After a year like no other we catch up with JA Consulting’s Managing Director, John Moss, to hear his thoughts and experiences as the UK emerges from the latest (and hopefully the last) COVID-19 lockdown.
The last year and a bit has been somewhat unusual, how has COVID-19 impacted on your clients, your relationships with them and the support you offer?
As a consultancy our first thoughts are for anyone who has been affected by COVID-19; I think we all recognise that it’s been heartbreaking for many families. In the initial days and weeks, there were so many unknowns that it was difficult to plan too far into the future. We had to react quickly in a situation none of us had previously experienced. When the first lockdown came in during March 2020, we had several clients either starting, or midway through, major projects. Interestingly there were only fleeting discussions about putting work on hold – all of it was deemed critical by the clients so needed to continue. Happily, we have a strong team at JA Consulting; supportive of each other and fully committed to getting creative when it comes to solutions and really practical when it comes to making things happen. Being there for our clients is what we do and almost overnight we were able to pivot how we, and they, worked to help them achieve their goals.
What did that mean for how you had to adapt the way you work with clients?
In a lot of respects, it was perhaps easier for JA Consulting to keep on working than it was for other organisations. We’ve been working remotely/virtually since we started the business – we find that offers the flexibility of working for our consultants and enhances motivation – so for the most part as long as we still had internet connections each of us had the workspace set up and all the kit we needed to continue to engage with our clients.
For our clients, working from home posed challenges for some and opportunities for others. We really felt for anyone having to work on the kitchen table and juggle home-schooling and with intermittent internet.
What kinds of challenges were you hearing about from clients?
Perhaps the biggest challenges we heard were from our global clients where their working days were suddenly filled with Teams or Zoom calls with no time to get other work done and inevitably the days started to get longer and longer. Boundaries between work and family life or relaxation time became really blurred. Our global clients in particular recognised this and began to share the pain of the international calls by shifting the scheduling with some calls taking place early morning and others late evening, so that across the world it wasn’t the same people facing the unsociable hours each time.
Our clients really want to know how their staff are coping with the pandemic. We were able to help by running on-line surveys (often across the world) to find out what challenges their employees were facing. Better still, our clients were then able to instigate some positive action plans to support staff. Everything from setting up more regular communication engagement, providing suitable office and IT equipment, or mental health programmes and the like.
Quite a few times we’d find Zoom or Team meetings interrupted by children or pets, followed by lots of fluster and apologies from the participant whose lap had just been jumped on or whose screen mysteriously filled with a big green dinosaur toy or Lego model. “It’s OK,”I say, “It’s part of life, no need to apologise.” I think there’s something to be said to being openly accepting of the cross-over of life and work during these very different, and difficult, times. I remember one time when we were running a series of on-line workshops and one of the participants had a new puppy, so, of course, everyone wanted to meet the new puppy; it was a great ice-breaker for the session.
Working from home ourselves, we were all too aware how easy it would be for people to get on a never ending treadmill of feeling they needed to be ‘at work’ and seen to be ‘at work.’ Long-term, I think most experts would agree that’s unsustainable. The thing we do know about remote working is that taking time out and not feeling guilty is important and it’s OK – so don’t beat yourself up, make time for exercise, read a magazine, give your child a cuddle or take the dog for a walk, you’ll be fresher to do your work if you’ve given your brain a rest and time off.
As we come out of lockdown and revert back to something resembling more ‘normal’ working practices, what do you think the new ‘normal’ might look like for clients?
I think for some organisations the way they work will change forever. There are other organisations which have found that their employees are more productive working remotely. I think ultimately many will opt for a hybrid model – in the office for a couple of days in the week, the rest of the time working remotely, be that from home or from a hub local to home. So, perhaps less commuting and more flexible working hours. For me, I’ve found that holding sales calls via Teams/Zoom has certainly meant a lot less commuting, it’s more efficient and it means I have more time to talk to clients to find out what’s top of their agendas.
I do think it’s critical that organisations step up communication with their customers, and, equally importantly, with their employees. When there aren’t the standing by the watercooler- or photocopier- or passing people in the corridor-type conversations, it’s all too easy to miss out on the important social interactions that would usually take place at work. Checking in with people from time to time, having a non-work related conversation to find out how they are, what they’ve been doing and listening to their concerns is a part of who we all are.
What good has come from COVID-19 lockdowns?
A whole heap of learning for starters!
We quickly turned our hand to running remote workshops –overnight we switched a physical workshop for 150 people into a remote session. To add complication, we needed to run the session over two tech platforms, but we have a creative team at JA and we made it work. Out of it came our tips for running meetings remotely and we hope we’ve been able to help other organisations set up something similar.
We transformed a traditionally classroom-run sales training programme for 100 people into virtual modules, with online breakout rooms for group practice. Because we were able to run the programme virtually, the client opted to include more staff from more offices and more countries and save money on airfares and accommodation expenses – hugely important at a time when many businesses were unsure of their futures.
Something else we’ve been conscious to develop during the last year maintaining communication with our clients. Admittedly it was a little ad-hoc and intermittent at times, but we felt it was important for people to know we were thinking of them and that our clients had the reassurance that they could still contact us. It gave us the opportunity too to share hints and tips on all sorts of topics and it’s been fascinating to hear back from clients about which ones they’ve taken on board and used.
We also recognised the importance of the little things… like at the end of projects having online celebrations via Zoom/Teams or having our own Christmas party with consultants and their families joining in virtually with charades and silly games, although the karoke carol singing needs some improvements!
And 12 months on, what do you think 2021 holds in store? How optimistic are you?
Overall, I’m positive. I think there’s an air of anticipation about the art of the possible. I think there’s hope that 2021 really could be the year of transformation.
Saying that 2020 was a year like no other is a bit of an understatement. Never has the world faced such wide-scale challenges. We witnessed the devastating effects that COVID-19 had on society, on healthcare systems, on physical and mental health across the world in such a short space of time. That will stay in our hearts and minds for a long time to come.
But we also witnessed some extraordinary feats of innovation, creativity and rapid adjustment to an unknown situation (just think sanitizer and ventilator production). So we know that there are businesses embracing change and transformation.
At JA Consulting we help businesses and individuals take the theory of selling and put it into practice. We’re here to help you learn how to spot and grow business opportunities, how to develop strong and transferable selling skills and how to generate robust account management.
If you have any questions, our team can assist you as usual via phone or email.