"WE'RE IN THIS TOGETHER" Putting people first: the lessons learnt from COVID-19 and how they can help businesses to succeed

A good business recognises the value of its people. COVID-19 has highlighted that putting your people first isn’t just a ‘nice thing to do’ but it is core to the future success of your business. 


In this second part of our "WE'RE IN THIS TOGETHER" series, Natalie Tickle, Head of Membership at the London charity, Heart of the City (HOTC), shares some of the key lessons they've learnt during this time.


At Heart of the City we help small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) to kickstart their responsible business programmes and believe that every business can be a force for good.

We know from our members that SMEs are struggling as a result of the unprecedented challenges they’re facing due to COVID-19. But this hasn’t deterred them from continuing their responsible business journeys - in fact, for many it’s more important than ever.

From the early stages of lockdown, we began asking our members what issues they were facing and what support they needed. We were able to find expert speakers from our network of ambassador companies and launched our Survive and Thrive series of weekly webinars and resources to help our members. When asking what they needed support with, the message was consistent – they wanted to know how they could best support their staff during this time.

A good business recognises the value of its people. And COVID-19 has highlighted that putting your people first isn’t just a ‘nice thing to do’ but it can also help your business to succeed. We wanted to share some of the key lessons we’ve learnt during this time.

 

Flexible working isn’t just for COVID-19

It was clear very early on that companies that already support flexible working would adapt to the COVID-19 ways of working more quickly and painlessly. At Heart of the City we’ve always been open to flexible working and our employees have all worked from home on a regular or occasional basis before. As a result, we adapted quickly – we didn’t have too many teething problems around working remotely and flexing our hours around caring commitments.

Flexible working can really benefit business, but for some it’s taken enforced remote working to realise this. Flexible working creates a fairer, more diverse workplace, it’s better for work-life balance and it helps with staff recruitment and retention. The past six months has shown other advantages too: financial benefits through reduced office space and better use of technology to connect people.

As many are starting to return to the workplace, businesses mustn’t forget that flexible working works. Now is the time to look at your flexible working policies and think about how you can sustain the new benefits you’ve seen. Timewise, who spoke at one of our recent webinars can provide great support when looking at redesigning the workplace for a post-lockdown world.

 

We all have mental health

It’s important that you look after your mental health just as you look after physical health, but mental health was once a taboo subject at work. A positive result of lockdown working is that we’ve started talking about it a lot more. We’ve hosted multiple sessions on mental health for our members and they’ve all been really well attended by businesses wanting to look out for their staff.

17.5 million working days were lost last year due to mental health related sickness absence - but some companies don’t have the support in place to help their people when they need it.

COVID-19 has caused anxiety, fear, isolation and work-related stress due to being furloughed, job uncertainty or juggling work and caring commitments. This has highlighted the importance of having a workplace culture that encourages and supports people to talk about mental health.

Through their responsible business commitments, many of our members already had staff trained as Mental Health First Aiders so were quickly able to signpost to support. Others signed staff up for mental health awareness training so they could best support their colleagues.

 

We’re all different

Creating a supportive workplace culture where people can be themselves is always important, but remote working has really highlighted how this can also have an impact on good mental health.

When we feel that we can be our ‘whole self’ we can get to know and understand our colleagues better. This understanding is so important when working remotely. Everyone has faced different challenges but some of the stress is eased when your team understand. I would have struggled a lot more during lockdown if it weren’t for my team being open to a two-year old joining our Zoom meetings and the constant sound of the Peppa Pig theme tune in the background!

Mental Health England has a campaign for workplace culture change where they encourage people to share their ‘whole self selfies’ to share their authentic self with their colleagues to build connections and strengthen relationships when working virtually.

Lockdown has reminded us that everyone is different in how they adapt to change and how they like to communicate. Some got straight on board with the weekly Zoom quizzes and socials whereas others found it harder to adapt and responded better to 1:1 catch-ups. As we move to a post-lockdown world and our ways of working change again, it’s good to remember that everyone is different. Perhaps do a quick pulse survey or check-in to understand the impact of changes on employees and to keep people engaged.

Natalie Tickle

Natalie Tickle is Head of Membership at Heart of the City, a small charity helping businesses to develop their responsible business programmes. Ecovis has been a member of Heart of the City since January 2019 and in that time with the support of HOTC, we have introduced a wellbeing working group, have trained some of our staff as Mental Health First Aid Champions (MHFCs) and are starting to roll out some really simple steps to making Ecovis a better, happier place to work. From flexible working, dress for your day, free fruit and corporate gym membership to walking meetings and firm-wide fitness activities, these are all aimed to improve the state of mind and happiness of those we work with and for.

Heart of the City has just opened applications for London SMEs to join them in 2021. They have funded places available for the introduction year of their foundation programme and you can apply by 1 December.

Thanks for sticking with us for blog number 2 in this series – next time up, we will be joined by Matt Moro, Marketing Manager at Fitzrovia IT, where he'll be diving into the challenges of remote team management and the tools which will help you improve efficiency.