The Next Normal

On 11th March 2020, the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Three years on, we want to highlight what good came from it and how, as a team, Dataplan has moved forward and adapted to the next normal.

On 24th March 2020, Dataplan closed the office doors and sent everyone to work from home. As Dataplan’s Head of HR, Lesley Wilson, explained, “Remote working was a way of working that no one had done before. There was lots of uncertainty around whether we could do our jobs from home, but fortunately, Dataplan had been forward-thinking, and we were all issued with IT packs, including a PC, two monitors, and a VOIP phone."

This quick action meant we could deploy to remote working within a matter of days with no disruption of service to our clients.

Communicating with our remote teams

This new way of working meant we had to look at new ways of communicating with our teams and clients. The most significant change was the use of video calls which was a big departure for most. As Lesley explained, “Teams was another program we had never used before. I remember spending ages on a call trying to get the microphone to work. But it meant that we could keep in touch more efficiently and it was amazing how quickly we got used to it; now it is a daily part of our working day.”

We also increased the number and variety of communications methods, including;

  • Web chat
  • Regular ‘Grapevine’ emails communicating updates from the Directors
  • 'In the Know', a new internal publication for updates
  • A Private Facebook Group for staff addressing staff engagement

We have carried forward all of these communications activities, and the use of video calls has revolutionised how we work alongside our remote colleagues, clients and suppliers. This is a positive legacy of the lockdown.

The importance of mental and physical wellbeing

Lockdown was a challenge for everyone resulting in mental health problems and restrictions on activity, also affecting physical health for many. With our teams being essential workers during the pandemic and experiencing additional workload pressures through the new initiative such as furlough and CJRS, we introduced a comprehensive strategy to support team members, including;

  • Mental Health Managers Toolkit
  • Process for Managers to flag up if they felt anyone needed extra support, which would trigger an action from the HR team
  • Flexibility for those who struggled to work from home and the option to work safely from our offices

Many work practices were carried over into the next phase, which began to see workplaces opening back up and allowing people to work on-site should they wish to.

  • Hybrid working was introduced, mirroring the home and office set-up.
  • Flexible working was still available to staff, but it offered more in terms of taking the time back that was earnt.
  • Using applications such as Teams has enabled meetings to take place from anywhere and ensures that travel to and from clients or meetings does not impact a working day. It also provides effective communication throughout the teams and regular meetings to take place.

Victoria McKay, Deputy Head of Corporate Payroll, highlighted that working from home seemed to develop a skill set in people, “It was a huge learning curve. The team had to learn smarter working methods and develop their time management as there was no manager in the room. This, in turn, improved confidence and knowledge as they had to use their initiative.”

New ways of recruiting and training

As Dataplan continued to grow throughout the period of lockdowns, we needed to recruit and train new team members.

One of the most significant changes the lockdown gave us was that we could now see how remote working was possible and beneficial. This opened the talent pool we could dip into from the local area to the whole UK.

Deputy Head of Corporate Payroll Victoria McKay commented, “Remote working has enabled Dataplan to tap into a larger talent pool. We can now have remote workers all over the country, and the benefits have been huge”

Lockdown also made us reassess how we could train our new starters, and we introduced a new learning and development program that consisted of an intensive three-month Bootcamp, which led to the Dataplan Academy, which covered two years, and also the introduction of mentors.

In 2023, we are still using this approach but supplemented with classroom activities where larger cohorts of new starters can benefit from the variety of face-to-face learning in a group and 1-2-1 basis.

What have we learnt?

Be prepared for the unexpected!

Having systems, processes, and tech that allow you to be agile was essential to our ability to respond quickly to the lockdown and maintain our service standards. Lockdown and the forced working from home highlighted weaknesses in many businesses, especially in their ability to process payroll securely and efficiently, which resulted in many more clients moving to Dataplan for the peace of mind payroll outsourcing could bring them.

Wellness and well-being at work are not a one-size-fits-all

The lockdown affected people in many ways. Some embraced the chance to work from home, but it created isolation and anxiety for others. And often, people could experience both reactions in a single week!

We needed to be able to support the mental health and well-being of our Team flexibly and inclusively, providing options that would suit different needs.

Returning to the office also brought a wave of anxiety and nerves. People were unsure of how they could safely work amongst their teammates.

Three years after lockdown and we have built a complete 12-month well-being program, driven by our Wellbeing Committee, that tackles three areas of well-being –

  • Physical and mental health
  • Financial wellbeing
  • Fun and social engagement

Build resilience and the ability to bounce back

Looking back, it can seem surreal how we got through the endless lockdowns and uncertainty of the world. But we did, and it has forever changed our working practices.

For many businesses, and individuals, there have been positive changes to come out of the pandemic. We have discovered the ability within us to be resilient and adaptable, to embrace change, and look for new ways of working, and this can only be a good thing as we look to the future of Dataplan and the world of payroll and HR.


Written by Katie Bell
Published on March 23, 2023

Dataplan are one of the UK’s leading providers of specialist payroll and associated services.

From payroll outsourcing and pension service management to ePayslips and gender pay gap reporting; we have a solution for you and your business.