In the latest edition of Futr’s Spotlight on Housing, Kitty Hadaway spoke with Nicola Hope, director of Business Transformation at Futures Housing Group, about how the pandemic has enabled tech to free up resources so that housing providers can dedicate more time to residents
What is your role within Futures Housing Group?
I’ve been at Futures for eight years; it’s a fantastic place to work, with a great culture that attracts and keeps great talent.
Part of that great culture is a real and genuine focus on customer experience, and with around 10,000 homes, a key part of our approach is innovation.
How has Futures responded to the pandemic?
We were in a great place before the pandemic struck because we had already had a corporate plan in place for four years, which included plans to drive towards being a more agile organisation.
As part of that, we had already adopted the idea that work is a thing you do, not a place you go to.
So, as we began to see the first lockdown coming into force, we were able to say to everyone, ‘next week, make sure you take everything you need home with you.’ Everyone already had the kit and support they needed to continue working.
Did you have to adapt your leadership style?
Well, as part of our ongoing corporate plan, we had already been thinking about what it means to be an agile leader.
In the context of giving our residents the best possible customer service, we knew that agile leadership requires trust. We recognised that the most effective way to deliver services is to empower our colleagues to make decisions where they need to be made.
“People are capable of far greater technological literacy than we had ever realised”
So, we put a lot of effort into ensuring that colleagues had the right resources, access to information, and ultimately were trusted to get on with their jobs.
All of this meant that for our customers, as the first lockdown came into force, there was minimal disruption to their regular service from us.
How have people’s mindset toward technology changed throughout the pandemic?
Something we learnt – and I think society as a whole came to realise – is that people are capable of far greater technological literacy than we had ever realised.
It’s as though the last several months were a technological experiment that nobody would have dared done otherwise: COVID turned off everything except technology and forced people to rely on digital services to continue their lives.
What we found was that customers were more able to access our digital services than we thought…we’d never been sure if they would be able to.
So, we hope that this has paved the way for us to shift as much service online as possible, especially for straightforward, transactional stuff. Customers should be able to get faster, more convenient resolutions to queries online.
“We hope that this has paved the way for us to shift as much service online as possible”
What this in turn means is that we can focus our staff – who are really well trained in dealing with customers – on the stuff that customers actually need us to interact with them on, the non-transactional queries. We certainly have enough of those less straightforward interactions that we’re never going to be short of work!
So, ultimately, the more that we can shift online, the more time that will be made available to focus on those complex tasks.
It is not about employing fewer people. And it’s not about having less contact with our residents. It’s about having the right level of contact with our customers, in the right way, at the right moment.
How do you envision the future and the ‘new normal’?
The way we use our office will be different. We won’t go into the office for transactional tasks; what we do at the office will be different.
I foresee us using office space for collaboration that human contact fosters, for building culture and trust, and innovating together.
“I predict that our confidence in our customers’ ability and desire to interact with us digitally will increase”
Within this, we will need to think about how to be inclusive of fully remote colleagues. This will include things like thinking about the way we run meetings. For example, we can no longer rely on flipcharts. We’ll need to keep things on screen – as we’ve all learnt how to – so those remote colleagues aren’t excluded.
Thinking about our customers, we already have quite an ambitious digital rollout plan. So, I don’t think that will change.
But in the new normal, I predict that our confidence in our customers’ ability and desire to interact with us digitally will increase as a result of the past several months. That is to say, our expectations of the results will be greater.
Ultimately, I envisage that we’ll be aiming for better outcomes more quickly, rather than a faster rollout.
Main image: MrArtHit/Shutterstock. Content collated by Kitty Hadaway
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