The ‘next normal’ is a phrase you’re going to hear a lot over the coming weeks and months. But what is the next normal? And what will it mean for Boards and your organisation? The housing association of the future is taking shape in the moves that organisations are making right now. Here is what is changing and why some leaders say they will not go back.
In our latest #NavigatingtheCrisis Breakfast Briefing, featuring guest speaker Fay Selvan – chair of Jigsaw Homes CEO of Big Life Group we looked at reimagining and reforming the way housing providers operate in a post-COVID environment. The twenty-or-so chairs and executives attended started to activate their future-focused blueprint for change!
1. Remote working
If the coronavirus crisis has proved anything, it’s that remote and agile working is here to stay. As boards, it’s crucial that you capitalise on this new way of working to ensure you’re better prepared for whatever disruption lies ahead.
This means engaging staff in discussions around working together in the new normal. Listen to their experiences of agile working. What do they think works? What could be done better?
Ensure your infrastructure is up to the job, too. Remote working should be seen as an easy alternative and not just an emergency back-up plan. A significant number of Board members stated that on this issue they could not see their association returning back to the office norm.
2. Decision making
Difficult decisions have already been made, and there will be many more to make going forward. But it’s arguably the decisions you will make in the immediate future that will bear the greatest weight, as these will set the tone for your organisation and the wider sector going forward.
The challenge for Boards is addressing this question “How can I increase my organisations capacity and speed to respond decisively to today’s/tomorrows issues?”
We have seen leaders energised to make turbocharged decisions. As one recent CEO told us the Executive team met every morning: “we make decisions and go, we don’t have the full information but that’s okay – we can’t afford not to move.”
3. Organisational agility
Many organisations would openly admit to the not uncommon pre-crisis mentality of that’s-how-we’ve-always-done-it-so-why-should-we-change. But as the crisis has shown, it’s possible to reorganise and restructure and do so with relative ease. Boards have recognised that their associations have felt too bureaucratic, too insular, too inflexible, too slow, too complicated.
The sector has recognised that there is now at least the opportunity to ask if there is a better way to do things and to consider the most expedient and efficient way to transition to this new model of operation. Indeed, now might be the perfect time to reassess your organisation’s core purpose and values.
“We can have a better, fairer new normal in the future”
4. Supply chains
Both inside the sector and out, organisations are finding that COVID-19 has deepened existing partnerships and relationships, helping provide stability and resilience in what will continue to be a trying time.
But this crisis also poses an opportunity to create new relationships and partnerships, to network and make new connections. Take the time now to explore and cultivate new opportunities, and harvest the benefits when they bloom in the dawn of a post-pandemic world.
As boards, it’s important to be open and honest in your communication. Be clear in your message, and do your best to allay fears. It is vital in navigating this crisis that we need leaders with awareness, vulnerability, empathy and compassion.
Fay says both Jigsaw and Big Life have seen a great amount of goodwill towards their leadership and organisation since the advent of the coronavirus crisis by operating in this way. “People have recognised and feel that the organisations have reacted well, and are showing a great deal of care for the staff and the people that we work with,” she says.
The coronavirus crisis has made many within the sector reconsider their investments. And with good reason: What may have seemed like a good investment pre-crisis may now not be such a good idea at all.
Think about the needs of your workforce. With agile working supplanting traditional office working, assess whether you need all of your office space. Could you sell some of it off or re-purpose it?
Think too about your tenants and customers. If you were considering office expansion, consider instead investing in existing services and new homes.
What impact does this have on the design of new homes and communities?
The decisions the government makes as it eases lockdown will be out of your control, and they will keep coming. But as housing associations and sector leaders, you must be prepared to react and respond to the things you can control – particularly the environment in which you operate.
Returning to the office, resuming face-to-face communication, going into tenants’ homes, carpooling… you will need to make decisions around each of these issues and more. It’s important to stand by them, but do change them if you feel there is good reason to do so.
The important point here is to see the environment, not as a compliance issue but how can we support the community in improving our environment.
The ability to adapt and change in times like these can make all the difference between keeping your organisation afloat and running aground. Bold experiments and new ways of working are now everyone’s business. The challenge now is how can we make our services as contactless as possible?
In the advent of lockdown, for example, Big Life set up mental-health helplines within a week and Jigsaw redirected staff to welfare calls. Both organisation’s willingness and readiness to adapt has also brought about a marked change in their workforce, with staff re-energised and proactive in forming new connections and leads.
“We need to think about how we can keep this agility,” she Fay. “How can we strengthen self-managing teams and embed professional autonomy and accountability?”
One CEO said to us “It has taken the sector in two and bit weeks to achieve more than has been achieved in the past 10 years in adopting new technology,, I cannot see us going back”. The question for Boards is “How can my association accelerate digital to make itself more resilient to shocks, more productive/flexible and better able to deliver to tenants in the future”?
Social media may be vilified by some, but done correctly it can be used as a tool to reap enormous benefits. Fay cites the Big Issue North, of which she is a trustee, which took vendors off the street in line with the Keeping In initiative. The vendors lost all their income, as did Big Issue North. “There’s still 13,000 magazines in one office, sat there going to waste,” says Fay.
But by utilising the enormous reach social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can offer, Fay and her team were able to raise thousands of pounds for their vendors. Not only that, but they were also able to create new corporate partnerships and get the magazine into retailers such as Sainsbury’s, McColls and the Co-op.
As Fay attests: “We have made connections that we would have never made before.”
After the Second World War, people sought a new normal where a fairer and more just society was something that was seen and not just talked about. What followed was the welfare state, the NHS, and unprecedented investment in social housing.
We now have an opportunity to do the same and to ask, what kind of society do we want to build once we’ve come out the other side? Housing associations are well placed to enact this new normal and inspire others to do the same.
As Fay says: “We can have a better, fairer new normal in the future.”
We believe if you adopt these ten imperatives it will accelerate your organisation to becoming not only faster but better for customers, employees and society at large. As one Chair told us “How can we ever tell ourselves again that we can’t be better. We have just proven we can. We’re not going back!”
Our 10 point Board Blueprint reflects the fourth stage of 5R’s framework: Reimagine. Taken together, we believe the five stages provides a clear path to begin #navigatingthecrisis and beyond. If you would like a copy of our more detailed board briefing pack contact firstname.lastname@example.org .