11 relentless months. It feels like several years all wrapped up into one (or almost one!). In that time, wellbeing has become more prominent for staff and residents in the community. A third national lockdown has started to affect the resilience of many, and the well-worn mantra of ‘This is what a crisis feels like’ springs to mind.
There is also a danger that we forget the strain that staff are under, continuing to provide services to residents, delivering their duties on top of the response to the pandemic and in many cases, with home schooling or caring responsibilities. So, when asked recently ‘what keeps you awake at night’ the response is ‘the resilience of staff and the community’. Everyone will continue to tough it out (what choice do they have?), but there is a long-term angle to this that is yet to fully emerge, and one which we will need to start talking about.
Parts 1 and 2 of this series talked about our transition to being an online business and successfully delivering the full range of services to residents throughout the pandemic, and this has continued and developed. However, almost a year down the line now, how much has changed, and where is it all leading? Red Kite, along with many other service-driven businesses has learnt an awful lot about delivering services remotely, flexibly and at a distance from our community. But have we as a sector learnt to manage our relationships with our residents remotely?
Remote working to this point has been about trying to replicate what you would normally do in a main office and do it from lots of smaller offices in different locations, for the most part in partial isolation. During the pandemic, the level of digital engagement has increased dramatically, and this is perhaps a reflection on where the community is generally on digital transformation. The housing sector has welcomed this channel shift, and it has helped Red Kite cope with the transition to an online service provider. The sting in the tail is seeing the rapport we have built with the community over several years feel slightly different, perhaps a difference to the personal nature of being a local housing provider based in the community we serve.
This will be one of our prime considerations as we emerge on the other side of this crisis. On a staffing level, we have developed a great virtual business culture around keeping in touch with colleagues, using touch points, team meetings and get togethers. The flipside of this though is the question, has this led to a better work/life balance? There are several studies being undertaken that seem to indicate that remote workers are pushing productivity boundaries working from home, with consequential impacts on a fair work/life balance. This is why we are not rushing to declare remote working as the only game in town. We haven’t yet solved the human relationships angle, either when working with residents, or working with colleagues, when it is not face to face. We still have a lot to learn.
Moving to being an online business has involved a combination of efforts, focusing on a number of fronts. Whilst it would have been easier to focus purely on core service delivery and communications with residents, and withdrawing from other non-essential business activities, for us this was never going to be an option. To do this would have risked allowing events to control the way that the organisation will emerge at the end of the crisis, rather than adapting, improving and strengthening the business and coming out the other end better than we went into it. The duration of the pandemic meant this was the right option for Red Kite.