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How We Survived & Thrived During The Pandemic

Last Wednesday, 6th October, we hosted our first in-person event in over 2 years! Teaming up with our friends over at Folk Recruitment, we pulled together a learning party focusing on how different businesses survived (and thrived!) during the pandemic - raising over £800 for Leeds Childrens Hospital.

What Did We Learn?

On the day, we heard from two amazing HR professionals who both found their roles changing drastically when COVID-19 restrictions were imposed across the country.

Helen Watts, HR Director of McCain Foods, and Sam Ambler, HR Director at ProAct, were kind enough to let us into their world and spent the morning sharing their post-pandemic stories and experiences.

For McCain, it was all about remembering that success is powered by people. As demand surged for their products, their commercial clients faced closures and understandable anxiety arose surrounding the virus and guideline changes – Helen found herself in previously unchartered waters.

“It had to become about embracing it to get the best out of our teams,” said Helen, “little faces, furry friends, doorbells ringing – these all became a part of the new normal that we had to get on with. It was on us to keep feeding the nation.”

Sam spoke of similar notions, emphasising that for ProAct employee wellbeing became the absolute centre of everything they do - reminding our attendees that people are our most important assets.

For both businesses, leading from the top proved to be the key, with clear direction every step of the way. Whether this took the form of regular updates from the regional president or casual weekly team calls to keep people engaged – communication and a focus on employee wellbeing paved the path to success for these businesses as they came out of the other side of lockdown.

What’s Next?

Reacting to lockdown restrictions and changes in regulations brought with it a great amount of learning and experience, but things are still changing for businesses across the world as we start moving towards a ‘new normal’.

So, it was no wonder that the people we had in the room on the day had some questions for Helen and Sam about what they had planned next for their businesses.

When it came to figuring out how their team will work moving forwards, for McCain the shift towards working from home gave them an amazing opportunity to completely redesign their office space (both aesthetically and logistically). Moving forwards, they’ll be embracing a more flexible, hybrid working pattern – giving people the choice and autonomy to choose what days they come in.

“It’s all about tackling the reluctance of ‘the return’,” Helen emphasised, “we’ll be running initiatives in house for our team, with guest speakers, pop-up food stalls and other fun things that will make them want to come in – as opposed to forcing them”.

That being said, it’s important to remember that this level of flexibility needs to be a two-way street. With rumblings of The Great Resignation making waves across the UK and beyond, it’s important to do what you can to retain your key team members, but what if people are still leaving regardless?

Well, Sam suggested that maybe it’s just time to reflect on whether the new culture you’ve created just isn’t the right fit for them anymore. Ask yourself, why are people working for you? Candidly, your business environment is bound to not be everyone’s perfect match. However, if you’re treating people as humans and throwing out the one size fits all approach, you shouldn’t have a problem attracting new talent that is going to be a good match moving forward.

It's important also to consider just how much we’ve learned over lockdown, and make sure we don’t lose the skills that we’ve all picked up over the last few months. Think about it, since the pandemic started people across every business sector have had to become more agile and resilient. There’s no doubt that we’ve all been pushed to embrace the mindset of just ‘giving it a go’, and that’s not something we should take lightly!

Now’s the time to play what we’ve learnt back, review what’s worked and what hasn’t, making sure we don’t lose sight of just how much we’ve achieved over the last couple of years.

After an insightful morning of learning and collaboration, we caught up with a couple of attendees to see how they found everything.

Ricardo Granelli is Head of HR at Adare over in Wakefield. “It’s always interesting to hear what other people have done throughout the pandemic. It has been super reassuring to know that it isn’t just you! Plus, it feels great to be able to talk about things in person again.”

Amy Doram from UK Coaching shared similar sentiments, “It really reinforces and reassures you, it’s been really good to hear other people’s views.”

And that’s a wrap on our first in-person event post-pandemic, with hopefully many more to come!

Keen to attend our next learning party? Maybe you have some key topics and areas you’d like to learn more about?

To be kept in the loop about any future events hosted by Zest, or to speak with us about our services and how we can help, drop an email across to

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