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Leaving Lockdown: An interview with Mat Rule, CEO of Tocalabs

Published 19th October 2020

We spoke to five IT companies to find out how the COVID-19 lockdown has impacted their business, including their experiences of the shift to remote working – and back again – and their expectations for the future.

In this blog we hear from Mat Rule, co-founder and CEO of intelligent automation specialist Tocalabs.

When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, what changed for your business?

“It meant uncertainty; but having been a start-up, and now a scaling business, we’re used to navigating uncertainty! Moving to home working overnight was a big cultural change. We’re a digital tech company, and we have all the tools and channels to make it effective, but we do like to work in an office together as a physical team. We all went home and opened video chat the next morning – we tended to leave it open permanently so we could see our colleagues all the time.”

What were the biggest challenges?

“The shift to home working was a frenzied time for some of our customers, and we had to help them adapt fast, supporting them with accelerating digital transformation and retiring their old legacy systems by bringing in new systems, and digitising and automating manual processes.

“After the initial phase, we had to work out where we now sat in the market. Would people still want automation, or be planning to bring in new software? Was operational efficiency a priority? The pandemic brought new customers, needing help with brand new challenges – including the NHS, which built new COVID-19 processes using our software, and a utilities company which needed to handle thousands of payment holiday requests.”

What were your key learnings?

“The pandemic proved the value of the technology investments we’d made. We have a bespoke cloud infrastructure that gave us the flexibility to spin up capacity and bandwidth on demand, and sell and deploy services quickly. Because everything is virtualised, and accessible from laptops, we could manage our services from wherever we were. This made the shift very uneventful from a tech point of view! If the pandemic had happened 10 years before, I’m not sure how we’d have fared.

“Managing people from a psychological aspect was important, and wellbeing was at the forefront of our mind. We spiced things up with games nights, and had an R&D week where people were given free rein to work on whatever they wanted. We’re a product company, but nobody will do a good job if they feel isolated, or they lose touch with our core values.”

What does the return to ‘normal’ work look like for your teams?

“The last few months have been an eye-opener. We’re certainly looking at ourselves, and how we can run things in a more lean and efficient manner; for instance, we now know we can successfully make business deals remotely. We’re also considering reducing our office space, having more meeting rooms and fewer areas where people are sitting at desks.

“We’ll probably keep 50% working in the office and 50% from home – it’s flexible and effective, but not right for us full-time. We’ll stay better connected by having a mix of remote and on-site working.”

How has the experience influenced your strategy?

“The COVID-19 pandemic will have a wider impact on digital transformation that ultimately drives the UK economy forward. There will be greater focus on the digital sector, with fantastic new types of businesses emerging, new jobs opening up and new ways of working at its heart. I hope this will jumpstart something really exciting. We’ve already seen some gobsmacking, inspirational examples of innovation. We want to be at the centre of that – playing our part by supporting the organisations that are leading the way.”


Download the whitepaper Leaving Lockdown: A Major Reset Moment for IT