Written by Hilary Chipping
I am proud to lead the amazing team at the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) and I have never been prouder than during the Coronavirus lockdown. The Business Advisers in the Growth Hub have been on the front line from Day 1 providing support and signposting businesses to the grants and loans available from local authorities and banks. Many small businesses were feeling devastated in the early weeks and the Advisers were often dealing with emotionally draining situations. Despite this they demonstrated their commitment by volunteering to ensure that support lines were open over the weekend.
It is my job to look after the mental and physical wellbeing of my Team. I took the decision to close the office at Cranfield on 19th March. We immediately put in place plans to ensure that everyone was able to carry out their roles working from home. The office was cleared, final checks were made from a data protection perspective, any special equipment that people needed was gathered up to be delivered to their homes the next day and the plants were taken home! It was a strange feeling locking the door and setting the alarm on that Thursday. I don’t know when I will set foot in the office again.
It took time for us all to adopt a new way of working. Every morning at 8.30am I and my senior team have a ‘virtual’ operational meeting to resolve any immediate practical issues. These focused a lot on people and how they were coping. I am very fortunate to have a senior team of mainly women so juggling childcare and home schooling with work was a concern.
Good communication is key in any crisis and SEMLEP’s excellent communications team was soon putting their minds to internal newsletters packed with useful tips from baking to mindfulness to keeping fit. Virtual tea breaks were put in diaries to ensure that people did not feel isolated. Weekly team meetings enabled everyone to hear what others were doing as well as exchanging some banter through the ‘chat’ function.
Working from home has enabled people to do a great job whilst seeing more of their families and avoiding the need for travel. Stakeholder engagement has also been really positive. It is much easier for people to slot a one hour Zoom meeting into busy diaries and we have communicated on a more regular basis with our local authorities and Business Organisations. This is especially important with our large geography and I intend to continue using virtual meetings.
I am so proud of the way that the team has risen to the challenge and continued to provide an excellent service to our businesses and communities, whilst demonstrating compassion and support for their fellow team members. However, I do miss the face to face meetings and am looking forward to being able to share a real as opposed to a virtual cup of tea with my colleagues, when it is safe to do so!