A year (or so) on...

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Back in May 2020, only a few weeks after we had all be instructed to work from home due to Covid-19, I wrote an article titled ‘Locked down but not out…’. This was an immediate reaction to what had got us through those early months of what were unprecedented circumstances; new challenges, shifted priorities, constantly changed plans. If someone had said to me that, 18 months later, the impact of Covid on our working lives would still be as stark now as it was then, I’d have not quite believed it. And yet, looking back at that article, many of those behaviours and values still very much ring true – not only did they get us through the early stages, but they have been pivotal in driving our success to this day.

Taking those learnings and tackling the last year with them in mind has, I believe, been crucial in ensuring that Medialab as a business, emerges from the pandemic and lockdown in a positive place. I’d actually say we are a better business for the experience, and that’s largely down to sticking to those core beliefs.

Medialab has always been a ‘People First’ organisation, and that has never been more so than during the uncertain times created by the pandemic. My colleagues at Medialab are our greatest source of strength and last year, when we really needed them to step up and face the challenge, they absolutely did that. But not just in a business sense. The way the team has really supported and looked out for each other over the last year has been inspiring, particularly given that remote working, until relatively recently, has meant this couldn’t be done in person. We have always prioritised the health and wellbeing of our team; we have a long established employee assistance programme as well as providing subscriptions to the team for mental health and personal development apps. But, last year, supporting the team in maintaining good mental health became even more pertinent, and so we took the decision to train one in ten of our staff to be fully qualified Mental Health First Aiders. This training was so important for us as a business and, following really positive feedback, we put all line managers through mental health training to ensure we could support our team even more effectively. We also ran a companywide training webinar, from a Chartered Clinical Psychologist, around supporting our mental wellbeing whilst working from home.

The boundaries between work and home became blurred as it required a conscious effort to separate the two. Zoom has been a brilliant addition to our daily lives and I don’t think many of us could have survived without it. That said, we were at risk of our working days elongating into a mire of video calls coupled with a ‘just one last thing’ mentality. So, we embargoed all types of calls between 12-2pm, and encouraged ‘walk and talk’ phone calls instead of Zooms where possible, to encourage people to get out and about, get some air, exercise and mix the day up a bit. We also put a block on internal emails being received after 7pm to ensure people didn’t feel they needed to be ‘on it’ around the clock, to try and bring back that sense of the end of the day and being able to completely switch off.

Communication still remains king. As we were separated from one another – from colleagues, friends and family members – we were reminded of the importance of keeping in touch. While slightly nervous about how a remote world would enable this effectively in the workplace, I would say we have actually never communicated before as well as we do now. Honesty with the team about the situation we were in, and some of the difficult decisions we had to make, helped them understand what we were facing and how we were going to successfully get through it.

In many ways, the crisis has brought us closer together, and that is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. Having a visual insight into people’s homes helped break down some of the professional defences people build. It encouraged the team to share more of their personal experiences at a time when, as well as a health pandemic, there was also a lot of social change and unrest. We established our ‘Together We Stand’ bi-weekly sessions where we come together as a group, and in an open forum discuss topics including inequality, mental health, racism, LGBTQ+ issues and disability in the workplace.

The importance of our client partners has always been a key theme but again, last year really emphasised this. Working with partners who were open to new approaches, new ideas, and thinking differently in order to navigate through the pandemic, was hugely motivating. We challenged each other and worked through solutions together.

It’s also been rewarding to see the fruits of those relationships. Medialab’s ‘Monthly Trends Tracker’ has illustrated how the circumstances of Covid-19 has left certain groups of people and demographics in tougher situations than others. The pandemic has been unfair. And so to see the work of the British Red Cross raise millions to support those people suffering the most, and for Medialab to be a small part of that vital work, is really quite a privilege.

For many of our charity clients, last year saw some trusted forms of income suddenly cut off or severely hampered, most notably face to face and events fundraising. Our teams worked collaboratively with our clients to create innovative, alternative solutions, and have helped safeguard income to allow charities such as Guide Dogs to continue their extremely valuable work for those who desperately need it. We’ve never needed an excuse to make a difference for a client. We are partners in the truest sense, and we are extremely proud of that.

Back on 16th March last year after the Prime Minister sent us all home, we did so not knowing the next time we’d see our colleagues in person. While many aspects of Covid were unpredictable, the one thing we could control was our culture and how we work together as a collective. Creating a company culture doesn’t just mean painting values on the walls and offering work drinks on a Friday. It is ensuring that your team feel like they have a voice and are part of the direction and decision making process that you rely on them to act on. It’s about fostering an environment that encourages healthy attitudes and behaviours, and ensuring that everyone feels like they belong and can bring their whole self to work each day.

For businesses, the pandemic was impartial when dealing out its deck of uncertainty, and like everyone, we were nervous. But those feelings were tempered and supported in knowing that we had taken the time and effort to build a culture that puts people, including our team, our clients and our suppliers, first. A culture that gives us a sustainable competitive advantage is also one that keeps us glued together. And ultimately, it helps us move forwards and make the best decisions we can, both for us and our partners.

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