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Keeping up with the innovation game at O2

Posted on by from O2

Companies must adapt to technological advances in the digital world to ensure people practices and recruitment policies remain relevant. Mary Appleton talks to Ann Pickering, HR director at O2, to find out how the company is meeting the challenge.

The pace of technology

As an innovative products-based business, how does O2 ensure its people practices align with the fast-changing nature of work/technology? Technological advances make us more productive, more agile and more efficient. Businesses must make the most of this to make sure their staff reap the benefits and use new technology well.

We have sophisticated technology to make flexible working easy. It means that we’ve been able, not just to ‘keep up’, but drive this behavioural change, shifting people’s work attitudes and making them realise it’s output that counts, not hours spent at a desk.

O2 believes in encouraging people to consider their most productive ways of working, and empowering them to use the tools at their disposal to make things easier.

What HR initiatives are you driving in 2015?

At O2, we aim to make the most of our fantastic talent. That’s why a big focus in 2015 will be strategic workforce planning (SWP). SWP is about understanding what skills we have, and ensuring they match those that we need – now and five or 10 years down the line. This ensures that we have the talent to fulfil our business goals, and can future-proof the business against skills gaps.

Another renewed focus for us in 2015 is diversity and inclusion, particularly ensuring we have a strong pipeline of female talent. Part of that is to give senior female staff support to progress, so we’re giving our Women in Leadership initiative a makeover.

Finally, we’ll work on our Talentum initiative, which sees hundreds of young people come through our doors every year via internships, apprenticeships and graduate programmes.

What HR initiatives have you implemented recently?

One of our big success stories has been our flexible working policy. Since our 2012 pilot, which saw 3,000 staff at our Slough headquarters work remotely for the day, flexible working has been part of our culture. Even before that pilot we’d shown our intent to discourage ‘presenteeism’ – a phenomenon where employees feel pressure to be ‘seen’ in the office to be valued. By reducing the number of fixed desks, we encouraged staff to consider if they had to be there, or could work from home.

With technology making flexible working easier, we wanted to encourage employees to consider where they worked, and how they worked. Smart@work is a company-wide initiative to help staff work in a way that suits them. Trusting people and not measuring them based on hours spent at a desk delivered great results – in morale, wellbeing, good work/life balance, productivity and efficiency.

HR can keep up by using social media for recruitment. Statistics show 98% of UK job seekers use online channels to find posts. Social media gives us a direct line of communication to them. We’re gaining more followers across our recruitment Twitter handles – such as @O2careers – and were listed as one of the top 10 UK businesses for social media use in talent attraction in 2013 and 2014.

How do you promote innovation in your workforce?

It’s about creating an environment that encourages new thinking, and one where everyone feels they have an opinion.

At O2, we have faith in young recruits, and let them make a difference. One of our young employees set up a Code Club to get children excited about coding, while another created a T&Tech programme to get more girls into digital careers.

As the first generation to have grown up with the internet, young people have digital skills that many other workers don’t, so offer a different way of thinking from other staff. This range of backgrounds and perspectives is invaluable for businesses.

It’s vital to lead by example. How can we expect staff to behave in a certain way if leaders don’t? Our senior leadership does all the things we expect of other staff.


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Mary Appleton

By Mary Appleton

Mary is Changeboard's editor in chief.

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