SEEING THE OPPORTUNITY IN HOME WORKING

Based in Huddersfield, Alps Education provides KS4 and KS5 performance data analytical software to schools, colleges and sixth forms to allow students to get the best possible outcome. As well as a data analysis tool, the organisation says it provides an educational philosophy that helps teachers unlock the full potential of every student.

As schools and colleges have faced constant disruption during 2020, with exams cancelled or rescheduled and students becoming increasingly reliant on web-based resources, we caught up with Ross Bray, Chief Technical Officer of Alps, about his experience and the lessons he has learnt.

He comments: “For us, the first impact from the pandemic was that schools were facing a raft of new challenges, working out how to accomplish online learning from scratch and then exams being cancelled and a move towards centre assessed grades. Despite these challenges, we believe our analytical software is more useful than ever because it helps schools understand how well they’ve done in previous years in terms of tracking and monitoring people’s progress.

“During the lockdown, like a lot of other businesses, we reached out to schools and colleges to support them with their calculated grades using our software.

As a company that was able to work remotely and effectively away from the office ahead of the lockdown, Alps has seen the benefits to being more flexible. It has also seen how being prepared has made a positive difference from the outset.

Ross comments: “We had already planned around potential Brexit problems and put in place contingencies. We actually had a full remote working test planned for March of this year to see if this was manageable on a large scale or not.

“It is interesting to see that a lot of tech and software companies didn’t have any preparation whatsoever. They still had an old school approach when it came to managing employees. They still think that if you can’t see people in front of you then they aren’t working. As a result, they haven’t invested in technology to transition to remote working.

“We, however, made sure all employees were equipped with the tools to carry on working from home. As an example, last year we transitioned to a new office phone system to allow staff to carry on operating as if they were in the office, either via their laptop or mobile phones.

“We appreciate that everyone is different, with their own set of unique challenges. As well as giving flexibility to the workforce, remote working also allows us to adapt. What we have seen is that home working can deliver opportunities.”

Although many companies had no choice but to be reactive when the pandemic struck, Ross explains why the decisions that are made must align with the values of the business and a longer-term strategy.

He comments: “Many companies have found that they had no choice but to invest in technology to allow remote working. As a result, there have been decisions made that haven’t been thought through. I think that over the next six to 12 months, a lot of these companies are going to find that they are left with an estate that doesn’t actually meet their needs.

“Choosing the right tools that fit your business is fundamental. For Alps, we were already using the Microsoft 365 Office suite. Teams has been used for our meetings and communications, especially for chats with colleagues that have replaced those water-cooler moments, alongside SharePoint for collaborative work. We have a cloud-based phone system, which allows office calls to be directed to employee mobile phones as well. As far as the outside work is concerned, we have continued to operate as normal.”

As organisations have had to adapt and implement new practices that allow employees to carry on with minimal disruption to colleagues and customers, Ross explains why Alps will take the lessons learnt to create a structure that is fit for the future.

He comments: “People have realised that remote working comes with advantages, especially around work-life balance and not having to spend so much time and finance on commuting. As such, we can see that employees will be demanding more of this. Those companies that don’t put in place the structures to allow this to happen will miss out. It’s not just about attracting the best talent from across the globe, it’s also about opportunity and potential for growth. The reality is that others will be equipped and will have everything in place. Those that don’t will be left behind.

“Remote working is great and as an advocate, it is positive to see that we have been forced to embrace this but there are also negatives. Currently, people are not just working from home, they are working from home during a pandemic.

“Employees have had to become carers, teachers as well as continuing to work, they have had to worry about things that we would never have considered a year ago. What we have focused on is how we can keep people’s spirits up.

“For us, it has been about arranging meetings and regular catch-ups to ensure that we communicate as often as we can, picking up on issues early and putting in place support where needed and finding ways to encourage people that don’t normally mix during the working day to interact together. This has helped a lot.”

Although Alps had the structure in place to respond quickly to the pandemic and to working remotely, Ross explains why he has been surprised by the response of the wider team.

He comments: “The biggest take away for me has been the resilience of people. The fact that we have a team that have never been through this, it is an experience that we are all navigating together.

“People have dealt with so much and have carried on regardless. Staff have supported each other with collecting groceries or even walking dogs when their colleagues have been unable to through ill health. Knowing this is really comforting. Appreciating that we have that support network available is a real testament to the culture we have as a business.”

As well as flexibility, Alps has seen other benefits from remote working both in terms of the business and the wider community.

Ross comments: “We cannot ignore the potential that home working has brought. Even something simple like the massive reduction in the number of vehicles on the road. Doing the analytics, we found that the savings made were huge.

“The one good thing is that the office doesn’t have to be the one place you can do work. It is still needed but not necessarily to sit at a desk to work. When you think about it, cities are built with an outdated model in mind. There must now be an opportunity for us to rejuvenate small towns and villages that have long been forgotten."

“The pandemic has given us all an opportunity to think and to work differently. If we do this there will be greater benefits and added value for individuals, organisations and communities.”

For further details about Alps please visit: https://alps.education/

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