In the first of a brand new series, Magenta Living’s Transformation Director, Fiona Astor, details how her organisation has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic…
How has your way of operating changed?
At Magenta Living, we were on a pathway toward agile working and offering a more digital service to our customers. However, we were far from ready when the pandemic meant we needed to work from home and drastically limit face-to-face contact with customers.
Many of our services have now resumed, with us embracing change and adapting to meet the needs of our customers and the organisation. Our community relationships are stronger than ever, and we have discovered the power of local businesses working together with a shared objective, something we want to continue into the future.
To support our most vulnerable customers, we maximized the use of our emergency community alarm system and equipment to proactively support them, making the most of the technology we had and using it in different ways.
We recognised the limited resources of smaller RPs in the locality by providing free 24/7 services to their vulnerable customers too. This collaborative approach helped to jointly support local communities and neighbourhoods – and showed the power of working across organisational boundaries.
What kind of digital transformation did you undergo?
Within a week, we went from a very traditional operating model to one that was largely remote. Our Contact Centre and Emergency Response teams remained in the office, but everyone else worked from home (or volunteered in the community if they couldn’t).
Our digital transformation was frantic and reactive, but our IT team did an amazing job of getting us up and running. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked, and we achieved what should have taken two years in just a week.
How has the way in which you interact with tenants and customers changed?
We maintained our Contact Centre capacity and took calls as usual. We moved face-to-face contact with customers onto the phone, and made use of video calling where we could.
Some services have to be delivered face-to-face, such as emergency repairs and emergency response, but we were able to adapt the majority to new ways of working. We have continued with this, but some face-to-face has resumed now we are able to safely visit customers.
Our Magenta Communities Committee had its first online meeting last week and it was a huge success. We were able to have open discussions, and the meeting brought about an opportunity to hear our customers’ voices after a period of suspension.
We also launched a telephone survey to assess how our customers were managing financially and physically, and we made sure we offered support where it was needed.
We took this opportunity to assess what our customers were missing from the services we had suspended.
What was your policy regarding remote working before the pandemic? How has it since changed?
Before the pandemic it was very much a ‘justify why you need to work from home’ approach.
This was the way it has always been, and most people were quite comfortable with that. Now we have moved to a ‘justify why you need to come into the office’ culture, and again, most people are comfortable with this.
Some of our colleagues need to be in the office, and we recognise that home working isn’t for everyone. So our approach is one of flexibility, where the needs of the individual and the organisation are considered.
We continue to develop our formal approach to agile working and are looking to learn from what our colleagues want and how their expectations have changed.
We will launch our new way of working in early 2021.
What have you found to be most challenging?
We have found the lack of social interaction challenging. Magenta Living is a real community, and we have lots of our colleagues who have worked for us for a long time.
When you are suddenly wrenched from that environment, it is difficult to maintain relationships and develop new ones. We are productive, but we can see some silos creeping in where we aren’t in the office to have those ‘watercooler’ chats that can eradicate silo working.
We are adapting, though, and have risen to every challenge.
“We don’t know what is going to happen next week, let alone next year, so how do we develop a well thought through and evidence-based plan?”
We have also found it a challenge to develop our future plans. We don’t know what is going to happen next week, let alone next year, so how do we develop a well thought through and evidence-based plan?
We are in a period of relative stability at the moment, but things could change at a moments’ notice, so we need to be prepared. This means lots of future workstreams are now a high priority, which puts pressure on our back-office teams.
What issues have been brought to light that you were previously unaware of?
The challenges of communication have been interesting. We didn’t know we were missing video blogs and live events until we started using them! There is a whole world of communication out there that we hadn’t really explored until the lockdown.
This, however, highlighted an issue with capacity. Our communications team have been essential during lockdown but have limited resource that has been stretched. They have risen to the challenge and delivered a great service to the organisation, but it has highlighted how much they are needed and how capacity could be a risk in the future.
What key lessons have you learnt?
We recently asked our colleagues if they would like to be part of our future leader programme, Rising Stars.
As part of the application process, they had to identify a lesson learned by the organisation during the pandemic. This allowed us to identify what our colleagues thought we should be learning.
“The challenges of communication have been interesting. We didn’t know we were missing video blogs and live events until we started using them!”
They suggested focusing on getting the foundations right for our IT in order to be more reactive and flexible in future. They also suggested we continue to build on the flexible and accountable approach shown by our colleagues – and remember how much we achieved when we all worked together.
If you were to go through it all again, what would you have done differently?
Hindsight is a great thing, and I am sure we would all do things differently armed with what we know now.
If we had to go back and do it again, I think we would communicate even more than we did. Understandably, there was a lot of nervousness among our colleagues and customers about what would happen during the lockdown.
They looked to us as an organisation to answer their questions. We tried to do this, but we could always have done more.
What preparations are you making for future crises?
We are making sure our foundations are right to deliver a flexible service so that we can react at short notice to local lockdowns or spikes in cases.
We have established a Working Environment Group whose focus is to keep our customers and colleagues safe throughout the pandemic. They are leading our response, and they will be the focal point for any localised or organisation-wide response.
This coordinated response will mean we have a single decision-making group already established and all the key teams represented within it to develop a fast and effective response.
Main image: Fiona Astor, Transformation Director, Magenta Living
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