Kate McCabe from healthcare communications agency Cuttsy + Cuttsy talks about how it is addressing the challenges raised by working through the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are asking some of the most progressive employers how they are adapting to the challenges presented by the coronavirus lockdown. Healthcare communications company Cuttsy + Cuttsy has won workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Award for smaller SMEs twice. Office manager Kate McCabe outlines below how it is responding to some of the challenges posed by COVID-19.
workingmums.co.uk: If you are continuing to recruit how are you doing this and how are you onboarding new recruits?
Kate McCabe: We are not actively recruiting at present – more really to do with the fact we recently filled a number of vacancies than that we have made a decision to stop. We have, however, welcomed two new recruits virtually! We also had a new team member who joined us a week before lockdown so was still very new to the team. We were already using Teams as a platform to do audio/video calls, but with permanent homeworking being suddenly introduced, we also did a last minute training session on using Zoom and this has been working well.
Our two new team members joined us during the week the lockdown began, but we were able to get their IT equipment to them and set up all the usual induction meetings our new recruits have over their first few weeks – the difference being these were done via Zoom! Their diaries were already scheduled with meetings when they first logged on and their line manager ‘met’ them (virtually!) the morning they joined us. We hope that additional touches such as virtual coffees with their new teams have helped them to settle in and already feel part of the company.
wms: Are you offering any extra support to people working from home who are trying to do so while managing caring responsibilities and if so, what or is it business as normal?
KM: Yes, a number of our team have families, many with young children. We know this is a difficult time for everyone and don’t want to add to that worry. People are therefore flexing their working hours to suit their personal circumstances (and that’s not just for parents) so if they need to spread their hours out differently over the week, or take a longer break at certain times, they can work their hours to suit their situation, whether that’s taking a longer break in the middle of the day to walk the dog or splitting their day differently around childcare needs. We want to be as flexible as possible. Our ‘where are you’ sheet keeps everyone in the loop about who is available and when throughout the week.
wms: How are you supporting employees’ with mental health issues arising from the current situation?
KM: We have always placed a great emphasis on looking after the mental wellbeing of our team and therefore already had a number of initiatives in place which continue to offer support. Our mental health handbook and resources have been recirculated to highlight what we offer (including vouchers towards self care such as mindfulness apps or self-help materials and information on support groups). We also have a trained mental health first aider in the team who is keeping in regular touch with people.
We know the links between keeping physically active and good mental well being (we have just had our annual free sports shoe giveaway…). We have continued to offer weekly yoga sessions via Zoom from a team member who is a qualified instructor and this has proven to be popular. One of the team has also started up a virtual running club where members are logging their runs/walks/physical activity on an app, offering a bit of virtual encouragement to each other (as you can ‘like’ people’s activities) and also a bit of healthy competition! We are also in discussions with a mindfulness coach who we are hoping can start offering online sessions soon.
As well as these, we have introduced other new initiatives such as daily virtual coffee sessions, Friday afternoon ‘drinks at the pub’ (after all, no-one needs to drive home now) and also a buddy scheme which has linked up people in different teams (with similar backgrounds and interests) who may not have the need to speak regularly at the moment and are missing out on those kitchen chats that happen in the office.
New team members have been buddied up with more established people so that they have someone to ask all those little questions that they may not want to raise in a bigger forum and also extra support when they are starting a new job in strange times. All of these things are part of the team’s working day (we are not expecting additional hours to cover them!) and are voluntary.
wms: How have you adapted your communications processes to support employees working remotely?
KM: Like everyone, we are making the most of technology and encourage (virtual) face-to-face communication where possible. We have set out guidelines on which platforms to use for which type of communication (for example, put an important decision in an email – not live chat – so that it can be easily referred back to). This means that as well as the usual phone calls and emails, the team are using Zoom and Teams (including live chat) to communicate both internally and with our clients. We have also increased our weekly team meeting to two a week to get everyone together, from both a work flow and interaction perspective.
Other meetings and monthly ‘Be Proud’ meetings (our appraisals) continue as they always have, but via Zoom. We also now have our daily virtual coffee sessions and Friday drinks so that the team have the opportunity to talk together about things other than work!
wms: What are the main challenges you are finding with adapting to all the changes?
KM: We have always been set up to allow the team to work from home, but this situation is really testing how robust this is! Everyone has been used to working from home now and then, but the challenge has been getting used to this on a permanent basis in such an unprecedented situation. We hope that the continuation of processes we already had in place and new initiatives are supporting this.
There will always be IT challenges, particularly when we are relying so heavily on it at the moment. However, knowing this, since the start of lockdown our IT lead now has sole focus on supporting this to ensure we can continue ‘business as normal’. We have a dedicated email address that the team can report any issues into and he is always on hand to fix issues as quickly and effectively as possible.
wms: Have you furloughed any workers? If so, how easy has that process been and how are you continuing to keep in touch with them?
KM: No, we are fortunate enough to have not needed to do this.
wms: Are you yet thinking long term about preparing from the transition back to normal working and how you support that?
KM: We know that things are not going to go back to ‘normal’ overnight and it may be a long road ahead. What will ‘normal’ even look like in the coming future? The likelihood is that restrictions are going to be lifted in stages and to varying degrees, so we will need to be prepared for that. However, nobody knows what ‘that’ will look like yet. We have already started discussions around possible scenarios, for example, could the office end up becoming a meeting space in the short term where perhaps we can meet and interview people at a safe distance? Only time will tell as we continue to listen to Government guidance and plans.