Working from home – way more popular than expected

Like many other CEOs, one of my biggest concerns, when lockdown started, was whether our back-office employees would adapt successfully to working from home. At DPD we have 1,700 people in a wide range of functions such as Finance, Admin, Operations, Sales, Customer Care and IT. Would their performance or productivity drop? How could managers lead and inspire their people from a distance? Would communication and teamwork suffer? How would people handle domestic distractions?

As I write this post nearly four months down the line, 1,450 of our managers and employees have given us their own answers to these questions, in one of the most important people surveys we’ve ever conducted. And I must admit to being surprised by the results. Not only the fact that over 90% completed the survey (our highest ever response rate) but also because a massive 80% have said that they’d be more than happy to continue working from home in the future.

We carried out the survey so that our people could help us shape office life in ‘the new normal’ and it looks like half of our office-based people would, given the option, choose to continue working two to three days a week from home once lockdown restrictions are lifted.

 

The business benefits of working from home

The survey responses did of course mention some downsides, including ‘lack of interaction’, ‘finding it difficult to switch off’, and mental wellbeing. We will be factoring that into our thinking and in early July the leadership team will be learning far more about mental wellbeing from a leading expert and then cascading a programme to over 200 frontline operational managers.

Back to the survey: a quarter of our managers said there were no negatives at all about working from home, with a huge proportion citing benefits such as:

  • No commute
  • Flexibility
  • Reduced costs (fuel and food)
  • Better for the environment
  • Spending more time with family.

 
Meanwhile, the service provided to customers by our dedicated DPD people on the front line is better than it’s ever been, despite the record-breaking volumes we’re currently carrying, so concerns about a dip in performance were unfounded. We’re also saving nearly £60,000 per week on business travel and meetings and I definitely don’t want to go back to spending that much every week!

 

Investing for the future

So, although day to day operational issues were a big challenge three months ago, we’ve realised that we don’t all need to be in the same office to tackle and overcome them. Likewise, despite having to run board meetings via conference call, our strategic discussions are probably more focused than ever before.

In fact we’re still making very big decisions from our home offices, such as deciding to spend £100m on extra vehicles, £60m on new premises and £40m on new equipment and technology. This £200m investment in the next four months will ensure we can handle our biggest ever pre-Christmas peak. DPD is expecting to carry 1.9m parcels on Cyber Tuesday, that’s a massive 300,000 more than on the same night last year, so as well as more vans and depots, we’re now looking for an extra 4,000 drivers and 500 shift managers by December!

And looking further ahead, I’m also keen to increase our graduate intake, so this year we’ll be recruiting 70 of the brightest minds from university – twice as many as in 2019.

 

No more ‘copy, paste, repeat’

 So, what’s the moral of the tale? Despite DPD’s reputation for disruptive technology and innovation, the culture of the parcels sector is, in many ways, quite traditional. And the whole working from home experiment has made me realise that it’s all too easy to fall into a ‘copy-paste-repeat’ style of management. And that means we don’t always see a better way of doing things – until we have to.

By thinking we have to go to the office every day, we’ve carried on doing what we’ve always done since leaving school and what many of our parents did before us – go to work 9 to 5 from Monday to Friday. That’s been the DPD way for as long as I can remember. This corporate ‘sausage machine’ is what we’ve become used to and of course changing the habits of a lifetime can feel uncomfortable at first. But I think we are coming to the conclusion: ‘If we find a better, smarter and cheaper way of doing things, why go back to the old way?’

 

Rewriting the rules of work

The current pandemic has given us a huge opportunity to challenge old assumptions, to rip up the traditional landscape and to ‘rewrite the rules’ of work. So, I’ve asked my people and talent team to take a fresh look at our terms and conditions and to think much more holistically about the package we offer people. To look beyond the traditional benefits – salary, car, pension, etc… and to reflect on what will really be most important to people in the post-COVID-19 world.

As one of my directors said to me the other day: “I’m performing better now because I’m having a lie-in till 06.45 and am at my desk by 7:30am instead of being stuck in the morning commute. And I’m healthier too because I’m out cycling at 6pm instead of fighting my way home through the evening traffic. What’s not to love about that?”

But again, not everyone will agree. Because around ten percent of our people, for all sorts of personal and professional reasons, are chomping at the bit to get back to office life. For some, it’s a case of valuing the camaraderie of colleagues even more than they’d realised. So where possible, once we begin a phased return to DPD premises, we will do what we can to prioritise their return to familiar surroundings.

And perhaps that’s the real moral of the tale. Just as different customers value different elements of DPD’s service proposition, different employees value different aspects of their working lives. For some, the office banter will be well worth the daily commute, while for others the flexibility of working from home will trump even the best office routine.

Thanks to our award-winning app, DPD offers home shoppers more choice than any other carrier about where and when they receive their parcel. Perhaps it’s time to give our employees as much choice about where and when they do the jobs that we pay them to perform.