I keep thinking back to a leadership meeting we held back in February 2020 and the plans and aims for the year ahead. We all met at Oddfellows in Chester and something called “Corona Virus” got a mention in passing at the end of the meeting.
At that stage, the pandemic was starting to unfold in China and Italy but I have to admit I doubted it would have caused an unprecedented (sorry, I said it already) amount of change to our daily lives.
The next time the issue made it onto our agenda was in a Director’s meeting in early March, where we discussed the possibility of having to trial working from home in case things escalated further and the possible impact it might have on the business. We agreed towards the end of the meeting that we should try a day working from home on the 12th March (the next day) and the leadership team quickly organized their teams to make it happen. And that was it! That was the last time we were all together in one building.
The next morning we all signed in to Slack and I had an overwhelming feeling of responsibility on my shoulders – like nothing I had felt before.
The government started talking about lockdowns and my mind was racing; What do we do next? How do we handle it with clients? What about the office? What about all the projects we are working on? How do we keep team morale up? How do we all stay safe? It was endless. I am not great in these situations.
We had started the year with our best performance on record and we had big plans. All of it had to take a back seat and we went into survival mode. Keeping the team together and keeping our clients happy was our new plan.
The team responded better than I had imagined was possible – the sense of togetherness and team spirit was pretty amazing. The team set up Slack channels purely to keep us all smiling, our amazing leadership team started to put their virtual arms around their teams via Google Meet and we started talking to our clients about the problems they now face and how we can help fix them. It was so impressive. We quickly agreed on temporary agreements with our clients and started to realise how lucky we were to be able to work from home effectively. We felt like we were running on adrenaline and we knew there were so many difficult decisions to come. The only thing I could 100% tell is that the team was up for the challenge.
As the next few days and weeks passed we realised we would have to furlough some of the team, as a number of clients were running at a lower level for the short term. This was undoubtedly the worst moment of the year. No doubt. I hated that something we hadn’t started was now causing me to make such difficult decisions about the team. All I knew is that our aim was to bring everyone back to work full time and the only way we were going to do it was by staying close to our clients and working hard to find solutions for them.
So we did it! Our team worked to find solutions for our clients and some started to experience huge demand increases for their products. We started to see some clients willing to invest in their websites and we had a huge number of new projects in the quoting phase.
Meanwhile, we were all continuing to work from home, and to alleviate the anxiety about returning to the office, we decided to announce to the team we were free to work from home until 2021 when we will review the situation. It felt like the right call to make and I am glad we made it.
Slowly but surely, some of our worst affected clients started to return and by September we had the entire team back working full time. This was undoubtedly my favourite moment of the year and it felt like a huge achievement for myself, Sam, and Laura.
A big remaining decision to make was what to do with our HQ. The building we were in was starting to feel tired and each time I visited the empty space I couldn’t picture how we would use it in the short and medium-term. There were too many rooms, too many doors, and with COVID in mind, I felt we needed to think about moving, so we had a new place to gather when normality returns. So we made the call to start searching for a new space. I have a personal belief that when this is all over we will still need somewhere to gather physically around a project.
So after a bit of searching, we found a new place at the newly built Gorse Stacks House in a perfect location in the middle of Chester. The office has amazing views across the city and the modern facilities meant it was perfect for what I had in mind. We signed the agreement and penciled in a move date for November. We spent the next few months of the year preparing it for 2021.
And so here we are! I am sat writing this in the new HQ getting it ready for the new year. There is some painting left to do, but it’s coming together nicely. The space is designed to be open access and the team can book to use it when required. We have client meeting spaces and loads of new tech to allow others to join meetings from anywhere. We can’t wait to see it full of life as soon as it is safe to do so.
And so we are undoubtedly one of the fortunate businesses which has been able to return to normality quickly. We overcame a huge challenge in March/April and we pulled together as a team to get the business back on track. We even had our biggest quarter of growth on record last quarter and the future is looking really positive given everything we have all been through. We even managed to add 5 new recruits to the team – there are now 51 of us!
I couldn’t be prouder of the team and the way everything has been handled. Some of the ways the team have helped each other out has been brilliant to see. They have kept each other’s spirits up and through their determination, they have made sure a very difficult year has ended up being a positive one.
And so 2020 has made us better communicators, better at working from anywhere, more resilient, bigger, better, more capable, more flexible and we are more than ready for whatever 2021 has in store.