Business As Unusual #2

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients” Richard Branson.

If ever there was a time to amplify this sentiment, it’s now. If there’s one positive development that arises from this war on Covid-19 – apart from our planet getting an infinitely more valuable holiday than mortgage providers are offering – it could be that people engagement within companies and indeed with each other, is evolving at pace.

Not only are we sharing economic hardships, but there is genuine concern for friends, family and colleagues. This has triggered a different set of values and priorities. Life is more valued and we now frequently applaud its guardians as heroes in the form of the NHS, healthcare workers and those life science gurus developing a vaccine. WWII veteran, Captain Tom Moore, 99, has now personally raised over £27m in donations for the NHS – a staggeringly brilliant achievement that underlines that these are extraordinary times. He’s subsequently received over 25,000 birthday cards prior to his 100th birthday on 30th April. The default mail sign-off now is “stay safe”, a gesture of concern and compassion. Times have already changed, potentially for the better.

One of the biggest perceived challenges to the “Stay at Home” anthem was remote working. The traditionalist custodians of office working voiced concerns about productivity and oceans of material has already been shared online regarding mental health and wellbeing while working in isolation. However, there’s an ironic undercurrent that some teams are working more effectively remotely and are actually coming closer together in this current state of adversity.

“The tools for remote collaboration were already available”, says Ian Packer, Practice Principal at DXC Technology and he felt confident that this experience would lead to “far more effective remote working as people became much more accustomed to it”. So, could this element of Business as Unusual actually become the new Business as Usual?

I have spoken to many who can’t wait to get back to the structure and interaction of office life. In fact, Ian follows up highlighting that the only thing missing was the opportunity to bond from those ad hoc interactions by the coffee machine, or over a drink which are hard to replicate remotely.

Virtual happy hours, quizzes and online social gatherings seem commonplace now, but can they ever replace the power of physical interaction?

Steve Applegate, Group Applications Director for a leading European kitchen manufacturer, certainly thinks so. He is making “great use” of Microsoft Teams and it’s working really well for a workforce spread over 14 offices. Steve said, “it’s been great to challenge the perception that you have to meet someone to have a relationship with them”. Furthermore, the saving on travel and accommodation costs, as well as the saving on travel time when visiting offices for meetings is immense. All in all, Steve believes that his teams are getting more done by working more effectively and efficiently together.

With a team working remotely, one of the potential victims is culture. Dave Zack is Director of Engineering at Diaceutics, a global diagnostic commercialization company in precision medicine. He feels that the culture of the firm, which was a key reason he joined the firm originally, had really had a chance to shine during this crisis. The team already worked remotely, but with the onset of the virus taking hold, the leadership made proactive moves to engage and solicit their team’s input on video calls into scenario planning exercises. They now use regular Town Halls to provide regular Covid-19 updates to all staff. Dave said “it just goes to show that the leadership here really practise what they preach”.

Nick Booth, Executive Coach and founder of Seventhwave, has seen a real upturn in wellbeing check-ins and it is here, he says, that the true wins reside for bosses. “Employees want appreciation for a job done well and they want to feel included” Nick said. He added that they may also want help on problems outside work at these challenging times. The businesses that are focused on these factors will win through leaving the best memories of this turbulent time and thus maintain engagement with staff long after the virus has dissipated.

There is something about a crisis that often brings the best out of us. So, combine the comprehensive technical potential of remote collaboration with proactive engagement between leaders and followers and it is obvious that there are some businesses that will come out of this situation as clear winners. Questions are already in circulation regarding the need to go back to the traditional and conventional ways of office based working once the restrictions are lifted, but it seems likely that, wherever we are working, we will experience a more authentic and compassionate workplace. So, while Covid-19 continues to linger its dark cloud, Business as Unusual already looks set to provide some silver linings.