For many of us who remain working from home, the transition to hybrid work is theoretical—something that we will need to navigate in a hazy distant future. For many other teams, though, the transition back to partly- and totally-colocated working is well under way. We’re lucky enough to have some incredible customers blazing a trail, and so we wanted to share NOVOS‘s story. We chatted with Olivia Royce, Head of Operations, to understand what their journey has been like from small, fully-colocated team to a growing, hybrid, distributed workforce. The interview below is slightly edited for clarity & length.
What did work at NOVOS look like before the pandemic: how many employees, offices, and locations? Was anyone remote?
We were at 9 employees pre-pandemic. We were renting a small office in central London, in a serviced office space building. It wasn’t our dream office but the location was great and it served a purpose of having a place for the team to meet and work together daily! We always had a pretty flexible location policy (working from home if we wanted to etc), just a lot of us were very used to just automatically going in every day. We enjoyed coming into the office most days and colocation worked well for the early days of building a company.
We only really hired from London or the surrounding areas, as we wanted people to come in as much as possible — it wasn’t that we weren’t looking for people outside of London, it was more that we hadn’t solidified our hybrid way of working yet as we were still so small and new. The pandemic has made us accelerate this area of the business, and I think our approach to hybrid working and having team members across the country has really contributed to our company culture in a positive way!
What about now, how many employees do you have? What percentage are in-person vs. remote? What types of roles did you add, if you’ve grown?
We are now an agency of 36 (and growing)! We’ve revamped our location policies: whilst everyone is working from home more, we decided to continue offering a physical office for those who want to go in regularly. For our new office, we’ve continued to prioritize location, but we found a new building that better meets our needs, with a focus on community: it’s much, much bigger and can more comfortably fit all the agency in when we get together! We have a monthly ‘culture day’ where we have requested the whole agency to come in (COVID safety permitting etc!) for team bonding.
All teams have grown exponentially. Strategy and PR have quadrupled in size, we’re building out a larger content team, and we’ve invested in internal roles such as marketing, sales and operations.
How did you stay connected before the pandemic? What was the company culture like?
We’ve always used internal messaging services like Slack to converse around work things, plus weekly team meetings to discuss work. We loved (and still do!) a lunch out together on a pretty regular basis, and we discovered the delights of our local pub, The Rack and Tenter, on a Thursday or Friday evening.
How did you stay connected during the lockdown?
We shifted very easily to a remote working environment: we had all the tools, software and comms set up so anyone could work anywhere easily before the pandemic, so the change wasn’t hard from a tactical perspective.
Our biggest challenges were about keeping that culture of chit chat going — the coffee breaks or the popping to the shops together on lunch were obviously gone. We tried a bit of everything: virtual pubs, pub quizzes, Slack integrations like Donut, and Taco, and making sure we were sharing our favourite TV shows or movies with each other. We also did competitions such as ‘whose fridge is this’ which everyone fully got involved with!
How are you staying connected now that things are opening back up?
Our new hybrid model has made us think about the new logistics we face for connections within the team. Currently, we have a 1 day a month office attendance policy — this day falls on the final Thursday of the month, and it’s a day we use for team training, brainstorming and culture activities. The rest of the month the team can work from home or the office as much as they please.
Our monthly Culture Day meet up will follow a similar format each month (we’ve done 2 so far with great success!). The mornings are for the team to catch up on work, work collaboratively and host any in person meetings needed, we then have our all agency meeting called State of the Union. This is our chance to share monthly news and progress with the whole agency, focussing on the agency’s growth, business KPIs and people. The afternoon then is reserved for an early finish for our culture activities: we’ve had a summer party, a ‘beer’ pong tournament and we’ve got Oktoberfest, a Diwali celebration and of course many many Christmas activities planned in the run up to the end of the year! Those who can’t attend in person also are invited to finish early and they’re dialled in to any meetings— one thing we are investing in at the moment is good conference calling technology to ensure everyone feels connected, even if they aren’t there.
“Whilst we want to encourage as many people as possible to visit the office at least on a monthly basis, we also don’t want to alienate those who can’t attend as regularly as others.”Olivia Royce
NOVOS, Head of Operations
We have a dedicated culture club team, of whom some are London based and others from further afield. That way any ideas that we bounce around have both the opinions of remote and workplace workers.
We still have some of our legacy virtual meetings, such as Friday afternoon “virtual pub” trip, regular “get to know” agency meetups for new employees to meet the team, and of course Donut.
Let’s talk more about connection: any fun Donut stories, rituals, or tips?
(PSA: if you’re not already using Donut, you can add it to Slack with one click.)
Donut has been effective as we’ve transitioned into hybrid work. Now at the size of the agency that we are, it’s been invaluable for the team to meet new people through Intros! We also have played around with the size of the Intros. 3 people seem to be working really well for us as it breaks the ice a bit more. Personally, the conversation starter function in Donut has been great, especially when paired with someone you don’t really know.
Up until recently, all our Donuts have been virtual, and it’s been really nice having that break in the day to just chat with colleagues, just like we would do if we were in the office together. That’s the great thing about Donut: it has ensured we take breaks away from work to connect with each other which is so important for company culture and connections. It’s very easy to sit at your desk and be submerged in work all day and that isn’t representative of how work life should be: naturally we all take breaks, naturally we all used to sit around and chat about our weekend, or what we were having for lunch, or share our favourite new Netflix show, so we should be doing it when working from home too!
I got to experience my first in-person Donut just the other month— we went and sat on our roof garden at the office and caught up in the sunshine. It was great! Doing Donuts in person is so much fun and actually includes real doughnuts too if we’re lucky!
Anything else you want to share about Novos’ culture – what’s next?
One of our values is ‘never stop growing,’ and we’re dedicated to constantly improving our company culture. Looking ahead to the next 6 months, we have set out a huge HR and operations project where we will be auditing all our processes, benefits and performance policies to ensure that they are in line with our employees’ values.
Mental health has been a common theme for 2021 in particular so we’re really heavily investing in ensuring that we are prepared for any scenario. We have a fab mental health first aider in house and our plan is to have at least 4 more over the next year.
It’s been great seeing people come back into the office, and we want to encourage more team building and culture leaders within the agency. We have a jam-packed schedule of fun things for the team to do in person, including our first Christmas party since 2019! We’re looking forward to the possibilities.
NOVOS is a data-led eCommerce SEO agency based in London that has worked with more than 150 global eCom brands. Describing itself as a ‘Culture first Agency’ NOVOS has been named as one of the best workplaces in the UK by campaign group and has been recognized among the UK’s top 5 Culture Leaders by Breathe HR.