I cringe in using the cliché, but no day is ever the same! It’s one of the many good things about working for UKFast. We work at a lively pace and I try to fill my diary so that I get the most out of my day. I don’t like reacting to things – being on the back foot – and this makes me think about who I’m meeting. How can I get the most out of those meetings? How can I get together with likeminded people who aren’t trying to push sales but are genuinely interested in working together, collaborating on ideas and extending networks? I’m a nurturer rather than a pusher. The ‘means’ are as important as the end result. I find I achieve better, more lasting results working this way.
What’s UKFast’s proudest achievement?
It has to be the MBE recently awarded to our CEO, Lawrence Jones, for services to digital economy. It’s huge for UKFast and much deserved for Lawrence. Of course the recognition is good for business, but I’ve also seen the positive effect it has had on the people who work for UKFast. We’re all very proud.
Prior to the MBE I would have said our proudest achievement was moving to new premises and genuinely building our own, unique space. We moved into an empty shell on Princess Parkway, a stone’s throw from the city centre. Yet within a short space of time – and a lot of hard graft – we’ve created an office to be proud of, including a state-of-the-art gym, a canteen, a children’s play area, a lounge, a bar (fully stocked),a Battlestar Galatica-looking walkway, plus a 200+ seater auditorium. We also employ two full-time builders who have crafted all our own furniture – such as desks and booths – that looks as good as anything we could have bought from the high-street. We’ve literally built from the ground up, including the fixtures and fittings! There’s not many companies who can share this claim.
How many employees work for UKFast?
What were the growing pains when expanding from a two person company in 1999 to an employer of over 200? Is it a constant challenge?
There are common challenges but we overcome them thanks to sound planning. It’s been a challenge retaining our family orientated approaches and attitudes as we grew headcount. We didn’t want to lose what made us unique, but we also didn’t want to go too regimental with staff. We like to keep things fairly flexible. Fortunately the years of nurturing a strong culture has helped us remain on course, with newcomers liking what they see when they join UKFast and feeling happy to be a part of it. This culture is key for continuity during periods of growth and change.
UKFast is a progressive company in many ways and we always look to the future to help guide us. People see this vision and naturally want to be a part of it. Knowing the company you work for is going somewhere keeps you positive and engaged.
UKFast has received numerous awards recognising its excellence as an employer. How do you go about creating a positive workplace?
We like to understand our staff – who they are, what motivates them, both inside and outside of work. We want to make sure they share the ideas, philosophies and culture of UKFast. This is why we put such a big emphasis on recruiting the right people. When it all fits, you stand a much better chance of retaining and engaging talent.
We’ve invested a lot – both thought and money – into great induction spaces, including bespoke training rooms, a UKFast learning program with its own accreditation scheme and psychometric testing for all newcomers. The idea is to give new employees the best start to their career at UKFast by teaching them about the company’s history and ambitions before they even sit at their desk for the first time. It’s about helping them get up to speed, but also making sure they integrate effectively.
Talented staff are a premium in today’s competitive business world. How do you go about finding and retaining talented staff?
We don’t use agencies. Instead we put effort into projecting the right brand so that the right people find us. Again, ensuring the right fit is very important to us. There are also lots of benefits to working for UKFast, which I mentioned previously, such as the gym, the bar, the table tennis tournaments, even the kennels we are planning to build which will allow staff to bring their dogs to work, rather than leaving them at home to destroy the furniture! Life is busy and rather than force employers to decompartmentalise their lives, we’ve tried to design a workplace that helps them manage their life and make positive choices regarding their lifestyles. If you’ve had a hectic day – or even morning – you can walk a few steps down the corridor and put in a good shift in the gym, or even relax on a beanbag with colleagues as you jockey for the bragging rights over a game of Super Mario Cart on the console. All of it reinforces our culture and identity, and from speaking with employees, they are hugely grateful.
We also have a history of pushing talented people to drive forward the business. This might mean we purposely create roles when we find talented people – roles that didn’t exist previously but we can see will add value to UKFast. This is how it was for me. I had been toiling in the industry for a number of years, working hard to get ahead of steam, when I met Lawrence and we had a discussion about the industry, my thoughts, role and what I liked doing. He saw that I was good at networking, enjoyed what I was doing and could add value to UKFast if I came on-board. I saw it as a great opportunity and happily agreed.
Lawrence Jones was recently awarded the MBE. How important is to have a strong leader?
It’s massive. Employees want to be reassured that the company going in the right direction, and having a leader who epitomises vision and growth is ideal. As is transparency. We ensure that all UKFast employees have a good understanding of what is going on at the company and where we want to go. On the third floor we have a purpose-built auditorium where the directors give all 200 staff a Monday morning briefing every week.
Lawrence is very important but he understands the need to share leadership with a number of directors. The company is growing all the time and it requires a collective effort, from the most battle-scarred senior to the fresh faced newcomer.
How important is CSR activities like Random Acts of Kindness towards achieving effective and authentic employee engagement?
I don’t like the term CSR. It is too cold and strategic, where companies siphon off funds to appear philanthropic for branding purposes. What we do at UKFast has little to do with strategy: it’s genuine and authentic.
We like to feel we are making a difference, and that is why we only take on projects where we feel we can do justice and where it means something to the business as a whole or a group of employees. I like to see this caring side come out in interviews and I often spend time encouraging staff to come up with ideas that will have a positive effect on the local community.
What makes you optimistic?
I like to hear Lawrence talking about the future and the plans to develop UKFast to ensure we are always ahead of the curve. It injects meaning into everything we do. Nothing is done without reason and everything links to the bigger picture. It’s a great way to run a business.