-stop at our cash situation, one part of which entails treading the really fine line between empathising with our customers, who have their own pressurised cash positions, while ensuring the integrity of our cash requirements in the interests of providing business continuity and stakeholder confidence. Everything we’ve been discussing and thinking about we’ve shared with our senior management team, and subsequently Graeme Watt (our CEO) and I have been running update/Q&A sessions with each of the nine Softcat offices. We’re about halfway through the tour now, three more to do. Tiring, but worth it!


Reflect with Sensitivity

At this stage, having taken the opportunity of the long weekend to think about things, I’m struck by several things. I’m so grateful and thankful that our business is in the IT sector, which has always been largely resilient to global events. Change has already been sprung on us for sure, and more mammoth change is yet to come, but technology, digitisation and modernisation are all part of the answers. At Softcat, I’ve been known for the phrase “use good judgment” for a long time. And as a business we’ve always been about “doing the right thing”. That’s just the way we operate. Trouble is, identifying just what the ‘right thing’ is has never been harder. There’s no manual for this situation – no easy guidelines apply. Nevertheless, we’re endeavouring more diligently than ever to meet these principles.

Another phrase which I’ve used repeatedly during my time at Softcat (it’s not my phrase, it’s by Peter Drucker, I just like it a lot) and I think we’re known for is; “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Now more than ever, that’s so true and important. This is far from over, and even when it is – or the worst of it at least – we have no idea what the new normal will look like. But with our culture, our togetherness, and our fighting spirit, I know good times will come. Thanks to all of my team at Softcat for their resilience, for keeping a smile on their face and for their help and kindness to each other. But most of all for sharing the special Softcat Love when it’s most been needed. To everyone else, I wish you all the very best in your personal and collective battles to get through this successfully.


A U T H O R

Colin Brown Managing Director


Colin has been Managing Director at Softcat since 2012, being part of the leadership team that took the company through a successful IPO in 2015. Prior to that Colin was General Manager for Services for Microsoft UK, after having spent 18 years at Computacenter where he ran the Public Sector business and then was CEO of Computacenter Germany following an acquisition.


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