“From the moment I walked into the VoxSmart office in London, I knew it was a company I wanted to be part of.” Noreen O’Prey, Chief People Officer at VoxSmart has been tasked with many areas that small to medium businesses find challenging during a period of strong growth.

What’s more, Noreen has had to adapt her thinking to more of a virtual mindset as the industry adjusts rapidly to increased virtual working. We sat down with her to find out more about how she’s been thinking about virtual company culture.


What was your first impressions of VoxSmart?

 From the moment I walked into the VoxSmart office in London, I knew it was a company I wanted to be part of.  The atmosphere, excitement and immediate positivity of the people grabbed my attention – this is not normally something I’ve seen at such an early stage interview. As soon as I started it became very clear that there is a true belief in the company’s core values. These are referred to throughout the organisation and being embedded further in our people initiatives. Our values are at the core of the decisions we make and the initiatives we introduce.

When working directly and in close proximity with our colleagues it was certainly easier to manage expectations around these. However, since lockdown, like most global companies, we have reviewed our working model and taken specific steps to ensure our focus on performance and employee engagement continues on a virtual basis.


How have you helped VoxSmart adapt to virtual working?

 Whilst we naturally acted collaboratively before the pandemic, working collaboratively since lockdown has required more structure and focus. And to enhance this we have made some new and welcomed introductions, including;

    • Communicating more regularly: Communicating on our strategy and business objectives on a regular basis and sharing these for all employees to have access. We also have introduced some social platforms too, where employees are promoted to share the activities that have helped them through the lockdown period. It takes a bit of interaction on our part to manage this well, but the importance of this social interaction shouldn’t be overlooked. Its helped to define our culture, particularly for our new starters.
    • New performance initiatives: Introducing a new performance management process directly linked to the global business objectives, so anyone in the business will know how they impact in our overall success. This initiative has helped us ensure we adapt to our ever changing business priorities and recognise where we need further focus.
    • Fortnightly Town Halls: These are to update on our business priorities, introduce new initiatives and recognise where our people have made a difference.
    • Review of our people frameworks, such as our Onboarding process: A new onboarding experience which can be utilised as successfully virtually as it is in person.

Adapting to this new way of working, whilst certainly challenging, has been made easier by the support and focus provided by our fantastic global teams. The commitment shown by all our people has been inspiring and they continue to provide thoughts on how we can work together effectively.


What’s the biggest difference between virtual and face-to-face teams?

I know many of us are missing the office environment and the relationships we’ve built with our colleagues. We’re a social bunch, so collaborating has become a social activity too. Virtual beer trolleys, celebrations, and Team coaching sessions have provided the opportunity to share and maintain the contact we previously had in the office. Thank God for Teams, which if I’m honest, I would have used sparingly before this, but has been a fantastic communication tool and one we use throughout the business.

Some are now taking the opportunity to visit the office (and of course socially distance) when we can but this hasn’t been possible for everyone. In fact, we’ve had several new starters who have yet to physically meet their Line Manager or team members.


What impact has “going virtual” had on teams?

FinTech as an industry continues to grow under the current circumstances and at VoxSmart we are seeing a larger focus on product use, meaning our people continue to work under high levels of pressure. There has been no down time to get used to the impact COVID has had. And managing this virtually has meant further concentration on our resilience, for both individuals and the organisation.

We’ve communicated since March that employees can manage their own schedules as needed, so attention can be provided to personal commitments whenever needed. We’ve seen employees schedule their working days around their children, deliveries and even fitness activities (as important for emotional health as physical health), meaning that they can truly bring their whole selves to work.

We haven’t yet finalised what our final working model as yet, but it is clear though that a model of choice is important for our resilience, and we have an executive team thoroughly committed to this (it is one of our core values). 


What is your advice on building a great company culture?

I would certainly say it’s essential firms continue to focus on building a psychologically safe organisation, virtually. Particularly during these unusual times. As leaders we need to provide a space in which employees feel vulnerable enough to own their mistakes, challenge when they can see problems and provide their ideas without concern that they will be immediately rebuffed. We aim to do this by regularly asking for feedback or questions from our people. From a people perspective we also manage this via our People & Culture group, where employees from around the business share ideas for engagement in a welcoming and open environment.

Then at a senior level, we have opted for daily executive updates which, whilst immediately highlight any successes or opportunities for improvement, have overall provided a forum for the executive team to learn about and from one another virtually. Lastly, I’d say that providing additional focus on ‘why’ we are making certain choices (through our internal communications) has only enhanced our people’s understanding of the business globally and has also increased the connection employees have with our brand and having worked in the HR field for 20 years, I never seen so many dedicated people who truly love what they do. It’s a complete pleasure to work alongside every one of them.