Its February 2020. New suit at the ready, shirt ironed and best tie donned. An exciting new dawn beckons for me as Managing Director of Jensten bespoke wholesale. Who would have thought just over a month later our offices would be empty, the team all at home and the country in lockdown. Somethings you just can’t prepare for!
So here we are. But despite this unprecedented turn of events and the immense pace of the change, I whisper the words carefully….its starting to feel a bit like business as usual…
How can this be, I hear you say - what is usual about the current situation? Well, its now over 3 weeks since I made the decision to send the team home, to ensure the safety of them and their loved ones. They have all been equipped with laptops and second screens, the phones are diverted and we are into an operating rhythm.
Having managed teams remotely in the past, I know one of the key factors in maintaining team morale and thereby achieving results can be summed up in three words – engagement, engagement, engagement. Its so easy when you’re remote to only talk to people as a reaction to something that’s come up. This is not how life operates in the real world. Those little moments of engagement you take for granted whilst in the office are so important to us as humans – How’s your day going? How are your family getting on? What was that film like you saw last night?
We now have daily video conferences, split between the sub teams, each morning. Just a chance to share our priorities for the day, discuss important messages and see each others smiling faces (and choice of home clothing!). Once a week we mix this up with a full team video conference. Whilst this does resemble a budget version of celebrity squares, it is an opportunity for all the team to come together and share, if only for a short while, the office banter that we were all so used to. We also have a WhatsApp’s group set up for more informal conversations, usually ranging from internet frustrations to the latest Coronavirus meme.
The rest of my day, I make sure I’m taking time to speak to the team individually. It’s a constant battle not to fall into the trap of firing off a short email which is almost always quicker, but less personable and insightful as to how someone is doing.
So into the fourth week and what have a I learnt so far? Well, judging by the memorabilia in the background, I’ve learnt some in the team have truly horrendous tastes in football teams. I’ve learnt that I quite like the odd child jumping into the video conference in front of their mortified parent – this somehow feels real to me. But I’ve also learnt I’ve got a truly remarkable team. Not only have they adapted to these unique times, not only have they flexed their working hours to fit around busy households and customer needs, but they have managed to produce some of the best monthly results we’ve had in City Underwriters. Two months into the role and somehow I’ve learnt more about my team than I would have dared to imagine.
I think Rita Mae Brown nailed it when she said “People are like tea bags; you never know how strong they'll be until they're in hot water”
Well, stick the kettle on team – we may be here for some time….