While we were making the decisions I outlined in my last blog, to equip and eventually send our office based teams to work from home, we also had to consider the best way to keep the vulnerable people we are responsible for safe. This includes some of our staff in our supported employmen t services and social enterprises, as well as the people we provide housing and care for.
There are some real complexities introduced into the equation when you start to consider how to keep people safe who have a limited understanding of why safety measures may need to be put in place, alongside the emotional impact those measures are going to have, as you make enforced changes to the ways people live and work.
In our social enterprises, where we work with some great organisations such as Fortnum and Mason, Twinings and Estee Lauder, we have a high percentage of staff who have a learning/physical disability and whose social networks are based around their work. When the national picture shifted for these organisations, we understandably saw a subsequent reduction in business and we had to make a two-fold decision. One part was to respond to the needs of the business and safeguard the future of people’s jobs in the best way we could, for when we come out of the other side of this. The other and more important part, was to safeguard the health of our people who spend their working day in close proximity to each other, with some finding it difficult to grasp the reality around protective measures, like social distancing.
Following the latest government guidance we made the difficult decision to furlough the bulk of our social enterprise staff. As I was working from home, we gathered the team into our training room and I dialled in on a teams call to explain to them that I wanted them to go home, stay safe and that we would call them when we needed them to come back to work, and that their main job now, was to look after themselves. As we waited for this call to start and the team filed into the room, my Director of Operations and I had our decision to furlough the team confirmed, as being the right one for them, as they filed into the training room and grouped together in twos and threes.
I found this call one of the toughest we’ve had to make as I know how big-a part of their lives work is and how isolated some could potentially be, by being sent home.
KEEPING THE VULNERABLE SAFE
Another decision, which was made to keep vulnerable people safe, came when we took the step to close our day opportunities service and close our three care homes and transitional service, to all external visitors. I knew, even as we were considering this, that it would have a significant impact on around one hundred people we support and about the same number of staff.
It meant that individuals, who spend much of their week, doing a wide variety of activities from drama and choir, to gardening and art, could no longer access the service, and were also advised to follow the social distancing guidance. Which meant a massive change to their daily routines, together with changing how their socialising and peer networks would function.
For those in the care homes, we were able to move activity delivery into the homes, but for those who live in their own flats, in and around our village, it meant a drastic change to their normality. Some of those directly effected by this, really didn’t get it and I had some heart-wrenching conversations in the days that followed the announcement. Chats that started with, “When is Choices going to be open?” when I answered, “Not for a while.” The follow-up question was invariably, “So will it be open next week?” It is this lack of understanding and level of vulnerability that exposes people to massive risk during this crisis and why the decisions, as tough as they may be, have to made.
With regard to closing the homes to external visitors, this had a direct impact, not only on the residents themselves, many of whom don’t have the ability to understand why their families have stopped coming to visit. But also on their families, some of whom are actively involved in the lives of their loved ones and while they have been both supportive and understanding of our decision, the change for all concerned has been significant.
We have set up a 72 hour quarantine for personal items being dropped from families and our care staff have been fantastic at supporting our residents to maintain contact with their families through Skype, WhatsApp and other ways that work for people. To date our team’s positivity in the face of these unusual circumstances, has made the lives of those we support much more bearable than they would otherwise have been and for that I am hugely appreciative and humbled on a daily basis.
The impact of the decisions I’ve outlined and many more like them, have caused me to have many-a sleepless night and have sometimes I know, pushed members of my team and me mentally and emotionally. The multiple issues we have taken on, at pace, have been a challenge and have pushed what can be reasonably expected from our people in a working environment. But we will get through this and from it we will be a stronger team and more well-rounded organisation. The future, post coronavirus, is something I look forward to and I know it will present us with new opportunities that wouldn’t have been possible without the learning gained during this most-steep of curves.
I hope you find my reflections useful, if you’d like to get in touch, drop me a line on LinkedIn or Twitter. I’m easy to find.
Until next time, Stay safe and well.