COVID-19 has caused some major disruption within the business community and although restrictions have been eased slightly, it’s thought the impact will continue for some time yet. Personally, I have been really impressed with the way our incredible county has responded to the crisis. I’ve witnessed all sorts of acts of kindness and people pulling together to offer support when it could be so easy to sit on the side lines.
One thing which has become particularly apparent during lockdown is how beneficial it can be to listen to others in order to overcome our own obstacles. It’s important to hear each other’s challenges, share success stories and have honest conversations when things are difficult, so that we can help each other through. One person’s problem could be another’s solution, but it’s difficult to connect the dots if you aren’t aware of them in the first place. We can learn so much from the people around us.
Drawing from my own experience as an example, I was having some difficulty finding software to record our ‘What’s Going Swan’ podcast remotely. I mentioned it to the awesome Nathan Lomax, Co-Founder of Quickfire Digital, and he directed me towards Zencast – which if you haven’t used already, I would highly recommend. I found a solution to my problem in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea by being honest about my difficulties. Nathan then joined us on our first remotely recorded podcast where we discussed all sorts of different topics – if you haven’t already, be sure to give it a listen.
This got me thinking so I reached out to a few people in the local business community to see what challenges they been have facing and what they have learnt during the coronavirus pandemic so far. Not only did I speak to Nathan, I spoke to Stokely Howard Director at Trendy Grandad and Emma Baylis Senior Manager at Select Appointments.
Despite the name, Trendy Grandad isn’t a company which styles the older generation, it’s a creative content agency based in Norwich Co-Founded by Stokely and Adam Jones. They specialise in producing powerful videos which help businesses tell their story and urge customers to act. Stokely agreed with my thoughts around the local business community, saying: “I knew it was strong, but I didn’t realise it was this strong. It’s great to see the community pull together and adopt what feels like a wartime mentality of support and compassion!” Nathan added: “Whether it be volunteering, helping others or paying it forwards we actually live in a really wonderful community and I feel blessed to be part of it.”
When I asked Stokely if there was anything lockdown had made him appreciate more, he mentioned how easy it was to communicate with one another when you physically worked right next to each other, he said: “Like everyone, we’ve just had to adopt different methods of communication but it’s definitely still not the same! Being able to bounce ideas off each other all day without picking up a phone or setting up a zoom call is something we can’t wait to get back to!”
Emma has been working as part of the team at Select Appointments for an incredible 18 years! Their vision is to provide a high-quality and personal recruitment service to employers and job seekers. I love that I can back this up wholeheartedly as I was recruited to work for Indigo Swan through Emma and Select. The kindness I received throughout the process was second to none and they landed me my dream job – not much more you can ask for!
For Emma change can sometimes be a good thing. She mentioned how we don’t know what’s coming around the next corner, but sometimes that is okay – which really stuck with me. “Change has given us a new appreciation for people and as a nation we have rallied around our key workers that were previously overlooked. I’m hopeful that when we start to come out the other side, this new appreciation will continue”
Nathan Co-Founded Quickfire digital back in 2017 and since then the team has expanded as well as their client base. They help businesses all over the UK build websites which focus on getting results. If you know Nathan, you will already be aware he doesn’t sit still for long and is always busy working on something new. When we spoke about what he has been up to which perhaps he didn’t have time for before lockdown, taking some time out for himself was on that list. “I used to make sure every day and night was totally full up and then crave a night off doing nothing. With COVID-19 I’ve had plenty of opportunities to do nothing which has encouraged me to start reading again, working on the business rather than in it and rediscovering my love for FIFA on the PlayStation!” Personally, I think this is a very important point. All of us can use this time to focus on ourselves, learn a new skill or take some downtime. It could simply be working your way through a book you have wanted to immerse yourself in for some time. Self-care is super important.
For Emma virtual meetings are something she wasn’t really part of pre lockdown. “I work from home for some of the week and have previously relied on phone conversations and email – but it’s so much more personal to have that face to face contact so it’s definitely something I will continue with. The mute button has been a godsend with everyone else being in the house at the same time!” She’s also become a bit of a dab hand in the garden and is now the proud owner of a new vegetable patch. “I did it originally for the boys to be able to watch something each day and be involved in, but if I’m honest I think it’s me that gets the most out of it!”
I was interested to talk about the challenges all three had been facing during the last couple of months or so. Emma mentioned that Select had achieved certain milestones and pre lockdown they were about to embark on an evolution within the business. Due to the current situation they had to stop and take stock of everything they do and made the decision to embark on a revolution instead. She said: “This period has allowed us to identify any pitfalls in what we were doing, review them and learn from them. It has taught us much better, and more efficient ways of doing things moving forward. We are feeling positive for the future. These changes will enable us to be the 21st Century recruiter that we aspire to be.”
For Stokely their biggest challenge has been filming as that’s how they mainly create content for other businesses. Lockdown put a pretty abrupt end to that but at the same time the need for content is higher than ever with everyone being stuck inside, glued to their screens. This is where their new service ‘Let Grandad Do It’ comes in. “It’s a simple process – you film your content and we edit it to be on brand, engaging and watchable. We have tried to make it cost-effective for businesses during this tough time. As part of the subscription, you get 12 content requests per month in 5 different templates – this means you could get up to 60 pieces of content per month to reach your audience and sell your service or product.” You can find out more about it on their website. This is a fantastic example of how businesses are adapting their services due to the current situation. Right now is the perfect opportunity for us all to think a little differently and explore new ideas.
Looking at things from the other perspective and focusing more on the positives, I think COVID-19 has given us all more time to focus on slowing down. Doing jobs around the house we’ve been meaning to but haven’t necessarily had the time to. Nathan agreed and added: “I have managed to rediscover my love of cooking. In the last few weeks I have found cooking a welcome distraction and so have been taking on a different culinary challenge each week. The first week was a homemade Indian which took 5 hours. I’m yet to grasp the ability of cooking multiple things at once but everyone starts somewhere I guess.”
Emma has really appreciated the family time she has been given, that perhaps she wouldn’t normally have had. She said: “Weekends beforehand were usually filled with plans to do stuff with family and friends all together, and weekdays were taken up with work, school and routine – it’s been valuable to all be locked away together just to enjoy each other, and to just be.” Stokely has taken up running to help him adapt from being super active to being home all day (everyday!). From a business sense, Trendy Grandad have been able to explore working with businesses which they may not have done in the past. He added: “This has been an interesting challenge for us but one we have really enjoyed! It has been great to work on some different projects and help different businesses.”
Many of us my have found working from home tricky at times. Stokely said: “I’m a very social person with a short attention span. I thrive off other people and the buzz of the office. I found WFH difficult at first, I kept finding myself getting up, looking in the fridge and then sitting back down again, for no apparent reason! Haha! I have itchy feet to get back into the swing of things, but I’ve learned to be a bit more patient and just relax, exercising has been a huge help for this!” His top tip for working from home is to establish boundaries with other people in your home. “When you’re at work, you’re at work, that doesn’t mean come in for a quick chat if you feel like it. Work mode on. It sounds strict but it’s been great for my productivity and mindset.”
For Nathan, one of the hardest things he has had to learn is being content in his own company. “I get my energy from others so not getting that is hard but I’m learning lots about myself.” His top tip for working at home is to use a default diary. “Set time aside for meals, exercise, washing, the works. Keep a nice structure and then it doesn’t all get too much!”
Emma talked about how working from home with everyone under one roof can be challenging, which I am sure many will agree with! She said: “My husband’s role has been very busy, so we have tried to juggle the childcare as best that we can, although I know who the lion’s share has fallen to! I work from home for 40% of the week ordinarily, but with the boys usually at pre-school/school, and my husband usually in the office, it has been quite different!”. Communication and collaboration have been crucial for her and her team during this time. The increase in Zoom and team meetings has meant that they are talking and listening to each other more than perhaps they would when they were office based.
To finish I asked everyone what their key takeaway would be from any of the challenges they have faced due to COVID-19. Stokely said: “Don’t take anything for granted. Whether that is the ability to go for a coffee, on holiday or have facetime with people you care about.” For Nathan it was more of a personal message as he put the emphasis on continuing to exercise: “I thrive off meeting new people and engaging with others, so without that I’ve sometimes felt down or in a bad place. Having the chance to run, walk, explore Norwich has been a massive distraction and something I look forward to daily.” Emma concluded with a simple message that as business, it’s important to diversify. “At Select, we have always taken pride in offering a 360-degree approach to recruitment, which includes covering most disciplines and markets. If we had focused purely on a permanents market in a particular sector, we may have faced more challenges than we have done. By offering services across Industrial as well, it has meant we have thankfully remained busy at this time of crisis and have still been able to place many candidates into much needed roles.”
There is so much we can learn from these three incredible people and the way they have personally as well as their businesses adapted to the changing climate. I’ve really enjoyed hearing their stories and advice, so I hope you will find something useful in this piece to take away with you.