Jodie Williams was just three weeks into her apprenticeship at Warrington Housing Association when coronavirus hit.
Her brand new hard hat, rigger boots and hi-vis jacket for site visits sit unused as lockdown put normal working life on hold indefinitely.
Jodie, 23, said: “I was still grasping what the role of assets and compliance apprentice involved when WHA began phasing in working from home as a response to the Covid threat.”
The WHA office was closed to the public, site visits cancelled and non-essential meetings discouraged.
Jodie said: “Fortunately the office was already well set up for agile working and prior to the lockdown, office attendance had already begun to be limited.”
By March 24, she was working from home full-time with a laptop that had been delivered from the office to avoid contamination. WHA also fixed her poor internet connection to make work-from-home work for her.
The new apprentice has no real concept of what her role would have been like under ordinary circumstances. She said: “At first I was scared of being at home, away from my team. I had chosen an apprenticeship because I wanted a mentor and to learning from people’s passions rather than textbooks.”
Technology and daily updates with her mentor Sandra Corbett, WHA’s property services coordinating officer, meant she has felt part of the team every step of the way.
Like many organisations, WHA has quickly adapted WhatsApp groups and Zoom as main forms of communication. All-Colleague meetings – themed occasionally, of course; weekly question time with member of the senior management team; team meetings and cross departmental catch-ups as well as lunch and learn events have all become virtual.
And they are not just used for productivity. Staff are participating in activities hosted by WHA’s over-50s centre LifeTime and enjoying morale-boosting ‘One WHA’ evening parties, scavenger hunts and team challenges.
Training for WHA’s new software system and meetings with screen sharing has moved seamlessly onto Microsoft Teams. SurveyMonkey has been employed for “getting to know you” surveys and multiple choice quizzes. Standard email and phone interactions are being encouraged to be seen as way to check in with colleagues that people don’t normally work with and to send on-line personal thank you notes.
Jodie said: “Covid has made us all feel a little thrown in at the deep end but as well as supporting us work-wise, the organisation is going out of its way to promote employee well-being with virtual coffee mornings and online resilience training, buddy systems to share tips, and a book club.”
The organisation’s intranet Whoogle has as played a huge part in strengthening WHA’s team spirit during the lockdown.
It is being used as a two-way communication conduit between management and staff. Positive messages from the senior management to help colleagues visualise the new future and offering the latest guidance appear alongside staff ideas on how to simplify work processes and their likes and dislikes about agile working.
Extra-curricular activities have kept the mood upbeat on Whoogle when the outside world has at time seemed very grim. Weekly jokes, funny gifs and photo caption competitions, sharing gardening and cooking tips with photos, top tv and podcast recommendations, exercising and relaxation at home links have all fostered a community spirit which has supported the staff while they have carried on carrying out the vital role of housing people safely during the pandemic.
WHA and Jodie are already preparing for when work gets back to normal – or the new normal. She is busy ensuring there will be a smooth transition when all the non-essential services come back online.
“I have enjoyed working from home more than I thought – it feels like it has strengthened colleague relationships – but I am excited for a time when we can work organically face-to-face in our lovely office and I can go on my first site. ‘Real’ life seems years ago!”