UMi – Going Further in Partnership

As an employee-owned SME, UMi has been tackling the same challenges in the last year as the thousands of businesses that we help annually. Strong governance and employee engagement have been the driving force in our success in making it easier for businesses to do more and go further. Whether leaders need more funding, customers, talent or simply precious time, we draw on the power of our network and our incredible team to do what others say can’t be done.

Established in 2007, UMi (pronounced oo-me) is a national company that has grown to more than 140 employee owners. We work with more than 40,000 UK businesses a year to help find and package the best information, expertise and finance to help them make better decisions more quickly.

We know from direct experience that business is both hard and exciting so we are committed to going on a journey with our customers to understand their challenges, uncover new opportunities and connect them with the things that will make it easier.

We believe that by working together, businesses can do more and go further.

Balancing long-term strategic development with immediate opportunities

Togetherness is at the heart of UMi’s values and the company has worked hard to maintain this connection during a year of remote working and lockdowns.

The last year has reinforced why acting as partners with our customers, suppliers and our team is so important. During the COVID pandemic, with some of our customers we were able to mobilise response services to businesses in need, within incredibly short timescales.

Balancing these opportunities with our ongoing strategic priorities to remain competitive, innovative and resilient has been something we have had to constantly balance over the last year. Being employee-owned has allowed us to be agile and weigh up the opportunities with the needs of our team, our existing customers and our long-term projects.

The team have been brilliant colleagues to one another, and if there was one thing to celebrate in the wake of COVID, it is that togetherness.

Embedding employee wellbeing

UMi has always been very conscious of the value of our people and the critical importance of ensuring their wellbeing. In a year where we all became more focused on health, our team rallied to support each other through an exceptionally busy and challenging time, showing an enormous amount of courage, care and compassion. This has recently been formally recognised with our achievement of the Bronze award in the Better Health at Work Accreditation.

Working with our HR team, a group of colleagues we affectionately termed “the positive posse” were mobilised and together they shared inspiring and positive content, created the space to talk and chat with colleagues as well as providing tips and training sessions to help deal with the change we were all facing.

Being employee owned also empowered us to go further in supporting the financial health of our team through these challenging times. Our Employee Ownership Trust worked with our executive team to create an employee financial support scheme offering an interest-free loan for affected households. We also made additional payments to support our team with increased bills while working from home over autumn and winter.

Our fortnightly UMi Pulse survey also allows us to be responsive to the needs of our team and we are transparent in sharing the results and the actions we take regularly, for all the team to see.

Harnessing technology to stay connected, accountable and responsive

We have been very lucky with hindsight, as we are now reaping the benefits of a significant investment in transitioning to the Microsoft 365 environment in 2019.

It made the move to home working in February 2020 easy and this allowed us to focus on supporting our customers, suppliers, partners and our team, rather than on the technology.

From video meetings, instant messaging, and co-creating documents, to keeping people on track with projects, gathering real-time data and easily sharing video updates, the technology has come to the fore.

As a business that is constantly challenging and supporting businesses to understand the benefits of investing in technology and becoming early adopters, it has been great to see our own business reap the benefits of doing so.

We class technology investment as one of our key strategic drivers of change and differentiation in our services and this year will continue to see that investment being made as we increase our technology team and introduce new services to the market.

The team have genuinely embraced and adapted to the challenge of remote working and we have taken the bold step to move to hybrid working, with employees now able to submit flexible working requests based on location of work. This enables our employees to create a work-life balance that works for them whilst also making a significant contribution to reducing our carbon footprint.

Celebrating being a ‘World Class Employer’

There is no better evidence of the passion of our people in combining all the ingredients to make UMi a great place to work, than our recently announced three-star rating in the Best Companies listing for workplace engagement.

In the list representing the UK’s 100 Best Mid-Sized Companies, which is for those that employ between 75 and 199 people, UMi ranked 33rd. We also achieved a 12th place regional listing and were named 8th in our sector.

We get that businesses are more than just bricks and mortar, or numbers on a spreadsheet. They are living, breathing things, powered by people. We are proud to be considered a ‘World Class Employer’, joining an exclusive club of businesses that excel in being a supportive, inclusive workplace where talent thrives.

Tackling isolation and loneliness in our communities

In 2019-21, our team across the UK has raised over £37,600 through our UMi Community Fund working with the County Durham Community Foundation, to distribute the fund on our behalf to help the local communities in which we live and work through the national network of community foundations.

The community foundations support local, community led, grassroot organisations, focusing on poverty, health and wellbeing, and inequality. Most recently, we were proud to be part of the Foundation’s decisive response to helping people through the pandemic, particularly tackling isolation and loneliness.

We also encourage our team to put forward local charities who would benefit from the grants on offer, as well as providing volunteering activities, building a community of support throughout the business with local projects and organisations.

Going further together

Our priorities for 2021/22 are continuing to support each other across the business so we emerge out of restrictions safe and well.

We also launched our new platform in March, which is enabling us to better combine our real life and digital channels, use data to deliver more personalised information, expertise and finance and make it even easier for our customers and partners to have more meaningful and ongoing relationships with UMi and our network.

Meanwhile, we are working towards achieving B Corp status, as well as renewing our ISO 9001 and 14001 accreditations.

External accreditations and awards are a welcome validation of our work to make UMi an awesome example of a responsible business. But the biggest reward is knowing that our team love working for UMi and that together, we’re stronger.