Our people are our most single most important resource in our businesses. Whether you are the likes of Tesco – with over 300,000 employees – or 2 mates working from home on a start-up idea, this common thread remains…we are nothing without our people. The last 12 months have brought in to sharp focus the need to keep staff members engaged and the importance of supporting their physical & mental health. Covid-19 really did rip up the rulebook on how business leaders interact with and inspire their workforce and ultimately this has led to a better appreciation of the “person” behind the “employee”. The truth is, whilst flexible / remote working, employee well-being and staff engagement have been on the agenda for some time, not many businesses had truly embraced them and looked to affect practical change.
The impact of Covid-19 forced their hand. The MD who didn’t like the idea of home working because they “couldn’t see what they were doing” suddenly had to put their faith in those people to deliver what they said they would. The simple question “how are you doing” became something that meant far more than it used to…often nothing to do with work…as we learned to support each other through the shared experience of lockdown, whatever our level in the business. Technology has, of course, been key through this transition…it has facilitated communication and collaboration through a myriad of video platforms and software applications. In particular, many businesses have benefited from normally introverted employee being able to share their ideas via online tools, rather than being reluctant to comment in a physical meeting that would usually be led by the extroverts in the business. Whichever way you look at it, it is fair to say that many businesses would not have survived without the IT required being so readily available.
Technology will only get you so far though. What has been most brilliant to see throughout this tumultuous period is the resilience and ingenuity of people. Whilst tech acts as a facilitator, the real innovation has come from people. A great example of this is how many employees have taken it upon themselves to organise virtual meetups to check in with each other and share ideas and updates…although my personal favourite is the German café that asked customers to wear “pool noodles” on their heads to ensure social distancing!
Looking ahead, some of the same old challenges remain. An ageing workforce, skills shortages in key industry sectors and a lack of succession planning all stack up as potential dangers for the modern British business. With this in mind, it is very important we don’t lose sight of long term priorities as we continue to work our way out of the economic fallout of the pandemic. It is vital that business leaders now start to address some of these issues and help is at hand to do so through a number of schemes being delivered by the Chamber and Local Enterprise Partnerships.
I, for one, feel very positive about how we can meet these challenges head on and build upon some of the great work that is already taking place locally. If the last 12 months has taught us anything, it is that at the heart of our businesses are great people…people who will go the extra mile…people who have a hitherto unknown inner steel…people who come up with great ideas and finally have the chance to share them…people who care about their colleagues and will rally round to support them through tough times.
This is without doubt something we should embrace as we move through the coming months and years. There will be more challenges, we are not truly through this one quite yet, but our people can help us rise out of these storms and ultimately become better businesses, built not just for the here and now but for the future.