Hubbub is an environmental charity employing 36 people in central London.  Like every other organisation in the UK and many globally, our world has been turned upside down by COVD-19.  My thoughts are with everyone affected as well as ones that are supporting the country even more at this time. To keep conversations open, for my own well-being, and if it may be helpful for others, I am writing about how it feels to run an organisation when the old rules disappear. 

Closing the office

We are lucky in that working from home is feasible for the entire team.  Our data is held on the cloud, we have laptops and had already started using platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom.  Technically the shift to home working was not a huge jump and we decided to close the office even before the government advised on the move.

Many of our team don’t have a home environment which is conducive to working which has caused a problem.  We decided to provide funding for people to buy suitable chairs and desks so that they could work in comfort.  Until government advice changed some people decided to co-work with a colleague and this helped briefly to overcome feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Communication

It is a cliché but communication is crucial with everybody across the organisation, from the Board to funders, delivery partners, volunteers and employees.  We have committed to talking more frequently and with total transparency.  We will make mistakes but will do all we can to minimise uncertainty and worry.

It has only taken a week to realise that managing a team that works virtually is very different from being in the office together.  Whole team catch-up calls have now been scheduled every other day in comparison to our weekly meetings, to provide people with reassurance, a connection to work and on-going support. It has been heart-warming to see the team be incredibly adaptable and supportive in this time, having open conversations, checking in on each other and sharing tips on everything from a new online whiteboard tool to ways to keep kids occupied whilst stuck at home.  

Challenges of working virtually

Times like this really test out whether we have the right balance of freedom vs structure, as the current situation relies on having huge amounts of trust all-round, and the team being sound with our values and our approach, adapting and applying this to new projects and briefs on an almost daily basis.  Hubbub has always had a lot of creativity and independence in the ways we work, as well as a huge focus on being reactive and relevant to our audience.  If we were to have more rigid structures and processes, this may have become a much greater challenge. I shared some additional ways to support employees working from home in a blog post earlier this week.  

The team has risen to these virtual challenges, finding creative ways to move their projects forward and thinking about how they can transfer them online to still have an impact.  Brainstorm and information sharing meetings are happening every day, with people joining virtually, and the team has been powering through withholding more interactive ‘lunch and learn’ sessions, ‘creative writing’ sessions, even games nights, all conducted online.

We are temporarily moving from long-term targets to short-term ‘sprints’ where people can work together on a specific project within a short period of time.  This brings employees together, provides a focus and engenders a sense of achievement and purpose.  One-to-one line management meetings have been increased to weekly to check that everybody is coping mentally and still feels involved in the organisation.

Changing priorities

Work priorities have completely changed.  We oversee a network of 100 Community Fridges which redistribute healthy food that would have been wasted to people in the local community.  This service is needed more than ever but we have to safeguard the well-being of people running the Fridges and the users – many of whom are elderly or vulnerable.  We are still navigating our way around this conundrum by seeking guidance and creating new local partnerships.

Much of our work involves bringing people together and communicating through public installations.  All of this has been suspended.  We are now shifting activities to providing support directly to households via on-line content such as videos, social media and Facebook Live sessions.  Messaging is now about helping people to make more from the food they have, to eat healthily, to ensure domestic bills don’t get out-of-hand and to use growing in their homes and gardens as a form of therapy and as a small source of home-grown food.  We're sharing these under the umbrella of Living Savvy, sharing all the ways to make the most of time at home, and the benefits these activities can provide. We have had to take the whole team on this journey requiring them to be understanding, flexible and to learn new skills.

Cash is king

In two weeks our anticipated income immediately dropped by two thirds.  Fortunately, we had built up a reserve which has given us a much-needed cushion.  We immediately re-budgeted, delaying or cutting where we could, chasing outstanding payments and refocussing income against our new priorities.  Conversations with existing and potential funders have increased and cashflow management intensified. 

We provided immediate reassurance to staff being completely transparent about our financial projections, the level of reserve available and our revised strategy.  Our employees are the heart and soul of the charity making us what we are and we will do everything we can to retain the skills they have as they will be needed when some sort of normality returns.

That is where we are now, but who knows what the week ahead will bring.  What I do know is having two young boys charging around the house is going to slightly change the dynamic….

Read the next blog post in this series

Part 2: Managing an organisation through the coronavirus