Maintaining and developing a cultural and wellbeing strategy over the pandemic period

01 December 2020 by Isla Lightfoot

When the implications of the pandemic hit in March 2020 there was a huge amount of change. Corndel, as a business, was well positioned to adapt because of its remote infrastructure, but its people still met regularly face-to-face, and for some they always had the option of being office-based if that is what they preferred.

“There was huge change,” explained Jane Shannon, Chief of Staff at Corndel. “Not only was the face-to-face contact completely cut off for a significant period of time, a lot of our team were suddenly ‘teachers’ to their small children, perhaps supporting partners or family members who had been put on furlough or at threat of redundancy, and very concerned about the health and wellbeing of those around them. This was the same story for everyone across the world.”

With change everywhere, Corndel made the decision to stick to its cultural roots: “We focused on staying connected. We just needed to think differently about how we would deliver our strategy and continue to build a brilliant culture” said Jane.

There followed a number of initiatives grouped under three key themes - supporting ‘staying connected’:

Practical help and guidance to encourage connections, support and wellbeing

Panel webinars were created for the Corndel team and for our learners, where guidance and advice was shared on how to keep connected. Sessions on how to use the tools available to not only do the day job but stay connected to colleagues. Ground rules were put in place, such as the importance of using cameras when you meet with colleagues, to check in on how they are doing – non-verbal communication being a very important guide for mental health. Senior Leadership Team members adapted their diary rules – only booking in things that they absolutely could not move, so that they were available to team members if needed.

‘Corndel Connect’ was created on MS Teams – a channel used exclusively by everyone at Corndel, to post the everyday news that we would ordinarily share with the colleague beside us. New family members – both the two and four-legged variety, have been welcomed on this channel, alongside celebrations such as Diwali, pumpkin carving and Football Shirt Friday in aid of Cancer research.

At the start of the pandemic there was a tremendous amount of information available. Corndel created a ‘Supportive Library’, full of resources for Corndel employees, their families and their learners. Under the themes ‘Remote working’, ‘Health and wellbeing’, ‘Covid-19’ and ‘Home schooling’, resources were collected, quality tested and uploaded to this central resource, which is still used today. “It contains a whole host of valuable material in a variety of formats, from activities to do with small children, through to helping your child studying for GCSE Maths” explains Jane.

The Corndel leadership team encouraged active use of the Employee Assistance Programme, for any members who wanted access to professional counsellors and wellbeing support, and also for those who needed help with financial management – conscious that although the Corndel team’s jobs were relatively secure, their partners and other family members may not be, and this would have a financial impact on household income.

Fun and connectivity in the workplace

There was a hidden structure behind the hugely popular ‘Wine Online’ events that run  fortnightly – building fun and connectivity into the working day. “This initiative was about creating those ‘water cooler’ moments. Our team is highly practical, and they like to focus on achieving something and applying their creativity and skill. So we build into these sessions engaging tasks. We’ve made toilet roll animals, created hats that we can talk about the meaning of, modelled clay into bowls, made chocolate and ran quizzes hosted by everyone from my eight year old son, George, to our CEO, Sean,” said Jane. “The purpose of these sessions is to come together and learn something about each other”.

The Virtual Coffee Morning initiative has continued to gain momentum throughout this pandemic period. The basic principle is each month volunteers are partnered with someone in the organisation that they don’t normally work with, and they can arrange to meet at a mutually convenient time for 30 mins to have a coffee and a chat about anything they like. “This initiative, developed by one of our Delivery Directors – Sarah Parry, in 2019, has been a brilliant way to build networks across Corndel. Particularly as we are growing at such pace. It has really helped new joiners during this period to create contacts across the organisation.” explains, Jane.

Health and happiness

Weekly yoga sessions are offered to the whole team, with different sessions for different needs – including recover from injury or surgery. Sessions are offered on different days and at different times to encourage as many people as possible to join in. “This is about giving people permission to switch their computer off, get up from their desk and engage in a physical activity that supports their general wellbeing”, said Jane.

A walking club has been created. Teams of up to six choose their walking challenge using the Walking App for Teams, and everyone’s steps count towards the goal. Corndel’s walking teams have so far walked the Great Wall of China, the Camino de Santiago in France and are currently on a walking tour around Britain. Every time a destination is reached an appropriate celebration amongst team members is organised. The last one – after the Camino de Santiago, involved a large amount of red wine and cheese.

It is important to maintain these strategies throughout the entire period. As Jane witnessed, “you can’t judge when people will get exhausted, or feel mentally low. For an awful lot of people, the impact and stress of the situation really came to a head over the summer period, and we are still seeing the impacts now. That’s why it’s so important to maintain a culture built around strong connections.”

Great consideration was also given to people who were joining Corndel during this pandemic period. Inductions have always been done online at Corndel, and always within groups, so that people can make connections immediately. Kit is now pre-loaded with the cultural calendar of activities to ensure new joiners are aware and feel included. They are also strongly encouraged to get involved with one of Corndel’s cross-functional committees like the Diversity and Inclusion Board.

The success of this ‘staying connected’ cultural strategy was evidenced by the latest employee ‘Happiness Survey’, the annual ‘all colleague’ survey that measures several KPIs across the organisation. “There are definitely initiatives and ideas that we will continue as we come out of lockdown and people start to return to a more face-to-face environment. Things like Wine Online have resulted in people building stronger connections with strangers than they would have done in a face-to-face environment, where people tend to sit and talk to those they already know. It has been a challenging time, but we’ve grown as an organisation and our culture has gone from strength to strength. We will continue to learn from this”, explains Jane.

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