Lessons learnt from lockdown

Partnership, collaboration, speed of response, communication, pace of decision-making, agile and flexible are all words that spring to mind when I think of how we’ve been working during lockdown. We had to act quickly, lead our teams to work differently and support partners to meet their challenges.

Although the last three months have been unprecedented and we were guided by Government to temporarily reshape our service offers and delivery, we responded immediately – we had to admittedly – but we made things happen we would almost never have believed possible in such a short space of time. We were amazed at how flexible our people were and how it made decision-making and action plans a joy!  And how could we do that? Our structures, governance and decision-making channels were and are agile, and we have been able to take advantage of it. In addition, we set some guiding principles aligned to our values to allow us to act quickly but with clarity and purpose.

Our chief executive Mark Perry also set some factors for success. These include keeping our employees and customers safe; protecting the long-term viability of the organisation; keeping staff employed and remunerated; and that we’re valued more as an organisation on the other side of this rather than less.

We are all about providing brighter futures and what a time to be able to support our customers and communities in such critical circumstances. Working with our partners we agreed where we could make the most difference and we made a decision within a week of lockdown to provide an extra £250k of funding. This was distributed between all our local food banks and many community groups were offered grants. In addition, 400 customers were gifted sim enabled laptops to help them with home schooling and keeping in touch with friends and family.

These weren’t things we had previously planned but a human catastrophe required a humane response. Our communities were hurting and we were determined to do something about that. And it was done without deliberation, without the need for long drawn out Board paper discussions – we were able to be agile through our governance structure and apply our guiding principles to respond quickly.

Sharing information with our stakeholders and ensuring we were in tune with the challenges was also important and we could use our flexibility to provide what they needed. When my colleague from Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council approached me asking if we could help provide accommodation for homeless individuals to keep them safe, we mobilised within hours. Working collaboratively with a number of councils, support and voluntary agencies we provided homes which were furnished, had food parcels and all the basics. 

This has been about doing what was needed to help those most in need.  One gentleman who had been homeless for years is now trying to find work, engaging with support and is thinking about his future home. This is what we’re here for – to make a difference to people lives - and whilst we are doing that every day, at these times of crisis even those customers who are often hard to engage with, applying the resources made things change quickly.

Looking at how we’ve been working, back in February I would never have imagined that my whole customer experience team would be working from home, dealing with all customer contacts effectively and achieving a satisfaction score of 9.2! We did that by distributing the equipment we needed, communicating with and supporting all teams to set themselves up at home, using technology to keep in touch and setting up a flow of information to engage with our staff.

And Microsoft Teams - what a blessing! Will any of us ever travel miles to meet in groups face-to-face again?  At the Heads of Housing Forum South which meets quarterly, we had almost double the attendees on a video call compared to the face-to-face meetings we’ve had in the past!

As we start to get our services back to normal and think about what the future looks like post lockdown, what will we take forward from how we’ve worked over the past few months? This will be a huge discussion area for all businesses and will no doubt change the way we work forever.  What will our offices be used for in the future – central meeting hubs? How can we adopt the speed of decision-making when we get back to normal business?  Enhanced partnerships where we find quick solutions for the benefit of our communities and customers. Questions that I’m sure are on the agenda for all senior management meetings.

And if this terrible virus and the implications it’s had for so many thousands of people bring nothing else, let’s hope it gets us to reflect on the positives to make a brighter future.

We are all about providing brighter futures and what a time to be able to support our customers and communities in such critical circumstances