In this interview Director of Coaching Zoe Lewis caught up with Dan Reed, who wears a number of hats; one as a leader in Barclays Bank, another as founder of Career Dad highlighting and talking about the important role of being a working dad, especially during the pandemic, he also talks about finding the elusive ‘balance’ and his role as a dad and husband at home.
ZL: Tell us a little bit about your role and your working life prior to the pandemic.
DR: I work for Barclays and I head up one of the digital and platform delivery businesses within Barclays; in the business side of Barclaycard. My role is to look after the website team and email marketing automation, we work on both the content and creative part of the website and also the technical functionality side of this business.
An interesting fact that many people are unaware of is that Barclaycard was founded in 1966 in an old shoe factory in Northampton! I live in Northampton and so my working week prior to the pandemic was 2 days in the Northampton office, 2 days in our Canary Wharf office and a day working from home.
I’m a massive advocate for working parents and when I was asked to write a couple of articles about being a working dad I realised there was a need in this area and so my own business Career Dad was born. I started Career Dad as I felt that being an active parent and having a successful career weren't binary choices. I want both. And I want to help others realise both are possible, too.
ZL: What was your role like before the pandemic hit?
DR: My working week was a mixture of face to face meetings and online work, I had a good blend of work and home life. As well as achieving the business objectives, I felt I was beginning to master the work/life balance too - I could cycle to Northampton office and when I worked from home I could do the school run with my son, Theo and I’d also get a little housework done so that the weekends could be enjoyed by us all.
ZL: And now?
DR: It’s funny because initially I thought “great, I’m an advocate of working from home, 5 days a week – no problem!” However, 5 days a week at home with an 11 month- and a 5 year old, a full week of work to complete and the various other tasks in everyday life is a different ball game! I noticed that as a self-confessed extrovert I get so much energy from being with others at work and I missed that. I also noticed that I was missing the commute to London – that was unexpected! It’s the time I’d use to catch up on things and 2 hours is quite some time to have dedicated to whatever I needed to get done on the commute.
Now, everything is in one place, it’s a case of getting my work done, whilst co-ordinating and planning the day with my wife, home-schooling with my son, playing with both of my children and so much more. It’s quite exhausting and I have spoken to many working parents who feel the same.
On this topic, I ran a session for Barclays recently on parental guilt, the session was well received and resonated with the working parents amongst us.
ZL: From a leadership perspective what have you been doing to support your own teams?
DR: My team is split between different locations and different countries, we are fortunate that we already had been working remotely and communicating virtually much of the time, which meant that we had some good practices in place already. We maintained daily calls and as well as the work side of things, we also check in with one another about how we are truly feeling, what our experiences are as we are going through this and being a real team for one another.
As you know Zoe, I do a 60 second satirical video each day called ‘Lockdown Lowdown’ which shows a snapshot of my family life, complete with my laughing 11 month old, Xanthe and 5 year old son Theo. I share this with good humour and many of my colleagues and peers see this. That’s good to recognise the lighter side of life.
What you don’t see and what I have actively shared with our communities is that those are the few highlights in amongst what can often be a very mixed day. So in terms of leadership I’d like to say that I’ve led by example in sharing both the ups and the downs. For example, I shared with my team that I had met my limit of frustration at the weekend, I’d experienced a really low mood, felt quite angry and that came out in a way I was upset about after. I think it’s vital that we can share things like this, because then when others in the team want to share something they know it’s okay, we have a safe space to talk freely.
I have had some great feedback about things like having a baby under my arm on a call, although we have business discussions, we are first and foremost humans and that connection is vital.
ZL: How are you leading through the current phase?
DR: Well we are still very much in the area of the unknown. Questions are being asked about when we will go back to the offices and it’s still uncertain. I think it’s counterproductive to think too far ahead in terms of certainties, we don’t know what November will look like now. So I encourage my team to think about where do we need to move to next and that’s our focus. One step at a time. If you’re going from 1-10 and you don’t know how to get to 10 as it’s still unclear, then let’s move from 1-2, 2-3 and 3-4. Then, when we are nearing 10 we are clearer on what it looks like in the right context.
ZL: How have Barclays guided you through the pandemic?
DR: Our internal Barclays’ communications have been brilliant. There have been daily updates pre-9am from senior leaders giving us snapshots of where we are as a business and I feel like we know as much as they do, so that transparency feels good. The messages we get from our leadership team are really positive; family first, get the time you need, look after yourself and we can be flexible.
ZL: What was the biggest challenge for your team?
DR: In my team in particular, although we had the go ahead from the business to do what we needed and look after ourselves and our families, we also recognised that as the digital team and with our call centres closing we were needed in the early days to support the business.
I’m tremendously proud of our team and the camaraderie they demonstrated to work 10-12 hour days at the start of the pandemic to fully support the business in being able to continue to operate virtually.
Personally, I felt a mix of pleasure and guilt. I was proud of the team and I achieving a great result, but also we were robbing our families of time with us.
On a personal note, there were days when I was working from home, knowing I should have been putting Theo to bed, but I needed to finish a call.
After that initial phase, there was a period of allowing myself and my team to take back some time, as it had been a case of all hands on deck and we were fatigued.
As a team we are always conscious that there’s more to do, such as, looking at continuous improvement and those bigger projects that you want to get started. However, I recognised how much effort had been poured into those initial few weeks and I took a decision and shared with everyone that everything else could wait. My role was to ease the pressure on them for a while.
ZL: How important is culture at this time?
DR: I’ve been with Barclays for 7 years, my previous best being 14 months, as I simply couldn’t find the right cultural fit. Here it’s right. The culture of the business is about helping people be their best and in turn this helps the business achieve its objectives.
Our culture is about give and take. It’s not a case of 9-5, as an example, a lady in my team takes time out each day with her daughter, she then logs in at a time to suit her to catch up on work that can be done flexibly…and that’s how work should be.
ZL: As you mentioned, flexible working is important to Barclays and was part of the way the business operated previously, do you think that the pandemic will be the springboard other organisations need to embrace flexible working?
DR: That’s a good question, I wrote an article for LinkedIn, saying that the pandemic is seen as the catalyst for working from home and flexible working, and I’m keen to share that this only works if the right culture is in place. If people across the business are brought into how it works and that it’s not a set of rules, more of a guidance about how it works effectively and people are empowered within that guidance to make it work both for them and the organisation then yes it can work.
My concern is that some organisations still have this ethos of “if I can’t see you then you’re not working”, a presenteeism culture is unhealthy and it’s those organisations that I think will lose out as they won’t see the value in building it as part of their culture. Ultimately though, those organisations will lose out on so much. As we know employees now seek ‘employers of choice’ and rightly so, even with the current predicted recession, people remember how organisations make them feel, it would be a short term view to think it’s an employer’s market.
ZL: Tell us a little more about Career Dad…
DR: Career Dad’s goal is to connect dads who are both focussed in their career, as well as wanting to be the best fathers they can be. These priorities are often in conflict.
When I first started this I had some minor kickback about why are you doing this for dads and not mums. The reason I started it was to share my own experience of dealing with guilt and anxiety as a working parent. I’m an advocate for equality and I’d like to balance this out.
According to a recent study, gender parity is still some 90 years away and part of that is due to working dads not being able to stay at home so much as working mums. Now we have a relatively new law in this country – shared parental leave – designed to help with this. However, a quick glance at the figures, shows that only 2% are taking advantage of this and the nuances of how the law is applied, hasn’t helped reduce the gap. This is not a case of dads not wanting to take the time off, moreover it’s a lack of equal pay for the same reason as working mums. Neither is this an argument about working mums versus working dads, it’s an equal rights for working parents’ discussion. There’s also the fear of career progression impact for working parents of both sexes too. I’m here to try and help make a difference where I can by positively impacting as many dads as possible.
ZL: Thanks Dan for sharing how it’s been for you as a leader in two businesses and as a working parent that was an insightful interview.
DR: It’s been a pleasure, thank you.