Agile HR has been key to staying connected during lockdown

By Sara Jennings, Director of Guest and Customer Experience

While ‘adapt to survive’ has been the unfortunate reality for many retail businesses during lockdown, I am pleased to say that our agility in adopting new processes and ways of working at Capital & Regional has enabled the business to continue providing essential goods and services for our guests during this time. Equally important is the implementation of these processes to ensure our centre and support office teams can do their jobs safely. Agile HR has been at the forefront of this, allowing us to overcome new challenges and progress great opportunities for communication, engagement and wellness amongst our teams.

Effective - and largely virtual - means of communication within the business has never been more important to motivation and management for those of our team who are working from home. Though even with the capabilities of Microsoft Teams (our platform of choice) and WhatsApp groups for immediate response protocols, we miss out on many of the important non-verbal signs exchanged during physical interaction in the office.

We established the ‘All About You’ committee shortly after lockdown was introduced aiming to support the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of C&R staff and their families who were working from home; our way of ‘checking-in’ with each other on a regular basis. Through the committee we have run initiatives to encourage self-care, healthy eating and exercise. We have engaged employees’ children who are away from friends, and enabled staff to come together, relax and unwind on our monthly company-wide virtual quiz; a practice many will agree has been a cornerstone of togetherness during Covid19. The committee also developed our Care Tree communication tool to connect everyone within the business through a buddy system, which has given peers, colleagues and friends a framework for maintaining an element of social interaction during this period of social distancing. Initiatives such as these have helped us to stay connected over the last few months, and provided a constant reminder that everyone in our business is part of a team.

Adjusting our approach to HR has also allowed us to grow the team during lockdown with the official appointment of Gavin Cockayne as our new General Manager at the Mall Maidstone in early May, at what is surely one of the most important periods for retail in our local communities.

Gavin became our first ever GM introduced via a virtual induction; a process, which worked exceptionally well to integrate Gavin with the business, the shopping centre and community of Maidstone. We then hosted a retirement party – again virtually - for Andy Davy, who stepped down from his role as General Manager of The Mall, Maidstone; a simple sentiment that served to reinforce the community values at the heart of our business, and provide a fitting send-off for Andy as he begins his new chapter. We have also been able to conduct a virtual recruitment process from start to finish for our new starters, successfully embedding them into their virtual teams and C&R as an organisation.

Like many businesses, we unfortunately had to furlough some of our team members following lockdown, and have been delighted to welcome both staff and guests back to our centres following the re-opening non-essential retail last month. Turbulent times does not easily present itself as an opportunity to be proactive in planning the future of our workforce – though our success to date in adopting new modes of working has put us in good stead to continue adapting and growing in step with the government’s strategy for relaxing lockdown. Whatever shape that may take, we will continue to do everything we can to support the health and wellbeing of our people within the business.


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