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Leadership During Covid-19: A People Director Reflects

by BIE on 18 Jun 2020

In recent weeks, the topic of senior leadership discussions has shifted from crisis management to focusing on what the new normal may look like. What aspects of working life are we keen to return to and reestablish – but also what have we learnt, what will we decide to change, and how will we blend the old with the new?

We spoke to Phillippa Starmer who joined Get Living as Director of People & Culture in March 2020, to get her steer on the positives during this time, how she overcame challenges and her advice for the future. Phillippa has over 15 years’ HR experience, and has worked with organisations including IGLU, Channel 4, Betfair, and Nestle.

Here are some of her insights.

What were the positives of joining an organisation during Covid-19?

It may not have been the easiest transition into a new role and organisation, but it has been a great opportunity to look to the future and concentrate on how we work and change for the better.

With the increased focus on effective communication, I have probably got to know more people holistically than I would have in 12 months, let alone three. It has been a great opportunity to understand who my colleagues are both in work and at home, which has made interactions far more human.

It’s incredible to see people shining, stepping up and owning it. There is far more reliance on each other to fulfil our roles and it seems we have more bandwidth to do this.

I am also not privy to what Get Living was like before Covid-19 – I don’t have any baggage around any old ways of working – so I can easily concentrate on what the business needs to look like moving forwards without that hindrance.

The leadership team are incredibly collaborative and kind. They are decent people who live the company values and that comes through into our culture. We do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. This ethos comes directly from the top; it’s their personality and approach to work, which makes a significant difference.

What were the challenges?

I was fortunate that I joined Get Living four days before we went into lockdown and so I did have some time in the office before fully working from home.

But there were two areas at the outset that were challenging – primarily ensuring I had access to the right systems and building rapport with the team.

For example, as a new starter it wasn’t obvious which training systems I had and hadn’t completed as we entered lockdown, and actions were added on systems that I couldn’t see because I didn’t have the logins for them.

I needed to find new ways of getting up to speed on projects already in flow, as I couldn’t just pop to someone’s desk or have a five-minute chat at the end of the day.

Trust and rapport building were also tricky – as I didn’t have the nuances of body language. It’s important not to assume that people know where you’re coming from. It’s up to you to have the self-awareness and to get that across.

Thoughts on the future of work

More people will work from home as they will be trusted to do so. We’ve seen in action how productive and effective teams can be, and that the technology is already in place to make this possible.

I can’t get my head around commuting into London. No one will want to squeeze back onto trains and buses, so it raises the question of how people will get back into the office. It’s also unclear what the purpose of the office will be if people can work effectively from home. It might be that small teams looking to team build and collaborate will choose other places to meet locally, such as coffee shops.

I’m sure that people will still want to meet and collaborate; you do not get the same energy levels and bounce off each other in the same way over a video call. It’s particularly difficult if you’re extraverted and/or are used to working in teams. I’m unconvinced that this way of working will be sustainable in the long-term, or that we will want our work and life so intertwined if we have the choice. We will need to find a balance.

If more people do choose to work from home it could impact where we choose to live, basing our decisions on where we would like to live rather than on where is practicable. This could have a significant impact on access to talent, with more hiring decisions being based on the best person for the job, rather than the closest.

What advice would you give to other leaders?

Top of my list would be not buying a flat without outside space!

Seriously though, as a leadership team there are things we could have done better. We didn’t think about putting our own oxygen masks on first.  It’s important to remember you can’t be kind to other people until you are kind to yourself.

We tend to have a stiff upper lip culture, and it’s easy to say, “I’m fine”. But are you fine though? Are you eating and sleeping well? Are you exercising? Are you optimistic, are you intending to be optimistic? How are your resilience levels and what are you doing about them? Once you’ve looked at that you can direct the people that work for you better.

Remember also that no leader has done this before. It’s okay to not be sure, it’s okay to be fed up, it’s even okay to be sick of the people you live with and need a break. As you look to helping your team, make sure you check yourself too.

BIE

Written by BIE

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