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Unprecedented with Jessica Davies

Published 25th June 2021

At Unprecedented, we had the opportunity to speak with Jessica Davies, Internal Communications and Engagement Partner at Joules, who spoke to us about how the pandemic has affected her both personally and professionally.

A background into you and your business?

I come from a Recruitment background but started my position within Comms and Engagement working for Joules, a premium British lifestyle brand selling clothing, footwear, accessories, homeware, gifting and lifestyle product collections, just before we went into the first lockdown.
At Joules, we had a fairly standard way of communicating… emails! And as we have grown from being a stand at a country show to having a vast physical retail estate portfolio and expanding globally, it was more evident that we needed a strong communication and engagement strategy to really inform, inspire and connect all of our colleagues.
Since being in this role, I’ve started to find different methods of communicating and engaging in an open, honest, transparent and meaningful way with colleagues, stakeholders and partners. It is important to me that we have two-way communication across the business and that we continue delivering, learning and improving, and ensuring everyone feels heard and empowered. We have made some huge steps forward over the last year and I feel really fortunate to have been involved in making these changes.

Who are your Leadership role models/inspirations?

I’ve been really lucky to work with some inspirational leaders throughout my career and have been given some amazing opportunities because of it. A leader that I look up to is Ben Francies, Founder at Gymshark. His values, work ethic and passion for what he does really resonates with me and he has founded a company that has gone on to do incredible things. Gymshark has visibly created a brand that is innovative, inclusive and inspiring to all individuals.

What are the “non-negotiable” behaviours that you expect you and those around you to live by?

Treat others how you want to be treated, whether that be in work or not. Talk to everyone with respect. I’m generally a really positive person and find that by giving off positive energy and being respectful, open and honest with everyone, I get the same back.

What impact has Covid-19 had on you? 

It’s been a crazy year, hasn’t it? I live by myself and don’t think you can ever be prepared to spend 8-9 weeks in your own company and looking forward to the weekly supermarket shop just to see some faces! But on top of that, it has had a real impact on me and my family as we have lost loved ones and spent so much time apart, much the same as everyone else.

The hardships aside, I do think it has put a lot of things into perspective for me, things that used to be trivial don’t matter so much and instead, I’ve really used the time to reflect on what I want and how to look after myself.

What impact has covid had on your business?

We had to close all of our stores and stop all of our mainline shows events from happening. As a very customer-centric brand, we love engaging with our wonderful customers in-person, both in store and at events, so stopping face-to-face engagements was a real shame for all of us. We have had to adapt and be agile to work with what we have and continue being creative in the design of our prints and patterns that customers love, even from behind closed doors!

Where were you and what were you doing when you first realised that Covid-19 was very serious?

I think I first realised when the whole office got told to work from home and take all of their equipment with them to make sure they were set up to continue working. I definitely brushed it off as being a 3-4 week thing and it was a bit of a novelty at the start. After about a month, and with no sign of improvement, I think it really hit me how serious it was and the effects it was having on the whole world.

What was your internal comms strategy at the start of lockdown? Has that changed in Lockdown 3.0?

It’s changed such a vast amount over the last year, especially because we were just doing everything we could to keep everyone informed about what was going on even when we didn’t have all the answers ourselves.

During the first lockdown, we wanted to make sure we communicated as much as we could about any changes, how the business was performing and being really transparent with our colleagues either via email or through bi-weekly live updates from our CEO. On top of that, we also wanted to keep colleagues engaged so we created competitions for everyone to get involved in whether that be a bake-off, drawing, gardening, DIY… you name it, we did it!

Coming into lockdown 3.0, we were very aware of what worked and what didn’t, although we were still going through it, but it meant we were more prepared from a comms perspective and really keeping our colleagues informed with the right and relevant information.

What have been the Unprecedented decisions you have made? Those where there was no playbook.

Throughout the last year, we haven’t had much of a rule book to go by when it comes to remote working and keeping colleagues engaged. When our stores were closed in particular, we needed to make sure all our retail colleagues were being kept up to date with what was happening in the business and supported with anxieties they may be experiencing. As mentioned before, we came up with all sorts of engagement initiatives, some of which had never been explored before and was very much a trial and error situation. Some of them worked really well and others did not. It was something we had to adapt as we went along.

What remain your 3 biggest challenges?

  1. Working from home has created an added temptation to work more hours as it is so easy to stay logged in. It’s so important that all colleagues switch off and have that time away from our desks but when working remotely, it’s a challenge to manage.

  2. Working remotely has been the ‘new normal’ for a while now and managing the anxieties that people may have about coming back to work will definitely be a challenge. Joules have made the decision to be a remote-first workforce to allow flexibility for all colleagues to do what they feel comfortable doing.

  3. For me personally, in my role, it’s to ensure all colleagues globally continue to feel engaged at work and are communicated to in the right way.

How have you/your business evolved from a digital/tech perspective?

We’ve definitely been thrown in the deep end with being able to work remotely and using new technology! But there are some fantastic tools out there such as Microsoft teams, Zoom and our learning platform Fuse that have allowed us all to stay really connected. The last year has also given us the time to really evaluate and review a lot of our processes and systems to ensure what we have is fit for our purpose.

How have you (your business) coped from a mental health/stress perspective?

It’s been really tough, I think the mental health and well-being of our colleagues have been affected, especially as a big proportion of our workforce was furloughed and felt very uncertain at times. However, we provided a lot of resources and support to everyone and even trained up some of our colleagues to become mental health first aiders. We also switched our employee assistance program provider who offers even more support than what we can so there is always someone to reach out to.

Looking ahead to 2021, what are your predictions for the economy? For your sector?

I would like to think that the economy will start to get stronger as the year goes on and I definitely think the number of customers coming in-store will start to pick up again. Despite the struggles of lockdown and people needing to save money where they can, due to uncertainty with jobs, physical stores have been closed for such a long time that it feels like a novelty to go and visit one. There is no denying that digital is fast becoming the way to shop as well so, with businesses like Joules, we are in a good place to cater for our customer’s shopping habits.

At the beginning of 2020, we were in a talent short market. What is at the top of your "people strategy" agenda for 2021?

2020 has made us reassess a lot of things and our people strategy is a huge part of that. We have implemented new ways of working and implemented remote flexible working for all our colleagues. We have already noticed a huge difference in being able to attract talent from further afield that may not have been able to consider working for us before.

Has "succession planning" risen up your people's agenda?

Yes definitely, we are really keen here to elevate and develop colleagues where we can. We have created structures that are fit for purpose and give colleagues the chance to succeed in their roles. We have also increased our development offering so we can continue to upskill all of our colleagues.

Fast forward to 2050 .... what would you say to your future self...That you did well or badly in 2020 to learn from.

I would definitely tell myself that what I am doing is great and really does make a difference. Throughout the whole of the pandemic, I spent a lot of time questioning whether what I was doing both in and out of work was the right thing. My role involves keeping all colleagues informed, involved and engaged, and being in a situation we had never been in before made me question a lot of the things. I didn’t want to misinform anyone or cause more worry in my communication. I would tell myself to take each week as it comes and have a lot more confidence in my ability.

As a Leadership Team, how have you re-defined your vision and values? What have you done to make your culture remote-work friendly?

Over the course of the last year, we have introduced our Joules Blueprint which is made up of our purpose statement, strategic drivers and behaviours so every one of our colleagues knows the part they are playing in helping to make Joules a success. Our behaviours are what we need our colleagues to live by and help to create the culture that we need to succeed.

Since the start of lockdown, we have all been working remotely. All colleagues are set up with the equipment they need as well as wellbeing support. We will continue with a remote-first approach and will gradually open up the office to those that need it, but we have shown we are adaptable and flexible in the way that we work over the last year so want to continue this on post-covid.

What advice would you give to those entering the workforce today?

Don’t give up, it is a really tough time out there at the moment but there are also some incredible opportunities. Really take the time to think about what it is you want to do and focus your energy on when applying for roles that will have a positive impact on your work and home life.

The Pandemic has caused many of us to reassess what is important in our lives. In what ways have you recalibrated your own priorities and goals.

I was definitely guilty of always comparing what I was doing to other people, whether that be at work or in my personal life and where I was at but the pandemic has made me realise that everyone is on their own path, their own journey and what matters the most is staying healthy, both mentally and physically, and being around family and friends. My priorities now are very different, and I feel I have managed to slow down a lot and not feel like everything is a race against the clock. It’s made me feel much more content and I definitely live in the moment more.

If you have enjoyed this blog and would like to learn more about Jessica, you can connect with her on LinkedIn. Alternatively, you can learn more about Joules from their LinkedIn page or website.

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