Reflections on Lockdown #1 – our MD

16th July 2020

Today we talk to John Daley, our Managing Director, about caring for elderly relatives, being away from home, and the pressures of running a business while keeping everyone connected. We also chat about his views on future changes for our business and across the consulting industry.

 

What has lockdown been like for you?

The date of the 23rd March will forever be etched in my mind as that was when I moved in with my 90-year-old mother with just a suitcase and laptop, and ended up staying for 60 days… She was living by herself at the time and her carer was unable to visit. It was difficult not being at home with my wife and youngest daughter. Although my mother loved the company, my wife felt lonely. I also needed a couple of operations during lockdown, which meant almost weekly visits to an eerily deserted hospital…

I would work all day, or go to hospital, while making sure my mum was fed, and in the evening I’d FaceTime my wife. It was a very bizarre situation, and there were definitely times when I thought the situation wouldn’t end.

 

How did you find the transition to working from home? Did you feel supported?

I didn’t find the transition to working from home that difficult, as I’m already used to working in various places – client sites, hotel rooms, trains and occasionally from home. What was difficult was being stuck in a single room all day. It’s also difficult to step away from work.

I was already set up to work at my family home, but not at my mother’s. For a while I was working on a bedside table with an office chair, which really wasn’t ideal… Once I managed to find a desk that really helped.

Although it was a stressful period, I definitely felt supported at all levels. I had a daily call with my co-directors to monitor and manage the situation. I also received support from a wide variety of staff. It was great to talk to people, and the positivity among our staff, partners and clients never failed. Our staff were incredibly supportive. This really buoyed us as a management team and made me feel supported by the business. Even when putting people on furlough, which was a difficult experience for everyone, those staff members kept their positive outlook.

 

What particular challenges have you faced?

It was of course very difficult being away from my family. And I missed the social interactions and connections.

From a work perspective, I’ve found it challenging not having ready access to our partners, clients and staff. I’ve missed the informal conversations you have when you just bump into someone – usually I’m visiting different sites and having coffee with several people, which gives me a good feeling on how everything is going. Without that, we have to rely on more formal communications. Our company is built on relationships, and it’s hard to maintain these and build new ones digitally. Relationships are personal – people will tell you things over a coffee that they wouldn’t online.

 

What has been the most difficult aspect of running a company throughout this period?

Without doubt the distance from staff. I try to call as many people as possible, but it isn’t as good as speaking to someone face-to-face. Usually, I would just bump into someone on site and we could grab a coffee.

Our business functions have been working remotely for a long time, so they are more established in remote working and what works for well for them. Our consultants were a different story though. Some were in a situation without any IT access to their clients, and they’ve worked hard to establish those connections.

I have worried, as everyone has, about the viability and future of the company. But the physical and mental health of our staff was – and still is – our biggest concern. Touch wood, we’ve been incredibly lucky that everyone has been physically healthy.

 

How have you tried to maintain positivity within the company during this challenging time?

Openness and truth about where we are as an organisation and what we need to do. We’re all in this together; as an organisation we entered lockdown in a relatively strong position, and this in a large part comes from our staff. We face a number of challenges, but our staff know that we’re working as hard as we can to make sure CMC is in the best possible place when this finally ends. Personally, I feel positive when talking to and connecting with our staff.

 

Have you continued to feel connected to CMC? What do you think has worked well for connecting people?

We introduced our new IT systems throughout the entire business, including Office365, at the end of February, so were incredibly fortunate with the timing! It’s not how we planned to introduce and stand up Teams and the other Microsoft tools, but they’ve been essential.

Without Teams, we would have faced a significant challenge. We have used it for weekly staff calls, and even a virtual quarterly staff meeting (including a Who wants to be a millionaire style quiz). In fact, everyone being at home has made company-wide interaction far easier, as we aren’t trying to coordinate different geographical locations.

The fact that we’ve been able to introduce a social element through Teams has also really helped our staff – they’ve set up regular virtual coffees, and run social events including Through the keyhole, Who’s the baby, and now Desert island discs. They’ve really picked up the tool and made the best use of it.

 

What have you learnt during lockdown (from a personal perspective) that you hope to take forward with you?

Remember to take earplugs with me next time I move in with my mother! I’ve loved the time I’ve spent with my family, and I think a lot of people are in the same position (other than those attempting to home-school while working – an impossible task!).

Remote working was something we were doing on an intermittent basis, and we have staff working in a variety of locations across the UK. Now we’re able to get our staff together, virtually, on short notice. This crisis has shown how we can continue to become more adaptive in our ways of working, reacting rapidly to the changing environment.

 

You were previously travelling a lot each week – do you think you’ll go back to that way of working?

This is a big question. On one side, we are relationship-led as a company, and relationships need that closer personal contact. On the other side, we can do more of that remotely now. I hope I can reduce my amount of travel, but I think it’s still important in my role to maintain the physical connection with clients and staff.

However I imagine that this way of working will last for the next several months, by which time we might have established new permanent ways of working. We will be looking at how to provide better value to clients, and a better working environment for our staff.

 

How have you been spending your time outside of work?

While I was staying at my mother’s I was doing a lot of (her) gardening. While I was away my wife fostered a dog which we’ve now adopted – so this has kept me busy since returning home! We’ve also been checking in on our family a lot, especially elderly parents. In the time left we’ve been going for walks, and having a lot of virtual meet-ups and quizzes with our friends.

 

What has been your lockdown saviour?

Being able to talk to my wife and family – we’ve really made the best of FaceTime. Technology has been invaluable for keeping us together and staying connected even though we were isolated.

 

Do you have any tips for staying positive during this time?

Recognising that things will get better. This will end and we will be able to see each other again – that’s really important to keep in mind. Hopefully coming out of this we’ll be stronger people, we’ll be more tolerant people, we’ll be more socially aware people – with cleaner hands!

 

What are the key changes for our business that will come out of this? And more broadly for the industry?

Within CMC we’ll look again at our ways of working, addressing questions like ‘How should we use our office spaces?’

We’ve had to embrace technology at a faster rate than anticipated, and are adapting our service offerings to reflect this. We’re looking at how to build relationships over a remote connection, how to do remote change, how to manage the subtleties of communication without face-to-face interaction. We should be able to consult and coach people remotely, as well as in person.

Consultancy will definitely be affected by this. Funding may be tight, but within the public sector there are major programmes that need to be delivered and we are well-placed with our skillsets to do that. There will be a focus on continuing to provide quality and especially value for money, and we expect a downwards pressure on rates. Locality will be less of an issue, so hopefully this will open up doors to business that was previously geographically out of reach. As a small, lean business we’re well-placed to embrace opportunities and ride out risks.

 

My overall reflection is that we have a fantastic group of staff and their support during this time has been amazing. We’ve made the right business decisions to get us through this, and communicated as much as possible to hold people together. I hope people have felt supported – I certainly have felt supported by our staff.

 

Interview with John Daley, Managing Director