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A strong, flexible, and committed team has kept our business going

Running a successful business in the best of times is no easy feat. However, running a business while working from home during a pandemic, at sometimes uncomfortably close quarters to my wife, three little kids, a dog and goldfish has taken next-level resilience and determination.

A strong and committed team, flexible working arrangements and modern technology has helped keep the work wheels turning.

The nature of safety and ergonomics consulting has fortunately allowed us to largely carry on writing our reports, conducting our (virtual) interviews and site inspections, liaising with clients and delivering our training using Microsoft Teams, Zoom and the like. It has been satisfying this year, in fact, to re-work and re-jig (albeit by necessity, and sometimes fundamentally) our approaches to various projects. Many of these “forced” innovations have delivered better outcomes for our clients and for us, however, and will be here to stay.

For example, pre-COVID plans to attend an Indian client site to undertake a series of face-to-face workshops for the design of a North African gas plant control room had to be swiftly re-cast. Instead, we arranged and delivered a series of online workshops, which enabled more stakeholders from more countries to be involved more efficiently than could ever have been achieved the old way. This alternative way also involved more of my staff as contributors which was a win for the client. It also gave my staff invaluable experience working on an exciting and interesting international project.

I am grateful that my team have quickly adapted to and embraced new ways of working.

We made the call early that it was important to ensure that we were all comfortable and safe working from home – even if we did not know at the beginning of the WFH phase (still going…) how long it was going to last. Everyone took their proper, adjustable office chairs and other desktop equipment home. Those that needed new equipment to be comfortable were supplied with it (webcams were one). As the months working at home have worn on, as ergonomists we have recently been starting to see an increase in people with poor home workstation setups reporting injury – luckily, we have avoided same by following our own advice!

We also established a daily online process early on for our consultants to share technical insights and to discuss problems. We have regular team meetings the same way. Maintaining this team collaboration and interaction has been critical – and we have recently even opened up those meetings to “guest star” clients to drop in and have a chat. Another great innovation. Our regular social drinks (with a theme) have also gone virtual – this human interaction is healthy, appreciated and essential. And families and pets now join in the fun! Not sure how we are going to replicate this when the office re-opens.

Business as usual was thrown out the window

The biggest leadership challenge when the pandemic arrived was the sheer pace and volume of change needed – business as usual was quickly thrown out the window. Even basic stuff like “how will cheques be banked when there is no one around to do it?” and “who processes the mail?”, “how do I get the job file if I’m appearing in court tomorrow?” needed to be rapidly addressed. We had to be nimble and flexible, and we were.

April 2020 was tough. There was just so much community uncertainty at that time, and business generally seemed to freeze – including ours. Our phones almost completely stopped ringing and our inboxes emptied for about 10 days. Luckily though, our clients regained confidence, the work returned and has been building ever since. Now we need to employ more people! What a crazy year.

A key marketing strategy of ours is participating in industry events and conferences. However, all these events have been cancelled in 2020, blocking that as a means of client connection.

We were therefore forced to rethink our events strategy this year, too. Instead, we have run webinars for clients on topics useful to them. While not as much fun, perhaps, as catching up over a few drinks in person at a conference dinner, these new approaches have been very successful for us. We have virtually engaged with double the usual number of clients in 2020, and across Australia. There must be something in that too… It is another change that will be here to stay, no doubt, but I must admit that I am still dying to attend that next in-person conference in 2021! 

Extra family time has been an unexpected bonus

The increased family time this year has been a definite and unexpected benefit. Instead of driving to work, I spend that time talking to my kids and wife, and then start work. It has been an unexpected bonus to be able to share my lunch breaks with the family and enjoy some sunshine in the backyard – precious time which we would not have shared otherwise.

Sustaining regular exercise has really helped me maintain my resilience…

Pre-pandemic, I would swim in the mornings. Since the pool closed during lockdown 1.0, however, my working days have usually begun instead with a morning run. I must admit I panicked a bit when I realised that my preferred exercise was impossible, since regular swimming has been one of my major sanity secret weapons in recent years. A lockdown without exercise did not bear thinking about, so (against my better judgement) I started running. To my surprise, I have discovered that running is quite addictive – who knew? Another change likely to be permanent. Sustaining this regular exercise has really helped me maintain my resilience to the daily uncertainties and challenges that the business threw at me.

Melbourne restrictions – surreal but necessary

Melbourne’s stage 4 COVID-19 restrictions have been surreal, but obviously necessary. We may not live to see another time like it. The night-time curfew has meant that the allowed two hours of exercise (aka out-of-the-house time) is mostly limited to daylight hours.

Given the importance of getting out of the house (among other reasons), we have been more flexible than usual with staff and their working hours. Our people can often be found sweating it out away from their desk during the day. Such activity is valuable in any case, since it helps to break up their screen-based work. Work can usually be done at other times anyway.

Author: Ted Dohrmann is managing director of Dohrmann Consulting, a Melbourne-based firm providing safety and ergonomics advice and expert opinion in personal injuries claims to both plaintiffs and defendants, nationally. 

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