Philip Hodgson, CEO – Brevio

What we’ve learnt from building a team during lockdown

We’d been crafting Brevio over the past 18 months based on feedback from applicants and funders. We were getting ready to run pilots with a number of major UK funders, but then COVID-19 happened and everyone’s life was changed. 

We knew Brevio was quite special based on the feedback and support we’d received and we knew Brevio could be of great help during this crisis, so we worked even harder to launch sooner. To do this, we had to double the team in three weeks during lockdown, and we plan to continue growing the team over the coming weeks and months. This is what we’ve learnt:

It’s not impossible to build a great team in lockdown.

Normally when you join a new company there’s a slow and standard procedure that goes something like this: you meet face to face, you get shown your work space and are provided some documents to read, and – if you’re lucky – get shown where to grab the best coffee nearby. This modus operandi is not possible anymore. 

The last few weeks however have been a whirlwind, as we put the finishing touches on the Brevio platform, set up the customer service team and legal documentation, carried out rigorous testing, and got all marketing in order. Meanwhile, we continued to communicate with (and gain feedback from) charities big and small, and major funders. If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. I’m incredibly proud of the team’s hard work to achieve so much in such a short space of time. 

WIth all this was going on, we were able to recruit, using LinkedIn and Zoom chats to double the team, taking care to hire people who would bring our team to the next level with cross skill ability for a startup culture. And when they started, the new team members had to dive in straight in at the deep end, adapting and excelling with the challenge. The positive to take from this is that new hires feel like they’re a valued member of the team from day one. 

Remote working means navigating a new work environment that is less daunting given you never need to leave the comfort of your own home. There’s no daunting ‘come to my office’ / this is my domain. 

Hire people who match your values

When hiring and bringing people into your team, it’s important you recruits share your values, or are excited to work in an environment where these are a focal point. These are the values we outlined for our team:

  1. Visionary Game Changer
  2. Engaged Collaborator
  3. Agile Worker
  4. Security Focused
  5. Driven Devotee
  6. Honest
  7. Kind

Forming culture with only a little onboarding. 

If culture is defined as ‘how the team behaves when the boss isn’t around’ (Ben Horowitz, What You Do Is Who You Are). Then, if the boss is not ‘around’ from day one, you might expect a greater need for onboarding with a shift to remote working.

On the contrary, we have a simple onboarding document outlining Brevio’s purpose and mission statements, the company values/ behaviours that are encouraged (as well as those that are not ok), which the team have (they say) found helpful. But an onboarding doc is not a panacea to create a high performing work culture – lockdown or otherwise. 

As CEO, I’ve not been able to spend as much time with new hires as I would have liked, but we’re a small team with a flat hierarchy so we each have regular 1-1 coordination video calls between each other. We also have daily standups (video meetings) for the entire team, where each person has two minutes to say what they’re doing today requiring coordination with other team members, and what the blockers are. 

It is these regular coordination and brainstorming interactions where the real culture is formed; as Heinemeier & Fried (2013) in their book Remote: Office not Required, says best: ‘newcomers arrive with their eyes open, they quickly see how decisions are made, the care taken, and what’s important’. 

It helps that Brevio’s team consists of highly talented, opinionated, motivated, and kind individuals. We took great time and effort to choose the right team members in the first place that align with Brevio’s values. While we’re starting our culture forming journey together, it’s reassuring to know we’re all in step.

Rule Setting

  • We are too small to suffer from bureaucracy; we are looking to change ineffective behavior so we must practice what we are trying to implement in the sector
  • We believe that setting a lot of bounds, remits, and restrictions for our employees is an ineffective use of time, is not in line with our values; and does not allow us to operate in the most effect way
  • We strive to be flexible in the way we work and operate, it helps us be unbound and agile as the business and sector require us to be

We’re further apart, but we’re closer

I’ve only met half the team in person, the other half I’ve only seen their head and shoulders on a video link. But remote working and the subsequent proliferation of video calls has provided a window into all our private space that would never have happened before. On video calls we regularly watch children or partners wander into the frame, making work interactions more human and relatable as a result. In lockdown the barrier between work and home is more fluid than ever before.

We need to look out for one another

We’re in the midst of a pandemic and all stuck at home under varying circumstances. I am sharing child care with my wife as we both juggle full time jobs. Some team members are living alone, and others are together with family. The immediate health risks of Covid-19 aside, we also need to look out for each other’s mental health and support each other. If nothing else good comes of Covid-19, it will certainly have brought us closer together.