It has now been a year since I was following the news of the impact of COVID-19 on other European countries.
As the days progressed, I came to terms with the inescapable truth that this would soon be impacting the UK, and could impact my family. My daughter in nursery school, my son in childcare, my dad on the NHS waiting list for a major operation, my sister in the process of selling her property, my gran needing constant care from my mum, my wife’s gran in a care home, a close family member entering into GCSEs, another into A-Levels.
I was also aware of my responsibility to NTT DATA and its people. Schools would surely be impacted with massive effects to those in work with kids, employees who care for their parents will have deep worries and many of those in house shares could soon be perched on the end of a bed with a laptop.
I considered my business plans. With NTT DATA running financial year, my FY20 business plan hadn’t survived a day. At 06.30AM on the first day of lockdown, I sat with a pen and paper A) Protect the teams B) Protect the operations C) Protect the culture. By 06.35AM I had finished the plan.
I knew the importance of A and B. I knew C would be significant, but I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why. It’s a point I have considered daily, my conclusion being that when all else is spinning, it is culture that organisations have to fall back on.
Under culture, there are three themes that have materialised through lockdown:
We are only beginning to understand the health and wellbeing challenges created by the pandemic. According to a Mental Health Foundation study, almost half of the UK population had felt anxious or worried in the previous two weeks and nearly 1 in 5 people reported feeling lonely.
As a priority, we ensured that our teams knew they are cared for, regardless of their location. Sensitivity and empathy prioritised, and special consideration afforded to those who are sick, isolated, vulnerable, anxious or caring for others.
From the beginning of lockdown, I was careful not to ‘put up a front’. I am open about the challenges of balancing delivering for the company, with a young family, ensuring all my wider family are supported and somehow making spare time for myself.
As leaders, the key is to make the time for these conversations to understand people’s concerns, a conversation can make a difference.
B. Heightened Authenticity
Authenticity is one of the best traits in a leader, and we set this as the culture of our work across Government and Social Enterprise.
Nothing had quite prepared me however for 100s of people a month to be beamed into my front room. Home working has brought heightened authenticity. My smart office blazer became a smart zipper jumper which became a hoodie in the space of a fortnight.
The person on the end of the bed with a laptop and family 300 miles away doesn’t value some sterile conversation with someone ‘’checking in’’. What they need most is a leader who is also vulnerable and cares. Being vulnerable doesn’t make you any less robust, it makes you human.
From what I see on LinkedIn, companies have generally done this well. However, corporate comms can’t replace that water cooler conversation; or nipping to the local sandwich shop with a colleague you’ve not seen for a while; or when you suddenly ‘park’ work and have a chat about something funny that happened.
To replicate this in a remote environment is difficult, and after a year of being ‘on video’ it does introduce fatigue. To address this, we ensure we have team events that encourage non-work virtual social interaction. I encourage team ‘deliveroo’ lunches (other services available). It’s a small gesture.
We look for ways to replicate the water cooler conversation, as hearing the comradery of a high performing team is wonderful.
Understanding how best to care for your employees, as we transition into post pandemic will not happen overnight. It is ‘culture’ that sets the foundation, as leaders we are all accountable for protecting and driving this.
Thank you for reading, and take care.