When you think of the technology division of a global telecommunications company, you’d be forgiven for conjuring up an image of row upon row of untidy cubicles, their inhabitants (usually male) rarely communicating with one another, except for when they meet at the snack machine. OK, that’s the well-worn cliché out of the way. For if you were to take a trip to Newbury in Berkshire, to the gleaming HQ campus of mobile telecommunications giant, Vodafone, a very different picture of life in technology would soon emerge.
Since making the world’s first mobile phone call on 1st 1985, the company’s grown to become a global leader in mobile telecommunications, as well as assuming the mantle of Britain’s most valuable brand, with more than 400 million customers worldwide.
Given its immense size, it should come as no surprise to find that Vodafone places serious emphasis on its UK technology division, putting enormous resources at the disposal of its 3,100 technology employees.
While the technology hub at the company’s Newbury HQ has always been seen as the flagship site, it’s now facing competition from its sister hubs dotted around the UK – at Bracknell, London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow – all of which are being transformed under a major programme of renovation. Manchester has already been completed and offers an unrivalled working environment.
Each hub will soon offer state-of-the-art buildings to match the working practices that have also been upgraded, if not completely revitalised. These fresh ways of working are, you may not be surprised to learn, what people in the hubs appreciate most, even more so than the splendid new surroundings.
Spend a day walking around the Newbury HQ, for instance, and people will gladly tell you that the quality of their working lives has never been higher. And the key reason would seem to be this: flexibility.
True, Vodafone has already rolled out its ‘Better Ways of Working’ initiative, which is all about making its people’s working lives less rigid and predictable. At Newbury, the fruits of this are clear to see: no one has an office (not even the CEO), and everyone is free to work within their own “team zone”, or wherever they want across the campus. They can even work remotely – either from another office location or from home.
“Vodafone advocates a good life/work balance, and also the freedom to just get on with your job as well.” Sade Oladugbewo, Release Manager
But teams within the technology hubs seem to take flexible working on to a whole new level. Here, they revel in the autonomy on offer, which affords them the freedom to do the job in the way they want, at a time to suit them. Teamwork
Clearly, there are controls in place to make sure everyone knows just what’s expected of them, and what they need to deliver. But, still, there is an almost palpable sense of freedom in the way people work and mix with one another, regardless of specialism or seniority.
It serves to reinforce that characteristic which Vodafone values in its people above all else: teamwork.
The company’s seven technology hubs are chock-full of dynamic, inquisitive types for whom arriving at the right solution is everything. Together, they possess experience and expertise across a wide array of specialisms; which is why the prevalent open-door culture is valued on a business level as well as a social one.
Far from being a collection of distant and disparate entities, the technology division at Vodafone seems to work in a ‘joined up’ fashion, whereby each team, and each hub, interacts with the other to find the most innovative solutions.
The division’s Technology Academy is emblematic of this constant interaction, this intermingling of skills and sharing of knowledge. Wherever their hub, whatever their specialism, everyone is encouraged to visit the Academy to learn about new areas and to move between them, so that they continue to push themselves.
It’s just one more example of the flexibility that’s shot through every aspect of life in technology at Vodafone. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can dispense with those tired old clichés once and for all.