Unprecedented with Craig White

Published 7th April 2021

Here at Unprecedented, we got the opportunity to speak to Craig White, CEO of Agile Homes, he spoke to us about how Agile homes worked through the pandemic and gave advice to those entering the workforce today.

Background into you and your business 

Agile is a start-up company that is delivering low-carbon affordable homes for people in housing need. We do this using an innovative development model that unlocks land hidden in plain sight to help meet the challenges of the housing crisis and climate emergency, head-on. We use modern methods of construction (MMC) using natural and renewable, carbon capturing materials to deliver prefabricated, modular homes.

Define leadership and what being a leader means to you.

Leadership for me is about unlocking the potential of people to enable them to feel confident, capable and trusted to do their work individually and collectively. When that is in place, delivering on our shared vision, values and objectives to deliver safe, civil and affordable, low-carbon homes is easily achieved. Giving people permission to lead is also important to me. Leadership is not simply the sum of experience, age and title, far from it, it manifests itself in all of us on a daily basis. 

Who are your Leadership role models/inspirations

I don’t know. It’s not a question I have been asked before. I would tend to question whether anyone or model can embody the virtue of leadership fully. I am open to constantly learning and would say leadership is a practice, not a place. Philosophically, Systems Thinking underpins my work, which presents a world model that says everything is interconnected and interdependent. Once understood, this demands that we seek to understand any model holistically, find the position one occupies in it and then seek where others are, what their preferences and behaviours might be, empathise and then find out what steps can be taken to positively influence their and my actions to achieve better outcomes.

What are the “non negotiable” behaviours that you expect you and those around you to live by?

  • Respect for people and the planet.

  • A workplace where all contributions and voices are welcome, heard and taken account of.

  • A place where taking care of each other is shared and not left to others.

What impact has Covid-19 had on you and your business?

It has absolutely demonstrated interconnectedness and interdependence of us all and has affected each of us. We have colleagues who have lost family members, and we have tried to ensure that their loss is acknowledged properly, respectfully and, where appropriate, marked by us as a business as well as privately.

For the business, it slowed things down, but we achieved amazing things nonetheless. We implemented furlough selectively and were able to keep staff on 100% take home in Lockdown 1. In Lockdown 3, senior management took a 20% pay cut, which meant we were able to reduce the impact on the rest of the staff to minimise the reduction in their take-home to 10%. We are now seeing an uplift in sales and are unlocking furlough systematically for all staff and we hope to do the same for the SMT.

Are there any people within your support network who made a big positive impact on you as a Business Leader during those early weeks/months?

My partner and co-founder Linda Farrow, colleagues in Agile and of course Zoom. (Although, like all of us, its novelty has now been replaced by weary familiarity!)

As a start-up, we have continued to raise investment, despite the changes around us. The faith of our investors has provided not only our financial fuel but an affirmation that what we are doing, is right.

What was your internal comms strategy at the start of lockdown? Has that changed in Lockdown 3.0?

At the start, we implemented daily check-ins via zoom to ensure we could keep an eye on people’s pastoral, health and mental well-being. The world had changed hugely and these daily sessions were essential for maintaining our balance. We carried out working from home audits to ensure people had appropriate workspaces and implemented payment for this. We used instant comms tools like Cliq to open-up immediate means of meeting by VOIP or video. Cliq has the ability to have thematic channels where specific projects, issues as well as good news and cool stuff could be shared. As we went, we reduced the check-in meetings to 3 a week, restructuring them to have a Monday Check-in for 30mins to share the plans for the coming week, Wednesday is now a full operational meeting and Friday is a check-out as a collective coffee meeting.

In the summer, we were able to meet collectively, safely and in a COVID-19 compliant way to discuss vision, values and strategy. The weather was kind and we were able to do this on the grounds of one of our Agile Homes, sitting in the sun and enjoying each other's company for the first time.

We ended our office lease and are now planning, with all staff involved, how and where we want to work. We will not go back to the way we were, but instead, find a new way for us to work collectively as well as dispersed. People will be able to shape their work patterns and colocation preferences. We anticipate having a smaller more flexible physical footprint, and when restrictions allow, we have agreed to meet in new and interesting places for specific types of work activities. Cafés will be a popular choice!

What have been the Unprecedented decisions you have made? Those where there was no playbook.

Deciding not to be office based, meant we packed-up everything that wasn’t needed to work from home, and put it into storage. This decision meant we had to reimagine how we would work post lockdown. We are fortunate that we are a design and make a business that creates homes and spaces that people need, so we have the potential to create our own Agile office where we choose. This includes places we might make ourselves or rotate through café and shared workspaces with other organisations.

What remain your 3 biggest challenges?

  1. Ensuring staff and clients needs are met in a world of constant change.

  2. Staying mentally and physically healthy, when it would be easy not to.

  3. The housing crisis and climate emergency.

How have you (your business) coped from a mental health/stress perspective?

From day one of lockdown, we were alive to the impacts that might arise. Daily check-ins allowed us to keep an eye on colleagues and asked colleagues to do the same with each other. We implemented COVD-19 policies that included health and mental well-being provisions.

At the beginning of 2020, we were in a talent short market. What is at the top of your "people strategy" agenda for 2021?

Take on the best, brightest and most motivated to deliver on our vision, values and strategy. Fortunately, our investors have faith in our model, which means we are able to take on people into the business.

Our work has four layers to it, they are:

  1. To deliver people-centred, low carbon affordable homes for anyone in housing need.

  2. We ensure that finance flows successfully into our model, whether that be grant, investment or borrowing.

  3. Our processes deliver a unique and innovative development model that brings a land assembly and housing solution to the market, from private sales to community-led housing.

  4. We have a compelling product that can get keys into the front doors of homes faster than any other model in the market.

It’s this values-led, intelligent, responsive and unique approach to housing, meeting a very real and pressing need that will be the reason people will want and choose to work at Agile.

What advice would you give to those entering the workforce today?

Say yes to opportunity when it comes, because if you say no, it’s really hard to reverse that decision. There are many people like you chasing fewer jobs than we would hope for, perseverance is the only way to overcome the inevitable disappointments that will come your way. Keep trying.

What goes around comes around, never pull up the ladder behind you and, if you really want to be the change you want to see, be an entrepreneur. Now more than ever, we need people to imagine that they can set up their own business, not just to create a job for themselves, but for others as well.

If you’ve found Craig White’s blog insightful, make sure to connect with him on Linkedin and keep up today with Agile Homes by following them on Twitter and Instagram. You can find more blogs like this, here.

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