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Hybrid working: The challenge of the decade

Hybrid working is the strategic challenge of the decade for mid-market business leaders. Why do I say that?

Business is all about relationships. And in-person, face-to-face contact builds relationships like nothing else. Companies selling engagement apps and collaboration tools say otherwise, but they have a vested interest in their own nonsense.

Since the ‘war for talent’ began — the enormously competitive landscape for recruiting and retaining top talent — we’ve seen that the magic behind great companies is employee engagement. And the hybrid workplace is now a crucial part of that. The winners will be those businesses with a hybrid workplace that attracts and engages the best people.

The pandemic complicated the issue. Many companies are finding that the talent they recruited during the pandemic don’t have the same connection to the company.

The challenge now is to create deep ties, rather than allow loose ties to become normalised. And all of it must be within the hybrid paradigm.

A lack of staff engagement hurts a business. Some surveys suggest 40% of staff globally are considering leaving their current job. In that environment, strategic progress is impossible — simply maintaining stable operations becomes the all-consuming focus.

As the cliché says, every challenge is an opportunity. This is your chance to redefine where, who, and how you recruit. It’s an opportunity to reconsider which parts of your business are insourced and outsourced. It’s even an opportunity to redefine the processes and systems that underpin your entire business.


Read our blogpost, The three-step strategy for hybrid working.


In the meantime, you can take smaller, more immediate steps to solidify engagement — and ironically that’s by reinventing face-to-face meetings.

It’s so easy to communicate from home, so an in-person meeting must be something better. Treat each one as a valuable opportunity. Every face-to-face meeting should be as productive, enjoyable, and enriching as possible. A couple of suggestions:

  1. Be considerate with their time. Bear in mind the time, aggravation, and resources consumed in travel to the meeting, as well as the length of the meeting itself.
  2. Bring your A-game. When you’re leading a face-to-face meeting, give it your full effort and attention. Plan ahead. And expect the same of everyone else.
  3. Get everyone involved. Let everyone know what’s expected of them beforehand, and then ensure they all get involved.

Remote engagement requires a more strategic approach. Hybrid environments need efficient systems and operations. Effective outsourcing requires seamless systems integration. And all of the above requires a vision and world-class leadership.

If you want to discuss how this should look for your business, then please get in touch. We’ve been helping mid-market businesses create systems and work environments for new hybrid strategies — I’d be delighted to see how we can help your company.

 

Visit our Hybrid Working & Post-Pandemic Knowledge Centre which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

What is a virtual CTO?

A Chief Technology Officer, or CTO, is a critical role in a mid-market business. A CTO is a Board-level position accountable for just about all technology in the company, from hardware to software to teams and suppliers. Reporting to the CEO, the CTO drives innovation, efficiency, and effectiveness across the business.

A ‘Virtual CTO’ or ‘vCTO’ has similar responsibilities, but they are usually more limited in scope. Whilst a full-time CTO makes a long-term commitment to a business, a vCTO will be brought in for a specific task, such managing an ERP project, or shoring up cyber security and compliance.

Virtual CTOs have become more common during the pandemic, as many businesses found themselves with specific immediate needs during lockdown. However, for an ambitious business with medium- to long-term growth plans, a vCTO may not be the best choice.

On the other hand, a fractional CTO will take responsibility for the day-to-day as well as larger projects. A Virtual CTO will, by definition, have a certain distance from the business. But a fractional CTO can deal with the people, process, and technology issues of a mid-market company.

‘Fractional’ simply means ‘part-time’. It is a Board-level position, with the full responsibilities of a CTO. It just provides more flexibility and affordability for a mid-market company.

(Click here for more details on the role of the CTO.)

Who needs a Virtual CTO?

Mid-market companies will turn to vCTOs for a number of reasons. They may need a CTO with very specific experience. Or perhaps the business could use an outsider’s perspective on its technology and growth plans. One very common reason is money: since vCTOs are by definition part-time and/or contract employees, they cost less than a regular CTO.

Fractional CTOs, however, provide benefits in the short-, medium-, and long-term, while remaining an affordable choice.

What do Virtual CTO Services include?

The services a vCTO provides will be specific to the needs of the company. They may take a broader view, providing an overall vision or strategy. Or they may spearhead a specific project, such as a front-end redesign, or purchasing and implementing new software. Whatever the brief, a good CTO needs excellent technical skills and communication skills, as they have to clarify their role to investors, the Board, and staff.

How much does a Virtual CTO cost?

The salary of a full-time CTO will range from £100,000 to £230,000 per year, depending on the experience of the candidate, the role, and geography. A Virtual CTO will be less expensive, but the exact cost will depend upon the length and complexity of the assignment. A fractional CTO, however, can ramp up or down as needed.

Are there many CTO jobs?

There are hundreds of open CTO positions across the UK, but the competition is high. It can be a challenging, secure, and well-paying job, with the possibility of making a real difference to a company, so it’s a sought-after position.

Job seekers should also consider fractional CTO positions, which offer more flexibility and variety. At Freeman Clarke, we specialise in fractional CTOs. Click here to get in touch.

‘The Freeman-Clarke model has worked well for us at an important time of change. Our fractional CTO’s professionalism and “can-do” approach meant delivery of a number of critical projects which have brought our IT systems up to date. Our CTO’s ability to pick up on the complex technology of our industry, combined with his IT capabilities, has resulted in a stronger, more secure IT environment.’

Why Freeman Clarke?

Quality. Our unique model provides a cost-effective way to get the best talent in the business on your team. We hand-pick IT leaders on the basis of their skills and experience and their ability to fit in to the culture of a mid-market business like yours.

Business-minded. We are business people, and we speak your language. Our IT strategies are always tuned to the needs of the business and commercial realities.

Independence. Our CTOs are completely independent. We make no arrangements with suppliers, so you can know that our recommendations are completely objective.

Flexibility. We don’t insist on an upfront payment or commitment to a six-figure sum. We demonstrate value every day, or else just tell us to stop immediately. It’s as simple as that.

Affordability. Our people are the best in the business, but as you take a fraction of their time the price point is affordable. We set our prices appropriate to the mid-market and we don’t cross-sell or upsell.

 

Visit our Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) Knowledge Centre which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. To find out more about how we could add value to your business, get in touch.

What is a virtual CIO?

A Chief Information Officer, or CIO, is a crucial role for a mid-market business. It is a Board-level position with ultimate responsibility for technology, teams, and suppliers. Reporting to the CEO, they provide clear oversight of systems, processes, data reporting, and staff.

A ‘Virtual CIO’ or ‘vCIO’ is a hired gun who often takes a narrower role, rather than deal with the day-to-day technical needs of the company. A vCIO may be brought on for a specific task, such as creating bespoke software or beefing up cyber security.

A vCIO brings certain limitations. The post-pandemic technical needs of businesses are expanding. It’s unclear how many workers will return to offices or continue to work remotely, for example, and a vCIO may see these complications as beyond the scope of their work.

A fractional CIO, in contrast, will take responsibility for the day-to-day as well as larger projects. Whilst a vCIO will, by definition, have a certain distance from the business, a fractional CIO can deal with the people, process, and technology issues of a mid-market company.

‘Fractional’ simply means ‘part-time’. It’s still a Board-level position, with the full responsibilities of a CIO. It just provides more flexibility and affordability for a mid-market company.

(Click here for more details on the role of the CIO.)

Why do you need a Virtual CIO?

Every business right now runs on technology. It is simply impossible to have a thriving business in the twenty-first century without it. A high-quality CIO is a must-have for any ambitious company. But CIOs, with their decades of experience in all aspects of technology and IT, tend to command high wages.

Mid-market businesses tend to use Virtual CIOs as a way of getting strategic value without paying a full salary. Fractional CIOs, however, provide better strategic benefits and continuity whilst remaining an affordable option.

What are CIO services?

So what does a vCIO do? Whilst a regular CIO will have full responsibility for all things technical in a business, a vCIO will have narrower responsibilities depending upon the needs of the company. They may include:

How much does a virtual CIO cost?

A CIO salary can range from £180,000 to £250,000 per year, depending upon the demands of the position and the location of the company. The experience of the candidate also affects salary. A virtual CIO will cost less, since they work on an as-needed basis. This may not always be the best decision though, since ‘as-needed’ doesn’t create continuity for a business. A fractional CIO, however, can ramp or down as needed.

How do you hire a CIO?

Employment or personnel firms will help a business find a vCIO, usually for a fee. A better alternative may then be a fractional CIO, who will provide a mid-market business with the right combination of affordability and continuity of service, without a markup. At Freeman Clarke, we specialise in fractional CIOs. Click here to get in touch.

 ‘Freeman Clarke provided us with the perfect individual to be our CIO. He quickly connected with Exigent’s high-energy culture and international footprint, and he helped to get colleagues excited about the possibilities of change.’

Why Freeman Clarke?

Quality. Our unique model provides a cost-effective way to get the best talent in the business on your team. We hand-pick IT leaders on the basis of their skills and experience and their ability to fit in to the culture of a mid-market business like yours.

Business-minded. We are business people, and we speak your language. Our IT strategies are always tuned to the needs of the business and commercial realities.

Independence. Our CIOs are completely independent. We make no arrangements with suppliers, so you can know that our recommendations are completely objective.

Flexibility. We don’t insist on an upfront payment or commitment to a six-figure sum. We demonstrate value every day, or else just tell us to stop immediately. It’s as simple as that.

Affordability. Our people are the best in the business, but as you take a fraction of their time the price point is affordable. We set our prices appropriate to the mid-market and we don’t cross-sell or upsell.

 

Visit our Technology Roadmap for Growth Knowledge Centre which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. To find out more about how we could add value to your business, get in touch.

Mid-market report: Four steps to navigating inflation

It sounds like something from the deep past of the 70s, like disco balls and flared trousers. But inflation is back. In the US, it’s over 5%. And the Bank of England warns it could reach 4% in the UK.

While we don’t see it reaching the heights of the bad old days, these relatively high levels of inflation — and the consequent interest rate hikes — may lead to changes in business fundamentals that we haven’t seen for some time.

As in any emerging situation, the question for us is, what does this mean to our mid-market clients? A few days ago, our US and UK Regional Directors had a virtual conference to discuss that very question.

The stories from our clients are dramatic:

So we do believe that there is cause for concern. But we’ve been listening to our clients and thinking hard about it, and we also believe there are ways of managing inflation.

Here is what we are recommending to our mid-market clients:

1. Strategise.

Take a step back and look at your markets and customers and revisit the basic strategic questions: what do they want? How do we give it to them?

2. Speed up reporting.

Demand, costs, prices, and supply are changing rapidly; pricing and purchasing decisions need to be made swiftly. So you likely need faster internal information flow for your reporting.

3. Automate to reduce costs.

Replace aging ERP systems. Integrate your processes. Use bots for the first line of customer service—consumers are used to them at this point. You won’t be able to automate everything, nor should you. But where can you?

4. Improve online experiences.

Look at your front end through a customer’s eyes. Is the product imagery and information detailed enough? Attractively presented? Are you delivering a simple user experience for even complex purchases?

Inflation is affecting almost every business sector from construction to investment management. But the real danger isn’t pricing, it’s complacency. It’s adapt or die: the winners will be those companies continually reassessing the opportunities, staying alert, and moving quickly.

If you need help with your business, get in touch.

 

Visit our Technology Roadmap for Growth Knowledge Centre which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

The three-step strategy for hybrid working

The pandemic took us all by surprise, but we’ve had our eyes on hybrid working for some time.

In 2018, we wrote a CEO’s Briefing on Working from Home, prompted by the first sustained decline in UK railways’ season-ticket sales in its entire 150-year history. Urbanization and commuting remain established ‘mega trends’ across the world, but there were signs in both the US and UK that office working was on the wane.

Of course, with the pandemic, this gradual trend became a sudden flip. And what a flip: a US survey from late 2020 reported that the jump in remote-working was from 20% to 71%.

For many companies, there was a mass evacuation from the office conducted with little time to plan, and even less time for a strategy. Nevertheless, during the months that followed, people and companies adapted to new ways of working and found ways to cope.

Unlike the rapid flip required by the pandemic, this time there is scope to plan and strategise.

As the pandemic eases, many companies are looking again at office working, home-working and hybrid arrangements. Unlike the rapid flip required by the pandemic, this time there is scope to plan and enact a thought-through strategy.

We propose that your approach should be based on the following steps.

1. Strategise.

Remind your senior leaders of your business objectives and how your business stands out in the market. What makes it special in terms of customers and value? This should drive planning for you and other decision-makers in your organisation.

For example, if your market is highly commoditised, then of course this is an opportunity to look at offshoring further roles to lower costs (or to automate more roles and eliminate some costs altogether).

If your business thrives on creativity, however, we recommend that you bring your people together, because there is no substitute for the spark of brilliant people, in a room, face-to-face.

If you are competing to recruit rare talent, then perhaps home or hybrid working allows you to recruit more easily — to cast the net wider and to offer a better package than your competitors.

If you emphasise great service, then think about what your customers want, rather than what you want.

2. Segment.

Your plans for home, office or hybrid working should be rooted in the role profiles within your company. Not all office jobs have the same profile and needs; what makes sense for a credit control clerk may not make sense for a product designer.

Consider your roles in terms of:

Your adoption of home, office or hybrid working should be based on the needs of the role rather than the department or seniority.

3. Optimise.

It’s easy to do hybrid working badly. Meetings where half the team are in the office and half are remote can easily leave the remote workers feeling excluded. Getting the best from all your people requires more deliberate communications and inclusion; even more clarity on roles, processes, and controls; and investment in technology that supports hybrid working patterns.

In particular:

 

Need help with your hybrid working strategy? Get in touch.

One of our colleagues remarked that the pandemic was the first time that communication with his offshore providers had worked properly, because they were equals in video meetings rather than side-lined. This anecdote shows how easily we can get it wrong and lose so much of what people have to offer.

But when done right, hybrid working offers the opportunity to attract the best, to lower costs, and to reduce the impact on the environment. We have a unique opportunity right now to improve service to our customers and increase productivity and job satisfaction. Let’s make the most of it.

Visit our Hybrid Working & Post-Pandemic Knowledge Centre which includes all content related to this topic.

Freeman Clarke is the largest and most experienced team of part-time, or fractional, IT leaders. We work exclusively with organizations looking to use IT to grow their business. For an informal conversation, contact us and we’ll be in touch.

CIO vs CTO: What’s the difference?

It is quite easy to assume that a Chief Information Officer (CIO) is the same thing as a Chief Technology Officer (CTO). However, there are important differences from the point of view of a mid-market CEO. Read on to learn about both job titles and their functions.

Internal or External?

Although there isn’t universal agreement on the difference, one way of thinking about it is that the CIO is more internal-facing, whilst CTOs are more external.

CIOs take ownership of internal processes – the day-to-day technology, the systems and devices. A CIO also facilitates collaboration between the Board, IT teams, and other stakeholders. A CIO speaks the language of technology and the language of business.

Of course, a CTO must communicate between techies and businesspeople. But they have a strategic function, developing the technology initiatives that will drive growth and value. For example, they will oversee the development of bespoke software and apps.

Is CIO higher than a CTO?

For organisations with both a CIO and CTO, the CIO is normally senior. But the positions should be complementary, especially if a business is looking to grow. And whilst there will of course be overlap in terms of skillsets, they are two different positions, with different career paths.

Do you need both a CIO and a CTO?

If the business is large and complex, it is a very good idea to have both a CIO and a CTO. Just make sure that there is a crystal-clear delineation of duties so that both roles add value and have space to operate effectively.

The internal vs. external idea is a good place to start. Remember: it’s the CIO’s job to keep things moving along inside the company and to communicate between the techies and business units. The CTO looks forward, developing innovations for growth.

And it behooves the CEO to ensure smooth communication and cooperation between the positions so there is no confusion or duplication of work.

Comparing a CIO and a CTO

CIO: Chief
Information Officer

image/svg+xml

Internal
IT operations
Builds systems to supports growth
Supervises vendors of internal systems
Represents IT teams to the Board
Focus on improving systems and processes
Organised, skilled communicator and technologist
Click to learn What is the meaning of CIO.

CTO: Chief
Technology Officer

image/svg+xml

External
Ensures connection between technology and business goals
Supervises medium – to long – term initiatives, e.g. bespoke software and apps
Skilled communicator and technologist
Uses systems and digital to drive innovation and deliver value
Click to learn What is the meaning of CTO.

“Freeman Clarke were able to provide a CIO to help us develop a roadmap for the future state of our IT systems, together with a strategic plan to help us get there. Our IT has always been a significant value driver in our business, and we need to ensure it stays that way.… [Our] Freeman Clarke CIO has not only helped us with creating that roadmap. He also became a key member of our senior leadership team.” – Chris Johnson, Chairman, JJS Manufacturing.

Why Freeman Clarke?

Freeman Clarke CIOs and CTOs work on a ‘fractional,’ or part-time model. This provides a business with first-class technology leadership without the full-time cost.

Our fractional technology leaders are uniquely suited to mid-market businesses. They have outstanding technical and strategic skills. They understand how to use technology to drive growth. And they are suited to the culture and reality of mid-market businesses.

Whatever the remit, our CIOs and CTOs operate from the fundamental idea of linking a business’s systems and digital strategy to business objectives. This should be the goal of every innovative, ambitious mid-market company because it’s one of the best ways to create real, sustainable growth.

To find out more about how we could add value to your business, Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation.

Technology strategy and vision

Companies that have a clear business strategy need a system and digital strategy to match. Each function of an ambitious business needs a clear direction and someone to own it.

Your technology should focus on your customers, growth, efficiency, risk, security and value.

One of our experienced, competent and confident IT leaders can join your senior team to understand your business strategy and turn this into an IT vision and strategy.

For more information on this topic, visit our Technology Roadmap for Growth Knowledge Centre.

Freeman Clarke is the UK’s largest and most experienced team of part-time (we call it “fractional”) IT leaders. We work exclusively with ambitious organisations and we frequently help our clients use technology to beat their competition. Contact Us and we’ll be in touch for an informal conversation. 

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Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director

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