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Inside Practice – business resilience amidst COVID-19

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By Suzanne Ross – 30th October 2020

No business is immune to the effects of the coronavirus and the difficulties we all faced during lockdown earlier this year. As a result, we have had to embrace change and manoeuvre our way through the many (many) obstacles.

Financial resilience was critical, but endurance also depends on culture, strategy, risk and crisis management, and most importantly, the wellbeing of our teams.

Which is why we wanted to share our own experience at Corstorphine + Wright and give an ‘inside the practice’ point of view as to how we initially felt the impact from the first coronavirus shockwaves, what this meant to us as a business and what we did to protect our best asset, our people.

I am sure like many businesses, we never thought we would actually ever have to stress test our Pandemic Plan. Being honest, like the rest of the country, we could have acted faster – we all watched the news and saw the then shocking scenes coming from Italy, but in February, did anyone really believe that less than a month later, we would be instructed by our Government to work from home? As March ticked on, this seemed to be inevitable but due to the flexible way in which many of our employees already worked we were half way prepared to fully mobilise our 10 studios. It was still no small task!

I’m not saying it was easy initially, but it certainly wasn’t as bad as it could have been and on evaluation, I feel we were one of the lucky ones. This is in no small part due to everyone pulling together towards a shared goal and many going above and beyond – a reflection of the amazing people Corstorphine + Wright employs.

Working from home was met with enthusiasm initially, followed in later months by a desire to return to the office and have a blend of home and office-based working going forward. Staff morale has stayed high and we took thoughtful measures to ensure the mental health and wellbeing of our team was at the top of our priority list.

Pre-covid we were a connected collective of 10 studios but now we are stronger, slicker and more unified. During this time, I feel we have created a sense of stability, a common goal and a way of implementing a new business-as-usual working day.

From a team perspective we knew internal communication was essential. When lock down started, we set in place a plan to issue two pieces of internal comms per week, with a different theme each week. For example, we made ‘Stay at Home’ suggestions, such as activities to do with kids, useful apps to download, in-home hobbies to try to support the wellbeing of our team and their families. We also ran a series of ‘Design’ competitions, from the floatiest boat to the tallest tower and it soon became apparent who our most competitive employees were!

Every two weeks we issued an all staff update from one of the Group Directors, this included the status of the business, what was happening and why. We knew it was important to be honest, particularly with what the future might look like.

We also ran a ‘life-in-lockdown’ series during May to coincide with Mental Health Awareness week, where we interviewed a cross section of staff across the Practice. We devised a set of questions on how they found working from home, what are they missing about not being in the studio, what have they embraced during lockdown and what box sets are they watching etc. We’re all human after all and human’s by nature are curious creatures – we like to know what other people get up to!

Not everyone found working from home easy. Some people felt isolated, some struggled working around their young families and other simply did not have the luxury of space. So, when we could begin to re-open our studio’s again, we did. Not however without trepidation, careful planning and a full risk assessment.

Initially we introduced a rota policy and introduced safety measures such as taking temperature before entering the office, hands free sanitiser stations and the distancing of desks.

For now, our future working arrangements are flexible in who works where and when and with the new government tier system each with new measures and restrictions coming into force throughout October our resilience is being tested once again. But this time we’re ready for it.

As a practice we have not changed the great things we do, we have just found a new way to deliver them.

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