My experience on the challenges of operating during COVID 19 – juggling family commitments, supporting clients, supporting others, my team and business.
2020 was a year like no other, and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges both personally and professionally. In my business, Purpose HR, we retained our existing team of 6, hired one new employee and also onboarded a part time intern. We engaged 15 new retained clients, pivoted our consultancy services business model to fully remote and virtual, set up home offices, advised clients on downsizing, restructuring, redundancies, growth strategies and hiring, and even got up to speed with new schemes such as Furlough and the Job Support Scheme. For me this was all whilst home schooling two young children aged 3 and 8. Many of my team who are also working parents were in similar circumstances.
It sounds like I am listing off a string of achievements here – but what is not reflected in the above summary is the stress, anxiety and guilt that has constantly underpinned my experiences of trying to simultaneously grow and develop my business during this period, combined with juggling family life, responsibilities and my role as a Mum to my daughters.
Neither does it reflect the joy I experienced on finally embracing spending more time at home and with my daughters whilst they are still small, without the constant travel to which I had become used to. The chance to spend time baking, doing art projects, homework, walking and exercising more outdoors. Or juggling a toddler on my lap whilst taking work calls, opening the wine too early on a Wednesday night or hiding in the bathroom just to get some peace and quiet. Nor does it reflect the happy recognition that my amazing team are more capable than I’d ever given them credit for, and have stepped up and taken ownership of clients and projects when COVID has at times just forced me to step back and get out of their way.
Every one has had different experiences of lockdown and COVID-19 and it’s fair to say that 2020 was not the year that any of us might have expected. I know that I am very privileged to work in a sector that has continued to grow during the pandemic, and that our services continue to be required and can be performed remotely and virtually, which has enabled ongoing business growth. And I could not be more grateful to have the support of my amazing team to share the load and empower each other.
That said, whilst COVID has reinforced the need and value of strong HR support to businesses, it has been challenging and draining for us all; keeping abreast of rapid changes in legislation and policy, supporting mental health issues and concerns and acting as a confidential sounding board and support for business leaders and owners who are facing tough and unprecedented economic challenges and making difficult decisions impacting on people’s livelihoods. All of this can be draining and has reinforced for me the necessity of self-care and wellbeing, for example taking walks outdoors at lunchtime and remembering to switch off – which can be hard as our home and work lives become ever more entwined.
The disproportionate impact of the pandemic, lock down, school closures and business sector impact on women cannot be underestimated. In addition to the childcare challenges which so often fall on female carers, a recent report by IFS found that UK Women-led businesses in the SME sector with employees were most likely to be operating in health (37%), education (31%), other services (27%), accommodation and food service (22%) and administration and support sectors (21%), all of which have been heavily affected by social distancing and closures.
As a female business owner leading a team, I am hugely grateful for the support, understanding and connection I have found in my network, particularly my fellow Women’s Enterprise Scotland ambassadors, sharing challenges, resilience, approaches and guidance. Read some of their stories here. I hope my story can help highlight both the challenges and opportunities that exist for women in business to build success and contribute to the economy.
By Lisa Thomson, Managing Director, Purpose HR