One Year On – Challenges and Learnings of a Year in Lockdown

30 March 2021

March 2021 marks one year since the world changed seemly overnight. As the pandemic took hold and most of the world entered the first lockdown, we (along with our clients, partners and associates) found ourselves working from home with no way to run the engaging, interactive, in-person sessions we pride ourselves in.

One year on, we’re proud of what we’ve achieved in terms of our virtual and digital innovations and look forward to what the future brings – but it hasn’t been without it’s challenges. Jennie & I spoke to our Steps colleagues Simon, Alexia, Mark and Jahnavi to hear about their experiences of the past year – and their views on what comes next….

What has been your biggest challenge over the past year?

Alexia: For me, it’s been the challenge of juggling work and leadership responsibilities with the needs of my family – trying to manage those differing areas was really exhausting and to be isolated from colleagues and clients at the same time was a real challenge. As a leadership team, we also had to be aware that our people were experiencing their own unique journey through the pandemic, so we had to find time amongst the other things to really focus on our people.  We have a phenomenal team – so our key priority was to keep everyone ‘on the bus’ – in work, keeping well and feeling heard, connected and supported.

Simon: Having to think about how we (and our work) stays relevant in the virtual world. In the past, we would have counselled against virtual deliveries, but now we had no choice. We had to react quickly to work out how we could survive as a business, by innovating and coming up with new ideas.  And I’m pleased to say, I was wrong to be counselling against them! We challenged ourselves to ensure our work was as engaging, interactive and powerful in the virtual world as it was face-to-face, and we’ve succeeded. Virtual is no longer the ‘second-best’ approach, it’s just as valuable.

What’s been the most exciting project to work on?

Mark: Mobilising our digital and virtual capability was a hugely energising, rewarding and purposeful focus for me – and in many ways liberating for us as a business I think.  The pandemic forced us to think differently – and although it’s been challenging of course – it’s also been really exciting and engaging to explore how we could reinvent ourselves for this new virtual and hybrid world.  Seeing my colleagues run with these new ideas with energy, spirit and passion was so gratifying – and it felt fantastic to channel our energy into something positive and forward-thinking for ourselves and for the business.

Jahnavi: I’ve really enjoyed the global opportunities that virtual working has brought. We’re more connected than ever as a global team to collaborate, problem solve, challenge each other and achieve for our clients. The best example of this is the programme we did for a digital consultancy firm– the whole programme, from research and design right through to delivery was worked on by a global team, both on the client side and within Steps, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to work with my global colleagues so closely.

What’s been your biggest learning?

Alexia: In times of crisis, it’s easy to become embroiled in the operational side of the business, in the financials and in navigating change from a strategic/leadership position.  Too often it’s easy to overlook or deprioritise people and the need for social connection. But ultimately, our people are our most important asset and without social cohesion, interaction, connection – productivity will take a hit.  The rise in mental illness and increased isolation due to the pandemic is hopefully a wake up call for us all that it’s not sustainable to focus solely on the commercials, instead our people need to be our ‘bottom line’.

Mark: Even in the toughest of times, there is opportunity.  We took the decision to be positive, to work together to manage the challenges we were faced with.  I’ve no doubt that demand for live work will return in the future, but it’s great to know that, as a business, we’re now geared up and fully capable to deliver virtually and to manage hybrid roll-outs.  Our work is about change – and this year has presented a huge change for us – but thankfully a positive one that’s brought innovation, renewed team spirit and a resolve to keep challenging ourselves to think differently.

What do you think the future looks like?

Simon: We, like many businesses, are going to continue to focus on people. The past year has shown that the sum is always greater than the parts, and there’s nothing like a shared dilemma to bring us together – and we want to make sure all members of the Steps team are happy and enjoy their work. Diversity of thought and within our team has always been valued – but for us, like many other organisations, it’s now even more front of mind.

Jahnavi: Hybrid working is going to continue for a long time and will be the new normal. The different tools and techniques we’ve innovated allow a more modular and hybrid approach, and this feels like what the future well be. Face-to-face sessions will always have value, but I can definitely see digital and virtual being much more prominent in the world of L&D, and in our work. Virtual is here to stay.

To find out more about the virtual innovations we’ve made over the past year, visit our Virtual Experiences page.