From adversity comes opportunity: Business Development in lockdown

Two weeks into lockdown, Director and Head of Business Development Rachel Bell wrote a blog for Building Design on the ups and downs of life driving new business from home. A month on, here’s what she’s learnt.

Two weeks into the lockdown I wrote a blog reflecting on how working from home had changed my working week dramatically.

On the one hand, it had really brought out the best in our people. On the other, I was strangely exhausted by the change, probably because it had robbed me of my raison d’etre.

Judging by the number of comments and likes, it really struck a chord. I was particularly touched by a business contact who set out her thoughts, concluding, “You made me feel a lot better about myself because I have been feeling that I’ve been failing. Thank you.”

A month has passed since then, and so I thought it might be interesting to share what’s happened since.

First, a recap. My role in leading business development at Stride Treglown is human-centred, just like our design. It is a series of sprints from place to place to be seen, join dots, support staff, and keep our business relationships running smoothly. It’s hard to measure my success, but it’s fair to say that business has always been strong.

Then the government ordered a lockdown and I went from dashing madly around the country, which was exciting, energising, and effective, to staying put at home, chatting at a screen all day. The experience has left me oddly frustrated and fatigued.

Thinking about why, I realized that face-to-face communication is easier than the virtual alternatives. When you’re next to someone, you can read body language. Speech doesn’t get garbled. There is no time lag between speaking and getting a response. Plus, you are not on camera, which, daft as it seems, appears to make a huge difference. What was once natural has become openly digital and, at times, more pressured.

More than that, changes of scenery when out and about are a vital aspect of my daily motivation. The downtime between meetings and events helps me to recoup and, crucially, depressurise.

Of all the reflections I made in my blog, this one seemed to resonate the most. As well as an outpouring of empathy and heartfelt applause for my honesty, people generously shared tips for how to cope.

Following their wisdom, I’m now taking a breather between virtual meetings, throwing in some HIIT, yoga stretches or simply stopping for a cuppa and cake. I’m also trying to be stricter on the boundaries between home time and work.

Being at home means that we risk getting psychologically locked into the strains of work because we’re still using the same tools in the same setting. As an architect, I know precisely how powerful an emotional cue our surroundings can be.

My blog also reviewed the wonderful work going on not just to survive the current situation but come out of it stronger than before. There’s a real sense of being in it together throughout the industry despite the obvious challenges.

From adversity comes opportunity: our staff are finding new ways to collaborate, knitting together as teams like never before. Our business partners are clubbing together to share resources and ideas. My network from outside interests – including Women in Property and Business South – is providing solidarity by organising CPDs or just virtual group hugs!

The lockdown is forcing some fairly radical rethinking about the way we conduct our business in the future, too. A couple of commentators on my blog felt that virtual meetings, while not the whole answer, had proven their value. For example, a contact was delighted that instead of the expected 2,000 miles, he’d only had to travel 8 miles in the 3-week period since lockdown. I agree – this trend has to be good for the environment.

For myself, I’m finding new ways to network and pick up leads. Checking in on people’s wellbeing during this crisis, or, if they are on furlough – as is increasingly the case – chasing up through colleagues of theirs that are still working, is a great way to stay connected and being productive.

More than anything, enthusiasm and a can-do spirit are great antidotes to the ongoing social distancing and unease in our lives right now. I hope we learn the lessons for a more collaborative, efficient, and effective industry when all this ends. In the meantime, let’s pool our amazingly creative problem-solving skills to work out a new normal.

Get in touch with Rachel to share your experiences of life in lockdown or join the conversation online #TalkingSpaces005

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