Driver Require CEO Kieran Smith is one business leader who would describe his style as people orientated. Running a multi award-winning specialist driver recruitment agency, Smith favours face-to-face interaction with staff, clients and drivers alike, in order to generate the enthusiasm and motivation to run what is fundamentally a 24-hour quick response operation. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic grinding that interaction to an abrupt halt, Smith was left having to adjust his whole leadership style. In an interview with the Leaders Council’s Scott Challinor, Smith explains just how he was able to do it.
Speaking on the Leaders Council podcast, Smith explained: “We are a people business which provides people to people as a service. So, everything about us is interaction between customers, staff and our drivers. Cutting us off from that face-to-face communication, therefore, threw up some huge challenges for us.”
Fortunately, Driver Require was already well equipped with remote working capabilities, meaning that the transition to working from home came relatively trouble free.
Smith said: “We were fortunate given the nature of our work that we already had remote capabilities in place. We were therefore able to transition to remote working quite quickly having had to do that pretty much straight away, then we could set about tackling the more complex health and safety issues to allow us to keep providing a service.”
Yet, despite the easy transition to remote working, Smith was forced to rethink his entire leadership approach, since the human interaction he had cherished for much of his stint as CEO was no longer possible under the initial restrictions of the UK lockdown.
He said: “From a leadership perspective, my style is very people orientated. I like to go into our branches at least once a fortnight, often once a week and visit my staff. Suddenly, I found myself being imprisoned in my own house and unable to visit them, so I had to change my leadership style very quickly from that personal, dynamic, face-to-face interaction and find another way to generate that enthusiasm and motivation, as well as be able to gauge how my staff were feeling every day.”
The solution to being able to do that lay in the technology that had already made the transition to homeworking relatively seamless.
“Our service is essentially 24 hours, so having my staff motivated to be able to jump to it whenever required is important,” Smith highlighted.
“In order to replicate the face-to-face interaction, we immediately set about establishing a comprehensive videoconferencing schedule including Zoom calls to have a structured interaction system in place, replacing the physical interaction with virtual interaction.”
This was not merely isolated to important meetings within the business, but even casual interactions which would normally occur in the Driver Require office branches was replicated in order to generate some sense of normality.
Smith continued: “We set up a midday Zoom call which we called a ‘hangout’, so people could login whenever they wanted to and interact casually around their lunchtimes, and then around that we set up a virtual structure for more formal meetings every morning, alongside one senior management meeting weekly, branch meetings and branch manager meetings.
“We also arranged a weekly quiz call to encourage that fun interaction and take some of the sting out of working from home. The mental health and wellbeing of staff is of particular importance to me.”
Smith credits Driver Require’s ability to navigate the pandemic to date, to being able to keep his team’s morale high and maintain motivation among all those connected to the business.
“It was challenging to achieve, but I think we have done it and we have successfully held our team together.”
Elsewhere in the news, foreign secretary Dominic Raab has called on US politicians to exercise their influence by pressuring the EU into publicly ruling out the prospect of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
It comes after the UK’s plans to press on with the controversial Internal Market Bill was criticised by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Speaking to CNN during his visit to Washington, Raab said that only the UK had publicly committed itself to avoiding a hard border.
He said: “I think it would be helpful for all those concerned about this to elicit the same unilateral, absolute commitment not to require any infrastructure at the border between the North and the South. So far, it is actually only the UK that has said that.
“I think actually if the EU did come out and make the same commitment it would also help the negotiations. So, I hope our American colleagues will reinforce that point on both sides.”
There has been significant backlash from Democrats to the UK government’s plans for the Internal Market Bill, which will hand ministers the power to override elements of the EU Withdrawal Agreement.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, has said that a UK-US trade deal would never be approved by Congress if the Good Friday Agreement was undermined.
Biden supported his party’s position with a tweet earlier in the week, saying: “We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit.
“Any trade deal between the US and UK must be contingent upon respect for the Agreement and preventing the return of a hard border. Period.”
Despite Biden’s words putting pressure on Westminster to deescalate the row, the Telegraph’s sources have claimed that the face-to-face meeting between Raab and Pelosi was more “cordial” than the public spat would suggest.
In the wake of the row, a Downing Street spokesman said: “We will continue to work with our US partners to ensure our position is understood, but the whole point of this - as the PM has set out - is to make sure the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is upheld.”
Meanwhile, Conservative MPs have lashed out at Biden’s remarks.
Former party leader Iain Duncan Smith told The Times: “We don’t need lectures on the Northern Ireland peace deal from Mr Biden. If I were him, I would worry more about the need for a peace deal in the USA to stop the killing and rioting before lecturing other sovereign nations.”
Former Brexit secretary David Davis added: “Perhaps Mr Biden should talk to the EU since the only threat of an invisible border in Ireland would be if they insisted on levying tariffs.”