I’m writing this the day after some vaccine success has been announced and people’s spirits, and the stock market, are fairly high. A few days before that, lockdown 2.0 started, and spirits were fairly low. A few days before that we’d settled into an in-between ground and had a fair amount of freedom and spirits were quite high. And so on and so on… looking back to March, it has been nothing short of a physical, practical and emotional rollercoaster, for individuals and for businesses.

The level to which we have all been impacted varies greatly, but it’s safe to say that this has been one event that has undoubtedly affected everyone in some way. It’s been extremely difficult to know what decisions to make and, even when they have been made, they often need changing again, at the drop of a hat, as the external world continues to evolve.

Lockdown 1.0

Back in Spring, when a lockdown was clearly imminent, we did what many firms did, figured out the working from home logistics, made sure everything was online and, when 23rd March happened, we were able to seamlessly have everyone working remotely. So far, so good. But then what? Quite quickly, we realised that this wasn’t going to be a short, sharp lockdown with normality returning immediately afterwards. Instead, it was going to be prolonged (though we didn’t expect it to be this prolonged!) and would have long-lasting impacts on many parts of life, not least on the financial services industry.

That lockdown, therefore, became focused on how we adapted to that; and we were exceptionally busy rebuilding various parts of The Verve Group. That busy-ness was good for keeping us focused and working together as a team to achieve something new. Which was important as, in the first couple of months, our normal day to day work levels dropped significantly. Hardly surprising, given the whole world was on pause, but still very scary and uncomfortable. Focusing on our pivot was immensely effective at not allowing that (thankfully short term) dip in ’normal’ work to cause us more alarm than necessary.

The inbetweeny bit

We all ate out to help out, and followed the guidance to start getting back into the office. A couple of us spent a weekend in there beforehand freshening up the space; we converted the concrete balcony into a mini garden, complete with grass and plants, furniture and beanbags. We made safe workspaces, poured mimosas and brought in a pizza van. It was amazing to get the team back together, and having a blend of part-time office working and part-time home working, meant we could reap the benefits of Zoom, without being overwhelmed by it. We were able to collaborate face to face when needed, and get our heads down and crack on from home the rest of the time.

The volume of work started to return to ‘pre-Covid’ levels, being a blend of the services we previously had, and the new ones we had launched during the first lockdown. Buoyed by this, and booked in our next intake of The Grad Scheme, after the April cohort had been cancelled, and were ready to find some shiny new graduates to join us. Everyone was finding their groove, momentum was building, and then…

Lockdown 2.0

Everyone I’ve spoken to has agreed that they’re not finding this lockdown quite as difficult as the first one, and that’s certainly been our experience too. However, it has still been extremely frustrating, as people return to predominantly working from home, The Grad Scheme day was cancelled and the tiny glimmer of hope we had clung on to for a Christmas party was finally put out.

This time, however, has not been about more innovation or pivoting. Instead, it has been on gratitude. As an industry, financial services has been remarkably resilient and The Verve Group is in a great place, with everyone extremely busy. Compared to industries such as hospitality, that have had the rug pulled from under them over and over again, and the number of small, local businesses we know are on the cusp of closure because of this. While we’re all struggling with the constant change, fear and anxiety, we are certainly more fortunate than many others.

Our focus for this lockdown then was on recognising that, and on strength; both in working on the business foundations, refining everything we do internally to make our service as strong as possible, as well as our own physical and mental strength. We launched a challenge to combine these various elements, to encourage everyone in the business to get up and out in the fresh air, at least once a day, for a walk, hike or run. We are tracking this activity and will be making a contribution to a charity equivalent to the number of miles clocked up during lockdown 2, to support those who are having an even more challenging time.

It really has been a rollercoaster, and we’re certainly not out of the woods. But looking back on the year, we have inadvertently themed our response to the crisis, with different themes being appropriate at different stages. And a calm end to the year, focusing on ourselves and supporting those around us feels like the right theme, and a way to end a particularly tough year on a positive note.

Cathi Harrison – CEO, The Verve Group

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