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Sershen Ingram MERJE, Candidate advice

As we take on a new year and a new lockdown, as well as the stress that comes with it, a number of our clients are showing strength and resilience during these strange and uncertain times.

Recurring feedback from our partners tells us that they are feeling more prepared to face the restrictions of stint 3.0, having experienced the tangible highs and lows which the two lockdowns in 2020 brought with them.

 

A look at the positives

The fact of the matter is that many workers are now more accustomed and better equipped to work from home, while the increased flexibility and lack of commute are, in some cases, empowering.

People also have accrued more knowledge of Covid-19 itself and the health and safety precautions that come with navigating the virus. This, coupled with the prospect of an imminent vaccine roll out, are helping to drive an altogether more positive outlook. In the meantime, people are striving to maintain a sense of physical and mental well-being by doing exercise and reaching out to others when they feel down, techniques that have been picked up from the first two lockdown periods.

And as for the final elephant in the room? The prospect of homeschooling feels that bit, dare we say it, less fraught given that we’ve already dipped our toes in the proverbial waters and just about survived to tell the tale. This, along with more structured offerings from schools and teachers compared with the first time round, means that we are able to balance our limited time and resources more effectively.

 

The proof is in the pudding

A survey from Barclaycard in 2020 revealed that two-thirds (66%) of small and medium-sized enterprises in England felt more prepared for the second national lockdown than they did for the first lockdown in March, and went on to say that business owners knew what to expect going into that lockdown and had made changes to make their company more resilient. This armoury of knowledge will no-doubt come in to play again as businesses handle lockdown for a third time.

It also discovered that, looking ahead to 2021, nearly three quarters (74%) of business owners planned to invest back into their organisation. The most popular areas for investment were marketing (29%) and new equipment/technology (28%). SMEs are also embracing the shift to working from home for the long-term, with over a fifth (22%) planning to invest in working from home or productivity tools, which will prove incredibly beneficial now that the majority of workplaces have had to close once again.

 

Still at a loss as how to get through lockdown three? Here’s some advice on how businesses and their employees can overcome it, make it to the other side intact and be ready to face whatever the rest of 2021 has in store.

 

Keep the lines of communication flowing

One of the most important things is to open up the lines of communication between employees. Many are likely to be concerned about their health, their families and how they will continue working as increasing facets of life get shut down again. Instant messaging platforms such as WhatsApp, Slack or Google Hangouts enable key updates and notifications to be effortlessly shared and allow workers to share their own thoughts, paving the way for transparent, multi-way dialogue.

These platforms can also help eliminate endless chain emails and allow decisions to be made faster, especially if a senior manager is involved. Even a casual, non-business related chat with colleagues over instant message can help alleviate feelings of isolation, which are common when working from home.

 

Set boundaries

When working from home, it is tempting for people to extend their hours to get things done, especially when they are saving time spent on the daily commute. But health professionals advise this is not always good for mental health. With that in mind, try setting some reasonable boundaries for your workers. Allow them to put their email on an auto-response around the normal finishing time and step away from their laptops.

During the course of the working day, encourage your staff to take regular breaks away from their screens to stretch their legs and get some fresh air. Multiple studies show that when staff are under extreme pressure, taking time out can increase productivity and focus when they return to the task in hand.

 

Invest in the right tech

While most people are likely to have a phone, computer and internet access, some may not have sufficient bandwidth or cloud-based software to do at home the kind of work they do in the office. In addition, some companies may not be set up with the right collaboration tools, such as internal communications programs or secure Wi-Fi to allow for remote working.

It might be the case that new accounts or passwords are required to access online management systems or shared files. For jobs which rely on private or sensitive information, it might be necessary to set up a virtual private network (VPN) to allow secure, remote access. To send sensitive information back and forth, encryption services could also prove vital.

The likes of Microsoft Teams and Zoom allow people to video chat and work on Word files together, wherever they may be, on a more formal basis. Google’s G Suite, which comes with collaborative software like Google Docs, Sheets and Slides, is another useful alternative.

 

Organise regular check-ins

In an office environment, it is normal for line managers and senior staff members to have at least one or two times a week in direct contact with their employees. When working from home, the danger is that workers could start to feel more accountable and managers less in control.

To solve the issue, arrange times to FaceTime or phone your staff a couple of times a week to check in on their progress and how they feel they’re getting along. You could even request a written update at the end of each week, explaining what has been achieved or anything which needs flagging for the week ahead, so that everyone is kept in the loop and anything that may be falling behind can be addresses or delegated accordingly.

If senior teams or board-level staff are used to holding regular meetings, try and keep to the schedule by setting up weekly dial-in conferences using services such as Cisco's Webex or Skype.

 

Provide opportunities to upskill

Naturally, people will be concerned about the current climate and their future prospects but this unprecedented time provides a unique opportunity, where possible, to train and learn new skills.

It is impossible to ignore how online resources are playing a huge role in helping people to keep-up-to-date with the latest advances in their industry. Taking the time to keep abreast of the latest changes and updates to the sector means that, when normal service resumes, employees will be able to tackle their work with little or no hesitation, ensuring maximum productivity.

Employers should pay heed to this and offer their workers time to upskill and retrain, which will result in them being more motivated and excited about their career trajectory and chances of promotion.

 

If you would like to receive any further advice about how to keep calm and carry on during the current crisis, please get in touch with our team and we will be only too happy to help.