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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.