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GTP21: The juggle is real…

Prescient Business Consulting

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2021 Growth Through People campaign.

Growth Through People is the Chamber’s annual campaign aiming to help local firms boost productivity and grow through improved leadership and people management skills. In 2021 this involves 8 free online workshops taking place throughout March, and a virtual Growth Through People conference on 30th March. In addition, throughout the campaign the Chambers will be publishing thought leadership podcasts, videos and blog content such as this.

Thanks to our Headline Sponsors – Aston University, BMet College and the University of Birmingham’s Work Inclusivity Research Centre - all workshops are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more and register to attend Growth Through People workshops here, and the Growth Through People conference here.

This blog is dedicated to all the magnificent, multi-tasking Mums and Dads out there who are home-schooling, shopping, preparing lunches and dinners, cleaning, being play-mates (occasional referees!) and generally holding it all together - the juggle is real!

With all of that going on, at the same time as doing their own jobs via home-working, how do you keep your employees engaged – and productive - in these challenging circumstances?

I, myself, am in the scenario I have just described and have been for the long-haul. Lockdown 3.0 is definitely beginning to take its toll and has an impact on both our physical and mental health. Being back in the buzz of the office with colleagues or travelling to visit clients can feel like a distant memory at times when we’re sat at our makeshift desks in the dining room or attending yet another meeting with a dial-in pin as a substitute for check-in travel tickets to meet face-to-face. 

These strange times are making us feel an enormous sense of gratitude for the simple things in our lives… a hug with a family member or a chat with a friend over a cup of coffee in our favourite café. Until we can safely do those things again, what we appreciate right now - for those who are fortunate – is being grateful for flexibility. I know I certainly am!

In our business (Prescient Business Consulting), flexibility is something that is already part of how we do things – our culture. We value and benefit from it so much that not only were we prepared for, and able to achieve, business continuity for our clients right from the beginning of the pandemic, but it’s something they often ask us to help them implement themselves as part of their strategies and employee engagement programmes.

With home-working here to stay for the foreseeable future, and the landscape of the traditional workplaces / working practices possibly changing forever, now is a great time to offer flexibility to your teams – especially those who are working parents. Here are our top tips on how to easily implement small steps to making a big difference:

  • Adapt working hours – trust your people and allow them to adapt from their regular working hours. Maybe they would benefit from starting earlier or finishing later to accommodate home learning and classroom zoom calls with teachers during school hours.
  • Flexibility with time off as and when needed. Have policies in place which allow for this to work effectively for the employee and the needs of the business. You could also consider using the furlough scheme to support those with caring responsibilities. This may not just be children – many employees are having to care for their parents or elderly relatives, particularly those who are most at risk or shielding.
  • It’s good to give something back. As well as supporting families, many people are volunteering to help the NHS or not-for-profit organisations. Create a volunteering policy that allows employees time off to support these good causes such as volunteering at testing and vaccination centres or maybe it’s to help out at a food bank to prepare / deliver parcels to those in the community who are vulnerable or have been financially impacted by the pandemic.
  • Use technology to stay connected, apart. Software such as MS Teams, Zoom and FaceTime are great ways to still see people when you can’t be physically together. Video calls create more of a connection between the participants and can be a great tool. However, you should be mindful of the next point.
  • Combat Zoom fatigue – make sure employees are taking regular breaks away from their screens to rest their eyes and change their posture. Long meetings or periods in front of a screen can cause musculoskeletal problems as well as causing eye damage and headaches. Also, try to avoid filling the diary with back-to-back meetings which prevent time to move about. If they aren’t avoidable, have short periods off video where you can move about / relax a little. Also, try making meetings shorter – for example make a 30-minute meeting 25 minutes or a 60-minute meeting 55 minutes. Just because our calendars are set to default blocks of 15 minutes, manually adjust these to give yourself a 5-minute comfort break in between calls on busy days.
  • Being patient and understanding when children… or pets… or parcels / home deliveries make an appearance during a call / video. Let’s not pretend that everything is normal. This might be starting to feel like ‘the new norm’… but it’s far from how we would usually be.
  • Keep the team spirit alive by arranging social / fun sessions. It doesn’t just have to be another Zoom quiz! Get creative with ideas – there are lots of things you can do together remotely (wine / cheese tasting, online escape rooms etc.). It can also be nice to send random acts of kindness and surprise deliveries to colleagues – thoughtful, little details that make people know you are thinking about them.
  • Regular communication is key. Check in and have a conversation to find out how people are doing, make sure they are ok and ask if they need any extra support. Remember the saying in that well known TV advert… “it’s good to talk”.
  • Wellbeing – our mental wellness is just as important as our physical health so why not have more meetings on the move. We’ve all been through a lot and it’s important to make time for self-care and be good to ourselves. Encourage employees to schedule time into their diaries for lunch (we run on our stomachs!) and daily exercise breaks. If you find your diary is already filled up with calls, can some of them be done with an old-fashioned phone call? Sometimes, this can actually be more effective plus it creates more freedom and flexibility. The participants can be outside having a ‘moving meeting’ and talking whilst walking. This is a great way to clear the head and get some fresh air which allows you to focus more. It also gives people a break from screens so is another good tip for combating Zoom / Teams fatigue. There’s no better time to get out and enjoy the benefits of nature… especially as we’re starting to see lighter / longer hours and milder weather.

So, with Spring on the horizon, here’s to brighter days ahead… and let’s keep some of these new healthy habits going, even when lockdown ends. For those home working / schooling heroes - home learning isn’t just for the children… we can all benefit from our learnings from lockdown, too.

Kate Marsh
Partner – HR & Culture
Prescient Business Consulting