Well, I certainly don’t need to be another voice telling you about the unprecedented, scary and challenging year we’ve all had. Looking back over the year we’ve all had has made me reluctant to do our typical “here are all of our achievements this year” style recap. Instead, I’ve taken time to reflect on the year and everything we’ve learned.
Image courtesy of Manchester Digital Oh how strange this image feels to look at now. When we attended the Deliver Conference back in February, I remember that even though COVID-19 was here, we hadn’t yet seen the full extent of how it would change the way we live and work. Alcohol gel wasn’t provided at the event (though it had become somewhat of a prized commodity if you could get your hands on some), and mandatory masks weren’t yet a thing. At our client workshops in London and Southampton back at the beginning of March, we had the ominous feeling that things were only getting worse. I didn’t know then that these would turn out to be the last in-person client meetings I had for the year. For a season that is usually celebrated for our renewed ability to go outside and stretch our legs, Spring 2020 ended up causing many of us to do the exact opposite – stay indoors and keep our distance. It was an uncertain time for all of us.
Over the next few weeks we said goodbye to a couple of long-standing clients, those who were hit hard by the sudden economic shift. This was difficult, and left me feeling deflated. I couldn’t help but think of some of the good memories from 2019: the hustle and bustle of the office, staying connected with our Friday morning breakfasts, or trying something new together with our improv comedy workshop. Things we took for granted at the time. This made me more appreciative of the clients, partners and team members who were still with us day to day. Working from home made me grateful for all of our freelancer and remote contractor partners, and caused me to reflect on our processes, purpose and what was really driving us to turn on our laptops every day. As a typically office-based business, the first few weeks of lockdown were definitely a transitional period for us. The sudden shift was a challenge, particularly to our collective mental health, and we needed to adjust to always being at home, and living and working in the same environment. By and large though, we saw this as a positive challenge, and by summer, we’d adapted our way of working to a remote-first approach, from shared whiteboards in remote Zoom workshops to team-building activities.
At this point the dust had settled, and while we had been kept busy with projects and retained clients, we started to see more enquiries about new business. For some clients, the economic change allowed them to re-invest into their digital channels, and we welcomed new clients with new ideas and new challenges. Soon after this we welcomed 2 new members to the team: Cameron and Stefanie. And since we ended up parting ways with two other members of the team this year, we’ve ended the year at the same size as we started. At this point we did go back into the office part-time (a new office, actually). I never thought I’d say this, but it felt great to commute! To walk to the office in the morning, get some fresh air, thinking through what I’d be doing that day. Since the office was brand new, and given the circumstances, the few businesses that had moved in were working part-time. This was fantastic for us, as it meant loads of room to spread out, and a nice airy, spacious environment to work in. I am so grateful we were able to meet Cameron and Stefanie in person at this point, and we were lucky enough to have had a few days, over a few weeks, where the whole team were all in one place at the same time. Alas, then the second spike in cases began, and so we all decided the best thing to do was to work remotely again for the foreseeable future.
The momentum in work continued towards the end of the year. Project deadlines were approaching, our retained clients were getting busier again, and we were seeing more new enquiries to kick off new projects in 2021. While the mental health of our team had been a focus throughout the year, it became even more important coming into the winter months, especially with the dark evenings and being the busiest we’d been so far this year. We encouraged the team to take their annual leave – even if it just meant sitting in your pyjamas or clearing out that last cupboard, time away from work is more important than ever when your office is your home. And now we’re wrapping up for the year (no pun intended) and looking ahead. While it’s easy to bid good riddance to possibly the worst year of several generations, I think it’s important to find the good bits and carry them forward.
What we’ve learned
More than ever, business this year was about people
For me, this year has been about relationships. Whether that’s saying goodbye, reinforcing long-term partnerships, or welcoming new team members. The people around me have been a distraction, provided support, and helped me get through this year and keep looking forward. Our team is now in the best shape it’s ever been, with our work turnaround time set to shorten, quality of output improving further every day, and feeling more cohesive than ever.
Staying connected is crucial
When we first started working remotely, it took us time to adjust our rhythm to keep working together effectively. We couldn’t just follow the same routines and processes as we did in the office, or even find substitutes, we needed to start from the ground up to actively come up with new ways of working. Some may worry that making time for Zoom coffee breaks, or having weekly team catch-ups or games remotely, may sound a bit forced or superficial. But in my experience, this kind of remote team-building needs everyone to “switch it on” a little, to proactively make time, to make room for the incidental interactions that just happened naturally in the office. Otherwise every interaction is for a specific reason, with a specific outcome or agenda, and it’s exhausting.
Earlier in the year, when lockdown first started, I began wondering how our clients, team and partners were doing. I wondered how the situation was affecting businesses, lifestyles and overall health and wellbeing of the people in our circle. So I asked questions – I reached out to all of these people, to better understand what was going on. Working remotely can often leave people feeling siloed and isolated, and people can be less willing to volunteer up more sensitive or personal information when it’s “on paper” over chat or email. So ask questions, check-in with people, see how people are doing. It’s easy to forget we’re all humans on the other end of those screens, not just inputs and outputs.
Personally, this year has made me grateful for everything we have. We’re so lucky at Huddle, and in our sector of digital, that we can work from anywhere and keep on running. I’m grateful that we’ve continued to work with our long-term clients, seeing them through the year with continued support and development. I’m thankful that we have some reasons to be excited going into 2021, with new clients and new projects booked in. This year has been tough for everyone. While we have had our challenges at Huddle, I consider us very lucky in the grand scheme of things.
2020 has forever changed the way Huddle works, and it’s lead me personally to consider other areas of my life to find improvements. I don’t think there are any more drawers I can clear out or clothes I can donate, for example. It’s important to look forward, and remember that “this too shall pass.” While the start of the year seemed very uncertain, if I could go back to that version of me and show him how he’d be ending the year, I would (by no means out of the woods, but certainly in a better place). So take care of yourself, check in with your loved ones, and have a safe and peaceful Christmas and New Year.