90 Days Since Lockdown

22 June 2020

Tech Roundtables, Bad News for Barbers (Mine anyway) and the guy from Amazon

Unbelievably, yesterday (Sunday 21st) marked the 90-day point since ‘official’ lockdown in NI began, it's been strange, frightening, inspiring and all a bit mad. The first few weeks seem like a lifetime away and today there seems like a clear path (particularly in the Technology Sector) for the second half of 2020.

When it all began, that type of clarity was wishful thinking, and after what seemed like an eternity of asking what we can actually do to help our customers, the answer became clear– let’s get them together and work it out. 

We continued to develop new resources around HR Policies, onboarding and recruitment solutions and anything else we thought could help or we had been asked for, however, although there are plenty of one page plans out there for all of this, the challenges are inevitably not the plan, but in the execution…that’s were the real learnings come from.

Most seemed to be having the same internal challenges and all of us were working it out for the first time – The “TECH LEADERS ROUNDTABLE SERIES” (TLR) began …. this week marks a milestone when we hosted our 20th session over the last 10 weeks… This blog is really an outline of what I have witnessed over that period as well as some personal takeaways…

NI’s Agility, Flexibility, and appetite for Hard Work

As Leaders and companies in NI were thrown into something new, what struck me was the rapid speed of change and the ability of our leaders in tech to get things completed with both speed and quality.  It felt like we were all learning something new, daily. The feedback from the sessions was overall about how proud they were of their teams for embracing the situation and pushing through it. 

When I have been speaking with contacts in the US about sites they have in NI, the feedback has been the same.  As this pandemic struck, NI’s tech scene stood up and really tried to make the best they could out of extraordinary times.  With that general hardiness of our people and the great infrastructure, we have here to allow us to embrace remote working, it was another challenge that the Tech Sector excelled at, and will drive more investment and opportunity here over the coming years.

Collaboration

At the very start of the Tech Leaders Roundtables, I honestly was not sure what to expect.  The idea was to get leaders in the room, let them share problems and challenges and hope that someone would have a solution.  If the participants were a little hesitant to contribute, it just would not work.

What I quickly realised is that, whether it was the spirit of the time or just natural leadership, people wanted to share.  Leaders shared tools they used for engagement, onboarding, tech assessments, anything that they felt could help another person in the room.  The transparency, openness, and candidness of the participants made for real tangible actions coming out of it.  I would hope it would be the same in any sector and I hope this spirit of collaboration can continue into whatever the “new normal” becomes.

Genuine Authentic Leadership

The constant around many of the conversations I hosted, was the genuine and authentic leadership displayed from our participants.  The common goal of was focused on the people they had responsibility for. There was no talk of productivity or management, more so of protecting burnout, supporting individuals, and ensuring people were ok.  I am positive some of the leaders were uncertain themselves, but they had a plan – and it was people first.  I know from speaking to most they were working harder than ever before, to unsustainable levels, that need to be available for their teams as they missed human interaction inevitably meant 10-minute chats in the office turning into 30-minute video calls, back to back, for weeks.

Maybe it is only naturally expected that leaders do this, and lead from the front, but it was still fairly inspiring to witness and from a personal point of view I was proud to work (on the outside I know) with the industry as a whole.

 

The mindset of our Leaders

I am not a psychologist or in any way qualified to make this assessment, however… I’ll give it a go.

You can read a lot of articles (and there are more than a few going around during this time) around Positive v Negative mindsets, particularly in times of crisis.  What struck me was neither one or the other – we all have had good and bad days. 

The strongest thing I witnessed was a sense of optimism and an appetite to move forward.  That feels like a strange thing to say in what has been an extraordinarily challenging time for many but what I saw were leaders aware of the challenges but moving onward at pace, not blind optimism, but flexible optimism, aware of the challenges but with a plan to make things as good as they could be. You could just tell this sense of action, and sharing experiences of this helped others in the groups form their own action plans as the weeks went on.

 

Changes??

I will put a follow up on changes we expect in the tech sector but some obvious changes we can see include:

  • Remote Working – Companies will have to offer more flexibility when hiring and retaining the best talent
  • The question over what the “office” should be in the future? Is it more of a hot-desking collaborative space or will we see a return to what it was?
  • We are going to see a challenge on whatever “Return to the office” strategies are initiated. There is a divide between less and more experienced members of the team.  The less experienced are interested in the social aspect of the office and keener to return, the more experienced seem more content to work remotely for longer.  This is a sweeping statement on what we are hearing on the market and from the leaders we have engaged with
  • Finally, If someone can replicate a whiteboard session on a video call they will be millionaires…..

 

Some personal takeaways from lockdown

My uber-cool barber can’t possibly charge me £25 for the same haircut I have had since I was 12 after my wife learned how to do it in a week – I’ll meet him for a socially distanced pint instead.

The amazon delivery driver Steve has become my only non-video friend in the world outside the family.  He texts me before arriving at the house for me to put him on a coffee.  I wonder if his expectations will be the same as lockdown lifts???

Remote working has been ok and I feel like I have gotten to know my team and customers differently in the past 13 weeks, but nothing beats face to face interaction and I am looking forward to when we can do that again. 

 

Moving Forward

I have worked in the industry for 12 years, through the financial crash, economic boom and downturns. This has been the biggest challenge because of the number of different challenges for the sector, however, we are now witnessing the majority starting to hire and recruit again. 

The competition to hire the best talent has returned in earnest since early May as companies gain more confidence in recruiting and onboarding remotely and build their teams. 

90 days has been a long time and as we review in another 90 days from now, it will look incredibly different again – in that time and ongoing we are going to continue the Tech Roundtables based on feedback from the groups.  We now have 6 different “teams” of leaders and welcome anyone else that would be keen to be involved. 

The key thing I have taken away from the pandemic is that we are all human and we are all working it out, one step at a time, but it’s better to do it together and we have some incredible leaders in all of our sectors.

 

  • Coming together is the beginning!
  • Keeping together is progress!
  • Working together is a success!

 

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For more information on the Tech leaders Roundtables and getting involved, get in touch with Sean Devlin, Associate Director @ MCS Group on s.devlin@mcsgroup.jobs or 07501500523


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