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Back to school…& lessons learned!

01Dec Posted by Ele Emmerson

Along with many other parents, especially working parents, I waited with bated breath as the second national lockdown was announced last month to hear whether schools would all close once again. I was desperate for them to stay open and thank goodness, apart from those which have been COVID hit, they have.

I’d be lying if I said my primary motivation was the education and well-being of my two young children (6 and 4) – although that is, of course, close to the top of the list. The fact is, I was desperate not to repeat the challenges of the lockdown earlier in the year. Both my husband and I trying to juggle: busy jobs (if anything made busier by pandemic/remote working); shopping for/looking after my parents who were isolating; keeping the house together; eating three times a day and home learning/desperately trying to prevent the children being glued to the TV/iPad for 11 hours a day.

Now, I’m not for a minute claiming that I had it really hard in the spring. In many ways I have been enormously fortunate, and I don’t want to belittle anyone (and I know there are many) who had, and continue to have, a tougher time than me. I am not on the front line of facing COVID-19; I have not lost anyone close to me to the pandemic; I am not having to shield a member of my immediate family; I have a house and a garden and I live in what most people would consider the countryside. I have, touch wood, a secure job and understanding colleagues who were amazing at adapting to the different ways I and my working parent colleagues had to work.

But, in my world, it was tough.

While the kids are still at school, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on what helped us cope through the first national lockdown, the second national lockdown (now that we’re nearly there) and I think will help as home working continues for many, in the ongoing tiering system.

A (large) glass of wine definitely ranks highly, but what I’ve also realised is that the, mainly simple, practical skills that we look for in communications agency team mates and try to encourage in those we support in communicating (our clients) which made a difference. Things like:

Organisation and preparation – looking ahead to the next day or week – planning time and sticking as much as possible to those timings. In lockdown one, my husband and I sat down each evening after the kids were in bed and went through the coming day.  I started each day with an action list, which, where possible, left time to prepare for the important things.  Or in some cases allowed me to recognise that preparation was required, but that I would need to ask for help to get it done effectively.

Clear and concise messaging – as much as possible with everyone. Being pushed for time, often means that this is something that suffers, but knowing what you want to communicate and how this can best align with what your ‘audience’ (whether that’s colleagues, clients or external stakeholders) will be interested in and want to hear actually makes best use of time and leaves little room for confusion. Connected to this, and something that I have sometimes struggled with since having kids,  managing expectations has been vital - being confident in saying this is what I am able to do/going to do today and believing that it is enough.

BUT, it is the more emotionally-focused things which have probably made the biggest difference to effectiveness and sanity and which I’ll certainly keep trying to do as the pandemic continues and we move into what could be a very tough early 2021.

Things like, making the effort to video speak to colleagues each day without calendar invitations being involved and not just about what immediately needs to get done.  It’s not possible to recreate the office environment virtually, but somehow providing an opportunity to chat, moan, off-load, congratulate – the equivalent of the more informal chat over coffee making which used to happen – makes such as huge difference to feeling connected to a team and being able to focus on delivering professionally.

Remembering birthdays and significant days and celebrating somehow.

Stepping away from work each day – almost recreating a bit of the time you used to get from a commute – to create a divide, mentally, even if you can’t do it physically, between work and home life. Encouraging others to do the same. When all the time outside of work is taken up with looking after kids, this feels particularly important and even just going for a short walk each day can make a huge difference.

Don’t be afraid of creating some inefficiency in the way you speak within your teams to make sure that all team members and different types of personality have the opportunity to engage. Some people thrive in bigger groups even on video calls and can contribute easily.  Others do better in smaller numbers where its potentially easier to chat and put forward a view without having to dominate a larger discussion.

This time isn’t easy for anyone, but I know that it’s these kinds of things that have helped make it easier and I hope will continue to do so.  What’s worked for you?

Ele Emmerson

Ele has almost 20 years’ experience working in corporate communications and public affairs, working across a range of sectors including retail, technology, manufacturing and healthcare. Her expertise includes messaging and strategy, stakeholder engagement, campaign planning, issues management, and corporate responsibility communications.
[br]Before joining Sermelo Ele was a Director at Burson-Marsteller, leading client teams of up to 30 consultants across 10 countries, she provided strategic counsel and delivered, business-driven communications programmes for global, regional and local clients. She led teams for international organisations including, Aldi, Amazon, Johnson & Johnson, Danone Baby Nutrition, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch, supporting them in identifying and utilising opportunities for communicating with key stakeholders.[br][br]Ele also led the global Burson-Marsteller team for the Global Infrastructure Investor Association, working with multiple stakeholders within the new organisation, to identify key priorities, develop communications and stakeholder engagement frameworks and deliver communications support through teams in Europe, North America and Asia Pacific.[br][br]In the healthcare sector, Ele has developed and delivered strategies for pharmaceutical, medical device, diagnostic and wider advocacy clients from awareness campaigns to stakeholder engagement and product launches. She also has significant experience of assisting clients in navigating often complex regulatory and political processes and assisting clients in overcoming barriers to patient access.[br][br]Prior to Burson-Marsteller Ele headed up the London office of independent agency Morgan Allen Moore. She held overarching responsibility for developing the team, managing key clients and research and intelligence gathering.[br][br]Ele has a degree in History, Politics and International Relations from Lancaster University. Ele is married with two young children, she loves both watching (mostly) and doing (occasionally) sport, particularly netball, and when she has time, enjoys reading a good book.

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