5 min read | 23 November, 2020 By Suzie Hunter
5 min read | 23 November, 2020 By Suzie Hunter
Like most businesses, Breathe have had to make substantial changes to the way we work throughout 2020. In this article, our Head of People - Suzie Hunter - explains how our company culture has been so important to us throughout a time like no other.
If you’re a regular or even an occasional reader of this blog, you’ll know that we regularly talk about importance of positive company cultures which bring out the best of people. Since Breathe was first established back in 2012, we’ve actively promoted the social, personal and business benefits of cultures which put people first.
In the early days of the pandemic, we realised that we were in unchartered waters, with members of Breathe’s team relying on the company to keep them informed of development and how these related to their working lives. Communication was key but we quickly realised that that there is fine balance between overloading people and potentially causing them to panic. We needed to focus on providing clear consistent guidance to assure people that we are 100% committed to their wellbeing.
When lockdown was announced, Breathe’s leadership team had to move quickly to enable people to work from home. As a technology company, we were lucky in that we already use many communications technologies such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Office 365 which enable remote working.
As a provider of cloud-based HR management software to UK SMEs, we were also in a strong position to manage our own human resources remotely and equip other businesses to do so.
After a trial ‘working from home’ day, we assessed the effectiveness of our technology and the ease which people adapted to working from home. Everything indicated that we could switch to remote-working with minimal pain or disruption, so we decided to immediately extend our test day for the foreseeable future, enabling our people to work without risk of infection from home. The safety of our people was of paramount importance to us.
Of course, we also needed to think about the company from a commercial point of view and we developed a new business strategy for ‘coming back stronger’. This applied as much to supporting other businesses- particularly those who were struggling – as it did to us.
We involved all departments in developing our new strategy and this transparency was key to maintaining morale and making sure everyone in the company was aware of our plans and the steps we would be taking over the coming months. Trust is an important part of our culture and at a time when people would quite naturally feel nervous, we needed to communicate our commitment to them now and in the future.
We also wanted to foster an environment where people felt that as well as having the fully support of the leadership team, they could help support each other. This was especially important in terms of supporting vulnerable individuals and those suffering from increased levels of anxiety and depression.
We have always been committed to destigmatising mental health issues in the workplace and encouraging people to talk about their problems. We can then help them find support from mental health professionals and occupational health practitioners.
As lockdown continued, many people adjusted well with others finding the situation challenging. Early on we communicated our commitment to flexible working, enabling people to combine their care responsibilities with their work at Breathe.
We focused on outcomes rather than hours worked as the last thing we wanted was for people to become overtired and stressed about their workloads. We also actively encouraged people to use their holiday allowance and take time to recharge their batteries. We believe this is key to happiness, motivation and productivity.
When the government announced an ease in lockdown restrictions, we began preparations for a phased return to the office. We realised that many people missed the camaraderie and social element of working together. We were also aware that we needed to make sure the office was well-prepared for a period of extended social-distancing with clear guidelines in place to help people transition back to the workplace safely and confidentially.
We also realised the importance of choice. Not everyone was comfortable returning to the office so we decided to allow people to work from home or return to the office. We believed that forcing people back to work against their will could all too easily contribute to increased anxiety levels which is the last thing we wanted.
When the second lockdown was announced- and with people successfully working from home- we focused on developing a programme of events to provide additional support. These are ongoing and have included online Pilates and yoga classes, lunches, quizzes and guided meditation sessions. We will continue to provide this support for as long as it is needed.
We’re well aware that our story is only one of many. They are 5.9 million small businesses in the UK and they are the backbone of the UK’s economy. We are thankful and humbled that our software is helping many businesses cope with an increased HR workload. Many people managers are under tremendous pressure and we are committed to doing everything we can to support them through this difficult time.
With positive news about the development of effective COVID-19 vaccines providing some well-needed optimism, perhaps the beginning of the end of the crisis is in sight. Whatever happens, we will continue to focus on our cultural values and ensure these translate to the support we provide to our customers, their teams and our own people.