Lessons learnt from the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the narrative around what people said was impossible. No longer is there the mindset of what we can’t do. For many, the question has become: What can we do?

The realisation that, as a sector, we have agency to think in this more optimistic, hopeful way is one of the many welcome revelations this otherwise morbid crisis has brought about.

So, with key insight from Yorkshire Housing CEO Nick Atkin in Breakfast Briefing #14, here are the essential lessons we’ve learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The future is now

The notion of working from anywhere at any time was already gaining traction before 2020. COVID-19 just attached rocket boosters and shot it into the stratosphere. 

Yorkshire Housing, for example, had moved to where they thought they would be in two years in the space of just two weeks. “We are now operating where we thought we would be in 2023,” says Nick.

But what does this ‘futuristic’ way of working actually look like? 

For one, it means a near exponential increase in the use of remote collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and Yammer. It means people more widely working off portable devices such as tablets and laptops. And it means a surge in written communication via tools such as email and instant messaging.


Graph showing Yorkshire Housing's MS Teams usage
Yorkshire Housing’s usage of Microsoft Teams shot up during the COVID-19 pandemic


Such rapid developments aren’t without their challenges. Teams has become the collaboration tool of choice at Yorkshire Housing; and while usage has surged, there are still many functionalities and features that colleagues are yet to utilise.

Video-call fatigue is an issue, as well, with meetings overwhelmingly conducted over programmes such as Zoom. Nick suggests playing games (Virtual Bingo, anyone?) to keep things light and fresh.

Reimagine the workplace

The COVID-19 outbreak has precipitated a drastic decrease in the use of office space, with most now operating at around 20% capacity. Even for the 20% who are still travelling to the office, they are typically working in a sterile and restricted environment with strict rules around hand-washing and social distancing.

But as Nick says, this ostensibly adverse situation provides a “massive opportunity” to rethink workspace and how we all work. Do you really need all that desk space? Do you even need all that office space? These are some of the things you may want to think about as we enter a post-pandemic world.

Agile working is possible

With the advent of COVID-19 and the resultant surge in agile working, many employees are realising how much time they used to spend commuting and how much money they are now saving. Organisations, too, are realising that such ways of working don’t have to come at the cost of productivity and efficiency – in some cases, quite the opposite.

It’s because of revelations like these that Yorkshire Housing has switched its default stance from ‘why do you need to be at home?’ to ‘why do you need to come into the office?’.

As Nick says: “Great work can be done from anywhere – it doesn’t need to be a straightforward choice between office and home.”

It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that this way of working may not sit well with everyone – particularly those under 25 living in compact shared accommodation, those with younger children who are home-schooling, and those used to the clear distinction between work-life and home-life.

Consider, then, a more personalised, flexible employee offer. Working from home may be the preferred option for some, but others may miss working in an office environment.

Comms is king

If there’s one thing that most, if not all, housing associations have discovered in the wake of the crisis, it’s the emergence of communications teams as the ultimate hero.

This is something to which Yorkshire Housing can attest. On 11 March, during the escalation of the crisis, they triggered their Business Continuity Plan (BCP). But only a day later, they had scrapped it.


Comms teams have become a lifesaver for many housing associations during the pandemic


Nick says the issue was the focus: Rather than building the plan around people, Yorkshire Housing’s BCP was built around infrastructure. Realising their mistake, they instead opted for a Best Comms Practice, and the result has been “overwhelmingly positive feedback” from customers.

A special mention for the IT teams here, too. Where would we be without them?

Focus on what matters

The coronavirus pandemic has shown us all what really matters. For housing associations, this has meant rediscovering their social purpose. 

Nick says Yorkshire Housing has both found a “real focus” on customers and realised the importance of providing a more flexible service offer.

Yorkshire Housing did this in a number of ways, including:

To make the transition to such services smoother, consider moving some employees from the more ‘mundane’ transactional, service-request roles and replacing them with self-service programmes. Like Yorkshire Housing, you may find they are more convenient and cost effective.

Reevaluate your service delivery

The coronavirus crisis has effected a shift in the relationship between landlords and tenants/customers and the way in which landlords deliver their services. 

As Nick admits, Yorkshire Housing used to operate with a reactionary mentality, one that waited for things to go wrong before fixing them. Now, they are progressing their plans to operate increasingly proactively.

There are three ways in which Yorkshire Housing will achieve this:

  • Collecting and analysing accurate and reliable real-time data
  • Introducing intelligence to how homes are managed, through utilising the Internet of Things
  • Harnessing local knowledge and real-time customer feedback

It’s time to get building

We are in a housing crisis. There’s nothing new there. But what is new is the “glut”, as Nick calls it, of retail and office space that will become available over the coming years due to the shift to digital ways of working, trading, and living.

As this space opens up, the sector would be remiss to not take advantage of the opportunity to build the homes the country needs.

Contact us

Taking stock of what we’ve learnt during the pandemic reflects the fifth stage of McKinsey’s 5R framework: Reform. Taken together, we believe the five stages provides a clear path to #navigatingthecrisis and beyond.

If you would like a copy of our more detailed briefing pack contact steve@goldenmarzipan.co.uk.

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