The beginning of the end started on 13 March 2020.
The situation relating to coronavirus hit the UK shores and it started to escalate (in late February, our building management team announced that one of the tenants tested positive for COVID-19 and, understandably, everyone was worried). The government started encouraging people to work from home if and when they can to avoid being in contact with the general public, to thin out the number of people out. At Drinkaware, we had decided that Friday, 13 March, was going to be the day that we were going to test our office systems and see if we were going to be capable of working from home. The week before that, we were told that we should start bringing our laptops home and our CEO, Finance Director and HR Manager were having daily catch ups and weekly catch ups with the committee that deals with risk. Our directors were expecting the government to suddenly declare a shutdown where people would not be allowed to travel. At the time, it was only a possibility. It didn’t actually dawn on me that the day was a Friday and the date was the 13th. Not that I’m THAT superstitious. It was just a bit ominous.
So we all came back to work on the Monday, the 16th. It was pretty much business as usual, except that of course the situation relating to the coronavirus infection was worsening as the government started learning more about COVID-19. I had a long list of things I wanted to finish, and as the day went on, as usual, I managed to tick some things off the list and some, I planned to finish the next day because I got carried away with other projects.
That evening though, we got a message from our CEO via WhatsApp and by email to say that the office was going to be closed for the foreseeable future. I felt a slight measure of relief because I was fully intending to leave my laptop at work and I had decided to bring my laptop anyway. After reading the email, I decided to still go to the office the following day because I needed to finish off a few things and accept the deliveries that were meant to be arriving on the Tuesday. Also, there was the office fridge that needed clearing of all perishables.
I managed to get a lot of things done and I went home slightly earlier than usual. I was fully intending, as I’d discussed with one of my line managers and my HR manager, to return to the office either on the Thursday or the Friday. To collect post, to check on the fridge and the milk that was left there. I also meant to start the asset tagging because there wouldn’t be anyone at work and I could go in, get my tags printed, zip through the office with my stickers and clipboard and go home and finish my other telephone calls and emails at home. That didn’t happen though. My bosses advised me to stay home, mostly because they were worried about me and how quick I seemed to be catching viruses (I’m diabetic and I’ve found that since I’ve moved here, I’ve been so sickly).
So for the next few weeks after that day, I worked from home. Prior to the pandemic, we’d all been flat out, everyone was busy doing something for some project. The office buzzed with activity and we were all putting in long hours working on various things. During a meeting our leadership team agreed that we would all go on a week-long holiday after Easter Monday. So we were all working towards that REALLY long weekend. It was a 10-day weekend (of course the extra 4 days came out of our holiday allowance, but no one objected)!
Whilst we all worked from home, it became more and more apparent that things wouldn’t be business as usual because we were cutting down on expenditure, writing to our suppliers saying we would be delaying payment for some big-ticket items, etc. People started to worry that we would lose our jobs (it didn’t help that there were several businesses that folded even before we started working from home because of the reduction of customers).
On Monday, 6 April, after an emergency board meeting on the weekend, we were advised, during our Start of the Week meeting, that the board has had to make the difficult decision to furlough some of the staff, in order to protect the trust and prevent job loss. Our board wanted to avoid having to to make any member of staff redundant. The government had already announced the Job Retention Scheme. So our directors had to make the difficult calls to half of the office, to tell members of staff that they would have to be furloughed. Our super HR manager prepared an FAQs document for all our questions and she let everyone have her number so that if we were worried about anything and needed to talk.
I can’t say I was surprised that I got the furlough call. I mean, apart from being EA to the CEO and the Finance Director, I was also office manager. How do you work as an office manager without an office to manage? Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my job. I love my bosses. I love our senior leadership team and I love my colleagues. Working for Drinkaware is more pleasure and privilege than a job. Mostly because the environment is so different. It’s so collaborative, and there is genuine love for everyone. It’s nice when the environment is like that; less territorial, more inclusive.
To be fair, I am actually better off being on furlough, even if my salary is about a fifth less. Factoring in how astronomic train fares now are, even with 20% less, I’m still much better.
I can’t deny that I am worried about the future, that I am thinking about whether there will be any redundancies. However, right now, I am confident that we will be told with enough notice, if this was the case. Because the communication lines are always open at Drinkaware. Whatever the future holds, right now, I am best placed staying in, away from the general public.