Two Weeks in March


The world has changed a lot recently, during this time and I’ve made some notes each day – so far the most interesting were the first 2 weeks in lockdown, so I thought I’d share it with you. I’ve not kept a diary since I was 12 so bear with me!

It was about 6 weeks ago I started writing this, and I’ve not really done anything with it. I thought about making some videos but frankly, I’m all ‘video’d’ out with zoom after zoom. It’s amazing how out of date it all is. Even the note about 6 deaths, today, we’re over 30,000 it’s unbelievable. The pace at which everything has moved and changed so fast.

I, along with everyone else, am praying that this ends, that life can return to some sort of normal, it probably won’t not for a long time.

On the 14th February, Valentines Day, my partner and I went to Amsterdam for the weekend. This blog isn’t about that weekend, but it was the first time I remember consciously thinking about Coronavirus. At the airport I bought one of those little hand sanitisers, and kept it with for the weekend, occasionally remembering to put some of it on. I didn’t think much more of it. I still boarded the plane, we still visited a bunch of bars and went to crowded areas. I’m alright, I have this little bottle of sanitiser. How trivial that sounds now, as of 8th May, most of the World on lockdown, my business in survival mode. It’s not pretty.

This blog is more probably more of a diary entry, but I wanted to recollect specifically the first 2 weeks of the lockdown and give you some sort of insight into what’s been going on at Wave.

Let’s go back to the beginning…

Thursday 11th March — our monthly management meeting

We were meeting to discuss and finalise plans for the new financial year. The current quarter had been a bit up and down but we were planning a strong finish to the year.

Increasingly the news around Coronavirus was in the news, at this point, 6 people in the UK had died and around 375 had the illness. It was a major piece of news, but we were just following the guidelines of washing hands.

However, and I have to say at the insistence of our CTO Denis, who is the self-declared pessimist of the management team, we discuss what we would do if someone got the virus in the company. We decided, that the following Monday we’d have a dry run at taking the company remotely, just in case. We did this last year when we moved office so actually, it’s not a big issue for us.

We felt pretty well prepared, bearing in mind at this point there was no discussion about everyone working from home. At this point, we just did it in case someone got it. We let the team know who were all willing and fine.

Friday 12th March — we packed up our stuff

It was like we were all off on holiday. You know, the feeling when you’re packing to go off for 2 weeks, check you have all your things, clear the fridge, check this, check that. But things were changing quickly already, the previous day it was decided just for Monday and Tuesday as a dry run, and we’re all back Wednesday.

But only 24 hours later, and such fast change would be something we’d need to get used to quickly, all the football had been postponed, there were mutterings towards the end of the day that we might not be back on Wednesday. I don’t know who started these mutterings, but I decided to take my whole PC desktop monitor set up – yes I still use a desktop!!

Maybe it was me thinking of all the work I’d get done with a WHOLE week at home. Plus the fact with all the ‘work’ involved in setting up the work monitors at home, it best be worth it. It felt like a little adventure, the rest of the company seemed to feel like this too. Like we’re breaking up for Xmas or something. Little did I know that all the good lucks in high jinx, would be the last time I’d be in the office, till well, I don’t know when.

Monday 15th March — all the zooms worked

We held our first meeting on zoom on Monday morning. I dragged my old kitchen table from the garage, set it all up in the corner of the living room. And we were off and running.

Discussions of the weekends panic buying were rife. And unbelievably the elderly should stay at home for 4 months. As if that would ever happen. Everything worked, and we had a busy week planned. But things were starting to get a bit crazy and we saw the first of clients start to stutter on the odd deal here and there. I had planned for a bit of a slowdown, but it just escalated. Today, I knew we’d be remote for the whole week.

We thought about how we might be able to help thinking that we can offer support to recruitment agencies to are planning to go remote. At this point again we’re feeling ahead of the curve. By lunchtime, we’re thinking of extra packages for clients to try and help them out a bit. We figured recruitment would get bad. We started off by offering certain deals, but the situation was worsening by the hour and quickly it felt like exploiting a situation. We decided to offer for free.

Boris tells the country, everyone needs to work from home if they can.

Tuesday 16th March — shit is getting real

Today it seemed that the business community, including us, suddenly realised, shit this is real. Companies were packing up and planning to work remotely. If Monday was a slowing, today was all about deals dropping left right and centre. Our packages from the previous day were now out of date.

All ideas of selling ‘special offers’ had gone, we started our emergency Wave ‘Cobra’ meetings every morning. We made the decisions to offer nearly all of our service free as well as bringing JobsTrackR to the front of the pile of our tech stack. This was where we felt we can help as many people as possible, we could help candidates get jobs, promote recruiters jobs, share advice and tips for the newly available candidate. Now it was a question of what we can do and how quickly can we do it!

Wednesday 17th March — we were supposed to be back

We were supposed to be back in the office today, so much for that. I’d originally looked forward to working at home all week but this wasn’t quite turning out as I’d hoped.

Our Cobra meetings previously were all about what we could do if this happened or that, but today’s was about what’s actually happening. For the first time in a while, I found myself staring at our debtors calculating who is going to pay and who isn’t, and when. Cash is king in these situations. We’re alright for cash at the moment, but situations can change rapidly.

We agreed we’d start monitoring and reporting job posting and application data daily and share with the community. We were the first company to share job board and posting performance right now, this was vital for clients. We thought if we can show what’s happening everyone will be better informed. People were panicking a lot so we were trying to calm the situation. It didn’t work.

People were told don’t travel unless it’s essential, generally, people were still moving about though. It was only Wednesday and I was exhausted. I’ve never experienced anything like this before, I feel like I’m in a movie or something. At the end of the day, the schools were announced there were closing.

I picked up my daughter from a play date, I had a cup of tea while they carried on playing. We reflected on what had just happened. I recall being actually scared for what was happening, how would we manage, and if the schools are closed how long until everything else does? I was deflated. Looking back it was the last non-family social experience I had.

Thursday 18th March — I’m working late

I worked late into the night on Weds, I was exhausted but couldn’t really stop working. My deflation had turned to energy. My mind was on fire with thoughts, worries and concerns.

Thursday came, and our first round of developments on JobsTrackR started production. This included free advertising for clients, and the start of a candidate research tool called reverse recommendations, the ‘Job Board Matcher’ (WaveTrackR provides job recommendations so the idea was offering recommendations to candidates, thus ‘reverse recommendations’). Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but couldn’t find the time to prioritise ahead of other features we were working on.

I felt comfort from JobsTrackR actually, as I knew it was a way in which we can help candidate and recruiters. With everything going on jobs and applications were holding steady. Perhaps the recruitment industry could weather this? Ever the optimist.

Friday 19th March — probably one of the most significant days in history

Starting at the end of the day and working back. The Government announced they are prepared to pay up to 80% on a wage subsidy, known as ‘furloughing’. How do you say it? They’d also give you an interest-free loan for 12 months and a whole range of cuts and deferrals. I couldn’t be more in awe for Rishi Sunak at this point.

For the first time during this outbreak, I felt like I could take a breath. I felt like I had the support of the Government, I felt reassured and that I could finally say to my team that I can guarantee their jobs. I’ve noticed during this outbreak, everyone stops worrying about themselves a bit, and I was worried about my team. I’ve always taken my responsibility as an employer seriously and being unable to reassure them about their jobs was worrying me. They all have bills and mortgages to pay. Now I enjoyed a big glass of wine that night.

Earlier in the day, the new version of JobsTrackR has been launched, increased content to help guide and advise candidates. We launched our daily update to the market on jobs and applications, my optimism not quite keeping up with reality as job postings kept falling, applications were generally up, however. What was important though is that we can share this information. What a week.

With schools closed now, Monday was going to be fun. Now the pubs were closing too. I thanked the team for their work, I’m so proud of them and their commitment. It’s truly humbling.

Monday 23rd March — homeschooling

A frantic weekend of subject planning and routines, homeschooling started today.

We’d told the team to just do what they can. With 3 children myself, I knew too well how challenging it would be for the team to do work ‘normally’. My dining room was last week an office, today it was a school as well. I’d been keeping my regular routine with the school runs last week but today, I started a new 6am start. I was waking up very early in any case, and it’s not like I had far to go! 9am and I joined in with the kids doing the Joe Wicks routine, something I thought was a great idea.

Tensions in the team were a bit strained here, I think the stresses amongst everyone were starting to show. We all got through the day with the kids.

But on the latest update, we were now told to stay indoors. Something I supported hugely.

Tuesday 24th March — it’s a new world

Most of our Account Management team were now handling request after request to cancel contracts, pause payments or extend their advertising. At the same time, we were now transitioning from media buying and tech to publisher and career advice. We are starting to get used to the new world, helping people and candidates wherever we can.

Home school starts again. I’m trying to keep on top of how the team are feeling, much harder to read people on zoom, looking at the balance in the bank is becoming an hourly obsession and trying to make sense of the 100 ideas I have every day. I spend a long time today looking at financial models and forecasts, not very enjoyable but a necessity. The government scheme helps. A lot!

Wednesday 25th March — another early start

I’m enjoying the 2 – 3 hours of peace in the mornings. That is until my middle child decided to get up with me, declaring he’s going to build a camp. Maybe he’s battening down the hatches as well.

Today we start to promote the NHS volunteers call, and anyone else who is desperately calling for more staff. The more we can help people the better.

We were supposed to have 2 new people starting in a couple of weeks as well. I’ve debated this a lot – I saw a lot of companies were rescinding job offers. Made sense, how could someone start when you can’t even see them, when you can’t guarantee revenues, and when you’ve no idea when this will all finish. I couldn’t rescind the offers. They were good enough for us before, they’ll add value now, and as slow as it is now, I decided that we must keep moving forward, no matter how slowly we move. Besides, if you make an offer you should wherever you can stick to it. This belligerent attitude to honouring my offers didn’t help with the previous day’s financial forecasting though!

Thursday 26th March — a bit of positive news today

A new major client on WaveTrackR and a couple of deals come back to life. I’ve been hoping that we all adjust to the ‘new norm’ quickly. It hadn’t happened but today there was a little spark of hope which was nice.

I have been reinforcing to the team our new role, I’ve been working on a new purpose of ‘Creating a World where Talent is never missed’ in the last 6 months and it never has it seemed more appropriate and that’s been the guiding light for us. My idea is that the more we help the industry, the faster we recover. The team respond amazingly to this as well. I’ve said it before but the team have been great throughout this. They’re worried and stressed but they’re giving it everything. I’m doing all I can to keep them calm and carrying on. Which they are doing – there’s even been a bit of banter on Slack again, which was nice to see.

Friday 27th March — things are being done

Suddenly all the things on the list to do on a quiet day are being done. The growth of JobsTrackR brings me some comfort, even if it’s not bringing any revenue!

A lot of my days are spent on Zoom calls, I realise that I’m talking more remotely to people than I would in normal times. Today is back to back calls with clients, management team, advisors and the bank. Such communications are great but very tiring. I sign off on the new JobsTrackR design, I’m very excited and impatient to get this launched.

Data updates show a steady increase in job postings and a slight uptick on applications as well. It’s the end of another week, and that glass of wine or two is calling. I’m signing off as much as possible. I need the headspace. But next week, we’ll start again, and do everything we can to keep things moving.

The world has changed beyond all recognition, I recall fondly the last time I had some social interaction outside of the house. We talk about the restaurants and holidays we went on.

As of writing (11th May) Boris Johnson has just announced the very first gentle easing of the lockdown. Businesses desperately trying to get trading again – how quickly we can get back to that in the coming months we can only speculate, but reading those entries back, it’s crazy to get my head around how much happened in such a short period of time!

This will change peoples lives and outlooks for a generation. It’s tough, but we’re tougher and we will get through all this.