Workplace evolution: standing on the cliff edge of change

Workplace evolution: standing on the cliff edge of change

Welcome to the new world of work.

But a word of caution. We might just find that – once the dust settles – this brave new world isn’t that different to the old one.

Big or small, most companies have wrestled with, planned for and even dabbled in introducing more remote and flexible working models. Now this is being imposed upon us.

Much has been written about how remote working and home working (and they are two different things) will change businesses beyond recognition.

This is nonsense.

“It’s evolution, not revolution.” A phrase made famous by Clifford Berryman’s 1934 cartoon about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal… and latterly, brilliantly bastardised in an Alan Partridge sketch.

This is what we are about to experience.

Lockdown has been abrupt and painful. But it has also provided a natural transition point for how we work at a time when many of us were already standing on the cliff edge of change.

It’s a line in the sand. An opportunity for renewal, where we recognise the things we were doing that had become archaic, and consider how we can adapt and progress to make work better.

This isn’t a seismic shift. Nobody is advocating closing every office in the land. There are no campaigns for a global ban on meeting rooms post COVID-19 (though some would argue there should be one).

This is a chance to take the good we learn from our time working remotely and make it part of whatever our new normal might be.

We’ve worked remotely since we founded three-and-a-half years ago and I’m here to tell you that there is no silver bullet here. More flexible approaches to working won’t cure all of your ills. They won’t stop a recession.

But, when done right, remote working leads to happier, more productive staff and creates a better work-life balance. Those are all good things.

I’ll blog on the reasons why we work remotely another day. For now I’ve attempted to bust some myths for those considering how they might introduce more remote and flexible working over the long-term.

These are based on our experiences along the way. I hope you find them helpful:

Culture and performance

Buildings don’t build culture. Having more desks won’t make your processes better. It’s people. It is always about people!

I’ve heard claims that being remote will affect your team spirit. Will make you less efficient or effective as a business. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Leadership, trust and communication are what matter. As is recruitment.

Staff wellbeing

All businesses, whatever size and however they are run, have a duty to wellbeing. For remote companies, that manifests itself in different ways.

Some people thrive working remotely, others will find it more challenging.

There is always a trade-off. There’s no need for long commutes, and people have more time for friends and family, but loneliness can become a bigger factor.  Working practices need to change to meet new challenges.

It’s important to remember that being remote doesn’t mean that you’re tied to your dining room table. It means you can work wherever’s best for you. Meeting up regularly (once we’re allowed) is important for our professional and personal relationships.

Trust is king

Remote working thrives in businesses with a high trust culture.

For those used to being micromanaged it is going to be a big shift and it could be a difficult time for staff. Managers will have to adapt to giving up more control.

If teams are used to managing their workloads and feel empowered they will thrive and productivity will likely go up.

Do what works for you

Every business is different. Every person is unique. Some of us do our best work in an office, others crave more freedom. It will ultimately be up to leaders to decide how much and quickly they feel their organisation can adapt.

This isn’t for everyone, but it’s going to play a big role in the future of work. Staff will come to expect flexibility. They will see the value in having more control over their own time. Now is the time to learn the lessons and find out how different working models features in your future.

Bobbie Hough

The power of human connection

The power of human connection

Human connection. It’s probably not something we think about as part of our usual daily lives. We have our families, friends, colleagues, neighbours, people we chat to when we’re in the gym (or in the pub).

Most of the time, we wouldn’t necessarily consider these interactions as human connection.

They’re just our families, our mates. We chat, we hug, we do things and we do nothing, together. We don’t even really think about it much. That’s just life, isn’t it?

But with the arrival of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown, the need for human connection has, certainly for me, been brought into very sharp focus.

Suddenly, the ability to spend time with other people has been taken away. Lives literally depend on us keeping our distance.

Lockdown has been incredibly difficult for many people, myself included. As I write this, we don’t know when or how the restrictions will be lifted. We don’t know when, or even if, life will return to the way it was before the pandemic.

The phrase “the new normal” is being bandied around and quite frankly, it’s terrifying.

A new community

But this is our normal for now, and I’ve found it really interesting to see how people from across the globe have responded.

Sometimes it’s heart-warming, other times it’s rage-inducing, but the fact that we feel strongly either way about the actions of people who are so far away from us speaks volumes.

We’re now focussing a lot of our attention on other countries, watching how they deal with the crisis and sharing videos of people in Italy singing from their balconies or a Dutch train conductor pretending to do the job from his driveway, complete with blowing his whistle.

Does that mean that perhaps there’s been a shift in what we think of as our community? That it’s more about being human than being a certain nationality?

Making different connections

As lockdown continues and, for many people, loneliness increases, we’re looking for different ways to connect.

It seems that everyone is doing online quizzes, and we’re all Zooming, Facetiming and Housepartying far more than we thought possible.

Bands and musicians are doing online gigs, there are virtual comedy nights and dance lessons and fitness classes. There is even virtual speed dating… but don’t ask me how I know about that.

We’re clapping on our doorsteps to thank our keyworkers, people are dressing up as superheroes for their daily walk to make children smile, we’re checking on our neighbours, we’re writing letters and we’re making plans for “when all this is over”.

This shift in the way we’re communicating with those we love shows how important human connection really is to us.

Despite our many differences, the need to be part of a tribe is, and always has been, ingrained in us as human beings.

Communicating differently

Clearly the way we communicate with each other has adapted to the circumstances. But how about the way businesses are communicating with us?

Beyond the emails coming out during the first few weeks of lockdown, when it seemed like every shop you’ve ever entered in your life wanted to tell you that they were following Government guidelines and that the safety of their staff and customers was their priority, it’s been interesting to see how the messaging has evolved.

To me, it feels as though brands and businesses are becoming warmer in their tone, engaging with us as people rather than just consumers, becoming less formal and showing us their human side, too.

It will be really interesting to see how this continues as the situation develops. Personally, I would love this to become the norm rather than returning to more formal or faceless communications. It would be a real shame to break those newly formed connections that are so valued.

What can we learn?

Looking on the bright side of lockdown life, I’ve learnt a lot and I’ve started to think differently about things.

I am someone who has always valued my own space. I love some time alone to sing badly at the top of my lungs, or read a book, or watch some really trashy TV. However, this experience has taken it to the extreme and has been really hard.

But through the harder times I’ve learnt that gratitude and actively looking for positives can be helpful not only to lift my mood in the moment, but to re-frame my outlook on life.

Those friends and family I’m missing so much? I am lucky to have them in my life and I will never take them for granted again.

That empty feeling when I’d give anything for some time (and a glass of wine) with my best friends or a daft game with my nieces and nephews? I know that I’ll have those times again.

For many people who can’t go out or have no family, this loneliness is their regular life. I can’t imagine having no end point to look forward to after this, and I will be looking for ways I can help those people in the future.

Human connection is vital, and now that we’ve been forced to realise that through this scary and surreal experience, I very much hope we will all carry on caring for, respecting and thinking about each other in these new-found ways.

Anna Ross

In a world where you can be anything…be kind

In a world where you can be anything…be kind

In a world where you can be anything…be kind

Every day we hear calls to “just be kind”.  There is a strong movement calling for us all to consider kindness in how we should live, think, act, treat others and increasingly importantly, communicate.

This is not a new message – Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius said “Kindness is mankind’s greatest delight” – the growing kindness movement today is one that communicators across all sectors can take lots of inspiration from.

Kindness is contagious

Scientist, author and advocate for kindness, Dr David Hamilton, highlights research from Harvard and Yale that shows how kindness creates a ripple effect – when you are kind to someone, that person will be kind or kinder to someone else, who will then be kinder to someone else and so on, continuing its effects way beyond your single act of kindness.

Not only is being kind good for our health and wellbeing, it has the potential to transform how companies and brands communicate and engage with their audiences. Put simply, being kind is good for you and your business.

Building trust

Kindness builds trust. It shows that organisations have empathy with their customers and their staff, and it inspires people to act. Jon Goldstone of Brandgym highlighted that to be kind, a brand needs to speak to its target audience in a tone that is authentic, honest and transparent, and over time it will become trusted. The actions of the organisation must of course be consistent with the brand, but I know what he means!

A great example of this in practice is in the health and wellbeing sector, where new brands like Deliciously Ella are creating a new model of business where the leaders communicate directly with their audiences, sharing honest content, giving insight into their lives and using this to encourage thoughtfulness and kindness – to ourselves, to the environment and to each other.  How can we encourage more of this I wonder?

Social media

Companies that have conversations based on a desire to be kind and engage empathetically with their customers on social media have stronger reputations. This builds trust and trust builds business.

A great example of one company that successfully used social media to turn a potentially negative situation into a positive was when Yorkshire Tea faced a backlash of comments after Rishi Sunak posted a picture that included a bag of its teabags. They reminded us that there are real people behind company social media accounts and put out a call for people to try and be kind. It was an authentic and honest call for empathy, with a bit of humour, and the response that followed was overwhelmingly positive. I was moved to buy their tea, and I am sure others were too!

A culture of kindness

Workplace civility is an important cultural issue for organisations – how we treat each other has a huge impact on how teams perform, how committed they are and how much trust they have in their employer. Research shows that if we experience rudeness at work, our ability to do our jobs can be reduced by up to 61%.  This matters!

How we communicate and facilitate conversations and engagement internally has an important part to play in creating a culture of kindness, supporting civility and enabling everyone to feel better informed, respected and engaged in their work.

Be kind

In an ever-changing world and particularly in the challenging time that we all face at the moment, it’s the companies that are acting and communicating with kindness and compassion that are really standing out for the crowd.

It’s never been more important in a world where you can be anything, to be kind.

Let’s do that and raise a cup of Yorkshire Tea to an ancient Roman!

Sarah Harvey

COVID-19 legacy: the value of communications

COVID-19 legacy: the value of communications


The coronavirus pandemic has prompted many PR staff to brush up on their crisis communications skills. Over the past three weeks we’ve spoken at several webinars on the topic; the questions and conversations have been lively, intelligent and creative. But one theme has run through them all: permission.

Many communications teams run on the bare minimum of one or two staff. Faced with the biggest crisis in our lifetimes, these people are now stepping up to the big task of ensuring vital messages reach colleagues and customers.

The norm for many organisations is to work within a hierarchy of clearance, permission and signing-off. The fast pace of a crisis doesn’t allow for this – empowerment, clarity of role and delegated authority are what’s needed. And this takes some getting used to. Some people have expressed relief that their views are being sought and listened to. Others are coming to terms with the weight of decisions they are now expected to make on their own.

We learn a lot during a time of crisis, and we try out new ways of working. Some of those ways stick. A greater empowerment for communications staff – and a better understanding of the value of those teams – should be one of the legacies from this sad time.


If you’re interested in developing your communications skills, contact Hough Bellis to see how we can help at  

Sue Fox

Wash hands

Coronavirus – how are you preparing?

Coronavirus – how are you preparing?


The Coronavirus outbreak has social housing providers, local authorities and charities across the country digging out their business continuity plans. But is your organisation doing all it can to prepare?

Here are our top tips on what your organisation should be doing.

Tip 1  Talk to employees – Tell staff how you’re planning to handle the situation if coronavirus hits your organisation. Check they know their rights and obligations (remind them of the sick pay policy, for example, and tell them what to do if they have the symptoms of coronavirus or if tenants fall ill). Check managers know the situation and their role in it, and let them know if you change any policies or procedures. The golden rule is keep employees informed, even if it’s just to let them know there is no news. People will naturally be anxious and will want to see good leadership.

Tip 2  Develop local links – Make sure you know how the response is being managed in your area. Refresh links with your counterparts in the NHS, local authority, police force and housing associations. Follow the official messages – don’t speculate or make up your own advice. Make sure your organisation is included in any updates such as email briefings so you know the latest guidance.

Tip 3  Prepare for continuity – Dust off your business continuity plan and go through it with key staff. Discuss how you’ll transition to remote working if you don’t already do this. Check staff have remote access to key files, email and contacts, and to the passwords and logins for website, intranet and social media. Test your out of hours staff contact system; if you don’t have one, consider setting up WhatsApp groups. Talk to your essential suppliers to see what they’re planning.

Tip 4  Communicate with residents, service users and customers – Keep your social media and web pages up to date with your latest news, and supply your customer service department with frequently updated Q&As. Your aim is to keep people informed of any changes to the service you offer them, and to signpost them to other authorities (there’s no need to set up a rival health information service). For landlords, make sure your financial inclusion teams have the latest information on benefits and Universal Credit and let residents know if you change any policies as a result of the virus. Consider the potential effects such as reduced income (eg residents on zero hours contracts may not get sick pay), cleaning of communal areas and prioritisation of repairs work. Anticipate the questions, agree your position and get the answers out there.

Tip 5  Sustain it – It’s been reported that the incident could last months rather than weeks, so you’ll need to be able to sustain your response. Check how you’ll cope with reduced staff if you have a lot of people off sick. Look ahead at what you’ve got coming up, agree prioritisation of work and manage the expectations of residents and other customers.

If you need help with crisis communications contact Hough Bellis on

Hough Bellis is joining forces with HQN to run a session on crisis communications in Manchester in May – sign up here

Bobbie Hough

Understanding Generation Z

Understanding Generation Z

Understanding Generation Z

The world is changing. And changing fast.

It’s never been easier to reach your audiences – it’s never been harder to connect with them in a meaningful way.

Generation Z – those born from 1995 onwards – are proving to be a very difficult market to capture.

From climate change to gender change, they are interested in themes and products in a totally different way from those who have gone before. For example:

  • 40% say their favourite YouTuber understands them better than their friends
  • 67% say they would rather receive an experience than a physical gift
  • 28% of young men have not had sex in the last year
  • 23% of young women describe themselves as flexitarian, vegan or vegetarian

We could go on…

The traditional marketplace and recognised methods of bringing people to it have changed.

It’s a bewildering time for many consumers and brands alike.

But there are ways of reaching this new audience. You may have to change the means and the method of communication, but it is doable.

Don’t get left behind, make sure you’re creating the right content for the right audience.

Interested in learning more about communicating with a younger audience? Drop us a line at

Bobbie Hough

radio star’s

Why the radio star’s not dead just yet

Why the radio star’s not dead just yet

You may think that radio advertising is a dying breed, and you may well be right to a large extent. But here’s the weird thing.

As more and more people turn away from traditional ‘linear’ radio, more and more people are actually listening to audio content, particularly speech radio.

There’s a generation gap too.

The most recent figures show that 63% of British adults listen to BBC Radio each week, but the average weekly listen for people aged between 15-24 has fallen from 10.1 hours in 2008 to just 6.6 hours in 2019.

And while ‘live’ radio accounts for around 70% of all audio listened to in an average adult’s week, that falls to just 37% for younger audiences.

A large part of the reason? Podcasts.

Seven million adults now listen to podcasts every week.

The BBC had 69m downloaded podcasts just in June 2019 – a phenomenal number!

It has never been easier or cheaper to make your own audio content. It really is now down to just a few microphones and a tablet. Anyone can do it…so why don’t you?

We’re helping with the practicalities but more importantly, the ideas to bring content to life.

After all, just because anyone can do it doesn’t mean they all should.

You have to have a good concept in place before you start but with the right personalities, processes and purpose in place before you start you can be on to a winner.

Interested in making a podcast part of your company’s marketing plans today? Drop us a line at

Bobbie Hough

knowledge base

A watching brief

A watching brief

We all use it. Need to know how to bleed a radiator? Want to know who sings that song you’ve heard but can’t remember the lyrics? Seen something interesting that might work for your business? You tap on YouTube, right?

Incredible as it may seem, YouTube is not yet 15 years old.

The first video was uploaded to the site in April 2005, as Peter Kay took ‘Is this the way to Amarillo?’ to number one in the UK.

How quickly life has changed.

More than 80% of under-15s use YouTube each week with 59% of 5-16 year olds using it on average for two hours every single day so if you’re trying to connect with new audiences, that’s more than likely where they’ll be hanging out.

For those aged 16-24, ‘live’ TV only accounts for around a third of their viewing occasions, closely followed by such things as YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat and other social media services.

With your own YouTube content you’re in control. Make content as short or long as you like, get your message across and have an impact.

It won’t take long to learn more about how simple it can be to get your own content online.

It’s also important to learn what not to do on YouTube. We can’t promise you’ll go viral, but we may keep you from being an internet sensation for all the wrong reasons…

Interested in taking your first steps on YouTube? Drop us a line at

Bobbie Hough

kit or IT setup

Culture, not kit is the key to remote working

Culture, not kit is the key to remote working

We’re often asked about Hough Bellis’ remote working model. No office. No set working times.  A team of 12 based all over the country.

Throw in an expanding client base and it is understandable why people often want to know… ‘how on earth do you make that work?’

Most people want to discuss kit or IT setup. What internet calling software do we use? What tools do we use to manage workflow? How does HR work?

While these are all important, in my view they are secondary issues.

By far the biggest factor for any remote working business is culture.

Our focus over the past three years has been on creating a high trust environment.

Leaders must feel comfortable offering new levels of freedom to their teams and trust that – as long as the right processes are in place – standards and productivity will rise as a result. This has certainly been the case at Hough Bellis.

The temptation when implementing remote working is to micro-manage – especially in bigger firms. From talking to folks around the country, it’s clear some managers or even business owners struggle to give up a level of control they are used to with their team around them.

This only creates a low trust environment and will leave you with all the problems of remote working, with few of the rewards.

A switch to a high trust culture can be just as tough for teams too. You’re often asking people to relearn everything they think they know about work.

Convincing them it really is okay to make decisions, that we don’t fear failure, that it really is okay to build your work hours around the school run… it takes time.

You can’t just turn trust on and off. But when the penny drops you get your rewards.

Getting the right kit will always make the wheels of your organisation turn faster. Creating a high trust culture can put a rocket under your business.


If you’re interested in discussing the future of work and remote working, contact Bobbie Hough on

Bobbie Hough

Ratners misjudgement

Dare to prepare

Dare to prepare


Don’t panic!

How many times have you woken up to a horrible headline, feeling grateful that you’re not part of the PR team having to deal with it?

No matter how many difficult situations you’ve handled, it doesn’t necessarily get easier. Subtle differences in the context and current climate mean that no two crises are exactly the same.

While some can be the fault of plain misjudgement (such as the classic Ratners case involving earrings and a prawn sandwich – worth a google if you’re unfamiliar with it), many crises arise from operational cock-ups and a sad few are true tragedy. Some, of course, aren’t crises at all: it takes judgement, self-control and a certain amount of steering to ensure that a small flare-up isn’t allowed to be blown out of all proportion. Comms people can foresee the problems, but of course there are limits to what we can do to avoid a crisis.

What you can influence, though, is your own response. An experienced colleague is a true treasure in a crisis. You can boost your confidence by taking simple steps to prepare yourself for that time when you’re the one taking that fateful early-hours call.

Having a mental plan of how you’ll react is a great comfort when you wake bleary-eyed to fight the fire. It’s worth spending some time now working out what your first steps would be. Sort out some basics, such as media training for your colleagues, knowing out of hours contact and password details, and ensuring easy access to accurate company facts.

With everyone able to broadcast their perspective of your crisis within seconds, it’s increasingly important to be one step ahead.


Hough Bellis is running a series of crisis comms training courses for housing providers and charities. For more information contact

Bobbie Hough