Executive Director Mike Turner questions whether social distancing has actually brought us closer together

I recently read a great article by Riverside CE Carol Matthews encouraging us to remember the solidarity and fortitude shown during the Coronavirus crisis and to consider taking with us some of the lessons and behaviours learned during lockdown.

Returning to the ‘new normal’ is something that as a business, Ian Williams has really had to work to adjust to in recent weeks. Nothing we’ve ever experienced before could have prepared us for the last four months. As Carol says, we need to take comfort from the fact that we’re not alone in this – every business around the world has been affected in some quite profound ways. We’re all in this together – not just as businesses, or as business leaders, but as humans. One of the big positives to emerge is that people have pulled together and new and existing bonds have been forged and reinforced.

Emotional roller-coaster

While it’s still too early to design and confidently forecast what the longer-term new world looks like, we can learn some immediate lessons. True, we’re still riding a roller coaster of emotions in terms of how people are feeling. Some are really positive about returning to work because they’ve missed their colleagues or struggled to work from home, while others are still shielding or caring for vulnerable people. Day-by-day, we’re working through this and are adopting a hybrid approach – continuing to support those team members who provided front-line response services to housing clients during the pandemic, inducting and training operatives who are going back to work, making our offices across the UK safe, and helping those who can work remotely to do so.

It’s going to be a long haul and every step of the way, and there are opportunities to learn and adapt – for the better – our working practices and operating models. But for now, we also need to move forward and find solutions to some far-reaching questions.  

For example, how do we operate productively and effectively when we’re not getting the face to face meeting opportunities anymore? How do we ensure everyone in the business is operating safely and with peace of mind, but simultaneously working in ways that make commercial sense to the business? How do we maintain our culture and values? How do we maintain an environment and culture that makes it easier for people to do their jobs in a way that makes sense for them, but also makes sense for us as a business? How do we continue to communicate to show that we’re attractive as an employer? We’ve had to ask questions and respond accordingly – and fast – to protect people’s livelihoods and as far as possible, future proof the business. So the answer to questions like: “Should we re-engineer our training and induction programmes? Should we invest in more robust and broader-reaching IT and technology infrastructure for people to work remotely?” is a huge yes. Absolutely we should, and so we are doing, and learning every day.

Hit the reset button

I firmly believe that as leaders, we must be hitting the ‘reset’ button now if we are to survive and thrive in the new work age.  So as a business, we’ve been focusing on some of the positives which are already emerging through our new working practices, such as more effective communication, the use of technology and the many benefits that remote working brings – as well as responding to the challenges associated with these new ways of blended ways of working.

Although the impact on our sector has been profound there is a real sense that we are all ‘in it together’ and in some ways social distancing has brought us even closer together. Underpinning this for Ian Williams are our company values which are at the heart of everything we do. And the core value for us is always to look after our people. Never has there been a bigger opportunity to do this than over the last months. Once this is all over, we will be judged on how well our people think we supported them, and how many of the right things we did, knowing what we did at the time and what we know now.

Nobody has a rule book for navigating the events so far in 2020. But there is no place to hide. As a business, we’ve had to be decisive, outward-looking and honest. We’ve tried to maintain regular communication with employees, customers and suppliers through telephone and digital channels, offering reassurance and guidance. The world has changed so we’ve had to change too, but while doing so, we’re also bringing with us the positive things we’ve learned.

To end on Carol’s words: “While the last few months have been nothing like normal, it does feel like there’s a degree of normality returning to work and to life as lockdown lifts. I don’t know what we’ll remember most as time wears on, but there are a few things I hope we don’t forget.”

What’s your view? I’d love to know how your businesses have been adapting in the short term and medium term and what lessons you’re taking with you for the longer term.

Register your interest for a series of upcoming webinars on the subject of: “Has social distancing brought us closer together?” 


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