How does a quantum hardware company work remotely?
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK in March of last year, much like everyone else, KETS has had to adapt its working practises to remain innovative and productive. This has not been limited to remote working, but also recruiting and on-boarding key people into the team. Now we’re back with much more in-person working, especially in the lab, we’re taking time to reflect on those changes we had to make in the past 18 months that will make our business stronger going forward.
KETS’ Project Manager, Kerry, and Business Development Manager, Tom both joined KETS in October 2020. We gathered their thoughts, and those of the rest of the team, on working remotely at the company.
Joining KETS during the pandemic
‘Everyone was helpful and willing to give their time to go through what they do,’ explained Kerry recalling when she joined the company. From Tom’s perspective, he added that meeting everyone via video call ‘was almost simpler than a “normal” onboarding’ suggesting that there are some benefits to be found in company processes being done online.
‘I really like the split between working in the office and at home. It gives me a better work-life balance; I can be around for my kids more and can also find more time for exercise too!’ – Kerry May, Project Manager
One challenging aspect of joining a company remotely is not being able to build personal relationships – or have ‘the water cooler moments’ as CEO Chris puts it – as easily with team members. ‘It is difficult not seeing people in person and it takes longer to get to know everyone’ commented Kerry, ‘but what really helped was the Operations Team having coffee/tea video call sessions for some informal chatter.’
Speaking to the difficulty of building relationships online, COO Caroline said: ‘Embedding someone in your culture is more easily done in person than online and takes longer.’ But despite this, owing to the relatively small size and welcoming ethos of the team, it didn’t take long for Tom and Kerry to feel connected to the rest of team.
‘I’m able to focus better on single tasks at home which is great where individual research or learning is required.’ – Rob Starkwood, Integrated Photonics Engineer
Tom was able to set up introductions with all the team members which was ‘the best way to introduce myself to the company’ alongside the all-staff meeting ‘which gave myself and Kerry the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the team as a whole.’ KETS made a great effort to host online social activities ‘including a Christmas party with a hamper sent to my door!’
Remote onboarding and recruitment
Speaking to Caroline, she explained that KETS onboarded ‘in exactly the same way – just online – with an intro to the business and one to one meetings, with the only exception being not going for lunch on the first day.’
‘Working online I realised that some tasks could be done remotely without any problems. There can be a good compromise splitting working in person and online without affecting the final result in delivering tasks.’ – Gaetano De Martino, Senior Electronic Design Engineer
The mechanism for onboarding was very much the same. ‘We wouldn’t have known pre-Covid that it would be possible to interview, recruit and function as a company online. You miss some nuance, of course, but you’ve got to find another way to find that nuance. In principle, you can do all the same things.’
As a testament to the relationships that were able to be built online – with the nuance needed being found – Lorraine remarked: ‘When we did eventually meet in person, I’d forgotten that we actually hadn’t!’
‘Being able to say “I don’t want to be contacted between these hours” means everyone owns their diary; it’s really key to giving the whole team a voice.’ – Tom Crabtree, Business Development Manager
Whilst the Covid pandemic presented some challenges, it also offered an opportunity to learn. KETS has always encouraged flexible working and whether we wanted to or not, the pandemic has forced everyone to have a go at remote working. Fortunately, many people have found having the choice of blended in-person and online working beneficial and this has informed KETS’ working practises for the future.
‘Finding a pattern and way of working that enables each member of the team to do their best work is ultimately what we’re looking for. This requires individuals to have a clear understanding of their role and for managers and leaders ensure the team have whatever tools or support they need to get the job done.’ – Caroline Clark, COO
From the perspective of recruitment, the pandemic has also revealed the usefulness of online interviews as an additional tool that adds convenience to the process for both potential employees and employers. Moreover, similar can be said for onboarding new members of the team: it is possible, but it is important to remember the value of in-person contact – and eating together!
A huge thanks to our former Commercial Coordinator and KETS alumni, Edward Deacon, for curating these thoughts from the team.