My Covid-19 experience by Sarah Birkenshaw

What strange times we seem to be living and working through right now! I wanted to share my experience not only as a business owner but as a HR professional and to some degree to put pen to paper to record what has been an unbelievable time.

I had to admit that as we first started to hear information on Covid-19 I did not for one second anticipate the scale of disruption and devastation this virus would wreak on the world. I managed to enjoy a great weekend away at the end of February for my Husbands birthday and then again in March for my own birthday and then when we returned to listed to the Prime Ministers statement announcing the lockdown it was like a switch had been flipped and here we are in this alternate reality!

What I knew instantly is how panicked business owners would be and so my priority was to ensure we contacted each and every one of our clients and made sure they were given the guidance and resources needed to get a handle on this to ensure their businesses could survive the disruption. We were still working from our office for the first week after lockdown (of course observing every precaution) and this was mainly for the wellbeing and sanity of my team as we were dealing with information that had gaping holes of no answers and the guidance that was coming out was changing daily, sometimes numerous times on a day and so making sense of this so we could relay this to our clients became a 24/7 operation. I know my team felt frustrated because this whole situation made you feel like you knew nothing as no sooner had you interpreted the facts provided, they changed. We were being asked questions we could not answer and shared the frustration of our clients.

As a business owner myself I also knew that my team had worries and concerns about what might happen – it was literally that fear of the unknown. I reassured them that I would take care of them but now was the time we had to step up and really show our value which they all did without question – for this I will be eternally grateful.

We decided to then move to home based working and so had to quickly put in place the mechanism for this, thankfully we had a plan to facilitate this happening quickly. I knew then the challenge would be keeping the team motivated and supported when we were dealing with a much higher volume of support calls from businesses that were stressed and worried – it seems to be a very bleak place to be. We implemented video calls on a morning and the end of each day so we could check in on each other, prioritise our workloads and also keep up to date on the continuing changes to the situation and support. We look forward to our Friday call where we have a team building hour, whether it’s a quiz or just a chat its that time to really connect.

We also wanted to ensure that other local businesses could benefit from the guidance and support they might need – some of which may have no kind of HR support in place and some did but were not getting any proactive help from their providers – we stepped in. We developed a Covid-19 resource centre on our website with free resources and guidance notes to help any business owner do what was needed to benefit from grants such as the Job Retention Scheme. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the response we got to this and the thanks that we have received along the way. Once we had made sure our clients were all taken care of, we also opened our support lines to other businesses free of charge – my whole team wanted to do whatever we could to help save businesses. We might not be able to be on the front-line taking care of the people who are ill but we certainly can help in our own way to make sure they have jobs to come back to.

We got an email from a client which I read to the team on our daily video call, part of this said ‘You are all doing a fantastic job guys and I just want to let you all know we would be in a real panic had it not been for the support and advice you have given us so far. I really don't know if we would have been in business at the end of this. But with your exceptional effort I feel much more confident that we can ride this storm and come out the other end. The decision we made as a business to procure your services has paid massive dividends.’

The team were literally in tears (perhaps not the desired response I had hoped for) but this was really a realisation that even though we had all been working round the clock to provide support – this was why it is worth it.

We have all adapted as many businesses have to the changing workplace and there are some great positives, I will take from this. For one I seem to be a zoom expert now which is something I hadn’t used before this. I even bought a green screen to have a background of our offices – the kids thought this is a great way to photoshop themselves into any photo so never trust my holiday snaps again! Using video has proved a smart way of still having a face to face without the travel time and so we can already see where we will use this in the business going forward.

Personally, I have the responsibility of taking care of my parents who are both in their eighties and are shielding due to health issues. It has made me value so much the small amount of time I do get to spend with them. For a long time, I keep saying I will lose weight and get fitter and then get wrapped up in work, which I love, and then never really get round to doing anything towards this. I now have a regime of taking the dogs out for an hour on an evening and doing a fitness programme at home on a morning and I feel so much better – a habit I know I will now keep up to.

We are not out of the woods yet but what I have been amazed at is that sense of community that a crisis brings out. I know these times can bring out the worst and best of people but in the main what I have experienced is the best. The business owners I am connected with, either through my business or network have all without exception done whatever they can to help each other. I have seen employees really step up in support of the business owners to be as flexible as they can be to make sure there is a business left at the end of this pandemic. I have seen the clients we support reach out to us to just check we are ok. Sometimes it takes something so devastating to make you realise what really does matter and to get a fresh perspective – I certainly have and I feel grateful to have such amazing people round me (even if not physically) and what I do know is that both personally and professionally I will come out of the other side of this stronger.

Please take care and stay safe.


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Dragonfly Grounds Care Ltd

You are all doing a fantastic job guys and I just want to let you all know we would be in a real panic had it not been for the support and advice you have given us so far. I really don't know if we would have been in business at the end of this. But with your exceptional effort I feel much more confident that we can ride this storm and come out the other end. The decision we made as a business to procure your services has paid massive dividends.

Thank you from all at Dragonfly.

Dragonfly Grounds Care Ltd

Northern Accountants

Sarah and the team at Quest have provided us HR support since January 2013.

Quest Consulting Services provided us with a comprehensive employment structure with contacts and a handbook and have been on hand to help me deal with the occasional issue I have faced with team members through their telephone support service.

As our personal Consultant, Sarah provides a quality, professional and complete service which is great value for money.

Northern Accountants

Off Limits Corporate Events

Sarah has transformed our HR and has introduced systems that have taken lots of hassle away from staffing issues within our company.

We have worked with Sarah and her team for 5 years and in this time our business has grown considerably. With telephone support available for all our Managers as they need it plus Sarah and her team proactively keeping us updated on changes in legislation we are reassured that we are in safe hands.

The HR software that Quest implemented also helps us keep on top of the routine aspects of HR such as holiday bookings, recording absence, holding personnel records which then allows Sarah and her team easy access to give us relevant advice.

Our Managers have also benefited from workshops run by Sarah to help develop their skills on handling issues such as disciplinary, appraisals, recruitment etc….

The support of Quest is invaluable and provides a much more cost effective solution than employing a HR Manager in house.

Off Limits Corporate Events

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