Managing Partner Ashton Ward reflects on the impact of the coronavirus crisis and preparing for the recovery.
The months of the coronavirus crisis have been the most powerful yet in ten years of Eton Bridge Partners. It has been humbling to see how people across our company came together to support each other and to witness so much goodwill and positivity. We are in a strong position to move forward as parts of the economy start to recover.
We took the decision not to participate in the government’s furlough scheme. Carrying on and paying our employees as normal meant we could keep them engaged, keep the wheels of our business turning, maintain our personal relationships with our executive network and look after each other. It was absolutely the right decision. I could not be prouder of our fantastic team.
When the initial lockdown eased, we continued to offer working from home (WFH) for all employees who wished to do that. As government guidance changes we will continue to support those who feel their well-being benefits from being in an office environment, and both our Windsor and London workplaces are Covid-secure. Ninety per cent of our colleagues have been back in the office at least a couple of times a week in recent weeks and we expect this to evolve as guidance permits. We know there will be colleagues who are more vulnerable or shielding others. They will be supported to WFH, with help for shopping and so on if they need to self-isolate.
The strength of a values-based culture
Our values-based culture trusts people to do the right thing. As leaders, we have always led by example. At the beginning of the lockdown, we transferred regular communications such as our routine monthly company meeting to Zoom or MS Teams, and Practice team meetings have been taking place online almost every day. The management team has also been meeting several times a week to manage the evolving business situation and employee wellbeing. Every month we have a wellbeing session for the whole company.
Supporting the wellbeing and mental health of colleagues has been at the top of our agenda. All colleagues have risen to the challenge, galvanising the whole company with socials, quizzes, and fundraising initiatives. We’ve raised a lot of money by virtually running, walking, swimming, and cycling together. These last months have been a hugely positive experience and the bond we share is now stronger than it’s ever been, despite having less ‘in person’ contact.
For clients and our executive network, we’ve hosted webinars and virtual events such as wine tastings. But what’s been most powerful is just spending time talking to people individually – and not necessarily about business. One of my colleagues remarked how these conversations have become more personal, more informal in recent months. It’s this kind of exchange that creates the authentic relationships that set Eton Bridge Partners apart.
Expanding our team
As a high growth company, we’re always looking out for new talent. I’m delighted that during the summer we made eight new appointments, including our first Marketing Director and first Head of People. Increasing our workforce by 10 per cent, this commitment is a mark of our optimism and how we are positioning our company for the next stage of growth. Elsewhere in this newsletter you can read more about these eight outstanding individuals.
In August, we started to see a sharp recovery across our Interim Management Practice. Interim appointments tend to recover quickly but at the time of writing (third week in September), the good news is we’re also seeing an increase in permanent search assignments. Our business transformation consulting team is achieving outcomes on a level with the best consulting firms. We anticipate a continued steady market recovery provided the economy can remain open.
What we all do now, through the next stage and as we come out of the crisis, will be even more important than how we went into it. The economic consequences of a prolonged slowdown may have much greater impact on people’s lives than the virus.
The golden thread of culture
For most companies, working from home has generally been a success but is it sustainable in the long term? The danger is that if solely working from home becomes the norm, the more likely it is that the golden thread of corporate culture unravels. A distinctive, resilient culture is difficult to create in the first place and underpins business success. Body language, powerful elements of communication, spontaneous ideas generation, unscheduled ‘coffee machine’ chats can be missed on scheduled video calls. Building effective relationships, teamwork, support, training, and development cannot all be achieved successfully and sustainably remotely.
Many businesses are struggling to lead themselves out of lockdown. Caution is understandable but we must lead with positivity. Certainly, our Eton Bridge clients have been increasingly keen to meet us face to face, in real life. There’s no single prescription for returning to the workplace and keeping employees safe is paramount: we’ve let our return to the office evolve naturally, by giving people the autonomy, the tools and the bandwidth to do their job in the way that best works for them. It’s essential for leaders to listen, to show emotional intelligence and understand how employees feel.
The past six months have been extraordinarily positive for Eton Bridge Partners. We’ve adopted new technologies and new ways of working; we’ve invested in our client and candidate relationships; we’ve appointed eight first rate people. Above all, our values of ‘Trust, Spirit and Excellence’ and the care, consideration and support for each other have shone throughout. We are optimistic about what comes next, ready to play our part in the recovery, and help our clients do the same.
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