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How one HR consultancy has adapted to working through Covid-19

19 May 2020 By Elva Ainsworth

The firm has contended with the whole team becoming infected, reduced client demand and virtual working. And it will never be the same again, says Elva Ainsworth

In the wake of coronavirus, so much is still changing for so many, so fast. The future of the economy and our health is still under threat. No plans covered this properly; no businesses were ready for this. And no one wanted it. 

There are significant negative consequences for sure. At our business, we have faced a real challenge dealing with almost the whole team coming down with Covid-19 at about the same time. Planned client work has dropped out of our pipeline. And we’ve had to turn ourselves from having two intimate, friendly offices, into a virtual team connected via computers and phones. Alongside these difficulties though, we can see five new themes emerging:

New challenges 

With any enforced change, there is resistance and unfamiliarity to deal with. But each of us has faced our own specific challenges. The active extraverts among us face social isolation, the anxious face the overwhelm of a stressed populace, the technophobes have had to overcome their technical issues.

For our business, the sales pipeline almost disappeared overnight and since then we have been operating with a huge unknown regarding what will be happening and by when. This has led to a continual review of risk regarding costs and resources. Dealing with governmental support has also been a new challenge to manage.

What’s different about these challenges is the stakes are so high. If you get into a position of being secure (emotionally or financially), you can grow from this experience. If things go the other way then there’s the potential for emotional breakdown and financial ruin. You may grow but you will also suffer. High stakes can bring intense emotions and profound growth.

New priorities

The health and safety of our people has never been more obviously the priority. People are being put before the economy at a national level and our businesses are being directed to do the same. Only in times of war or natural disasters would such actions be taken before. It is not just safety from Covid-19, but the emotional wellbeing of people based at home that has become more obviously important. If people are not OK then the work won’t get done – we need to trust people to work well and hard in the new remote way, but they will need support perhaps beyond the norm.

But it’s not just health and safety that has become a priority. As a result of massive uncertainty and a drop in spending, cash has shifted up the list too. Other changes are also emerging: we are valuing time differently, noticing the impact on wellbeing regarding travelling to work, and enjoying the space to be with family.

New practices

As things are so different for so many, we all need new practices – new ways of approaching our work and of planning our days and weeks. The old practices are not enough. We started with daily calls for the team but have moved to weekly full-team video calls with optional daily check-ins. But there are still a lot of tricky questions. How do we ask quick questions? How do we check everyone is OK? How do we make sure we are all aligned? How do we build breaks into our days? How should we dress? How can we still have fun at work? How can we mark the difference between weekdays and the weekend?

I have been working from home for years, but I now make sure to start at 9am and dress for work every day (smart casual, make-up, but no shoes). I change into more casual wear once work is finished and don’t wear make-up at the weekend. Now work feels and looks like work and non-work feels more relaxed. 

New structures

Teams and jobs were structured for a certain type of business, but the requirements and demands have changed for our organisation and for many. We have had to get used to incorporating the possibility of furloughing staff, and managing this carefully and sensitively. Supervision has changed so our team structure has been adjusted. We now have a more focused operational team poised to deliver current projects and to respond with a back office team that comes in when required. Roles have become more fluid; I am running payroll again, for example.

New freedoms

It is easy to see imposed restrictions as a decrease in your freedom. But with restrictions, the following emerges:

  • With fewer choices comes an inevitability of direction. Once you have accepted this direction, you can choose where you go, how you respond. It brings a simplicity and clarity that can be quite freeing.
  • Every time you do something new you’ve not done before, there is an expansion. You have more freedom in the future to include this possibility. Your view of yourself expands. There are lots of new experiences going on.
  • If you thought you couldn’t cope with lockdown, but have, you might find you have an increased confidence in yourself in future. 

Personally, I did not know how comfortable I would be restricted to home and how good it would feel to do so little. It has been refreshing and enlightening and I will never be the same again. My view of what is possible for myself and my wellbeing has changed forever. 

As a business, we didn’t know we could run as a virtual team, but we have managed to and actually quite enjoyed it. We have all been stretched and have grown and transformed. This will be useful given we have huge challenges ahead and many significant unknowns. We will need all our capacities and maximum agility to survive happily in this strange new world.

Elva Ainsworth is CEO of Talent Innovations

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