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COVID-19 Redefined: An Operations Director's Perspective

Jul 1, 2020

On the 5th January 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) published its first 'Disease Outbreak News' about a new virus. In truth, perhaps other than in Wuhan, China, little attention was being given to a virus that would soon become a global pandemic and re-define, at least temporarily, the world as we know it.

On the 6th January I started a new role as Operations Director with Digitonic Ltd.

After an entire career spent in the public sector working both in Scotland and internationally, it felt towards the end of 2019 that I needed a fresh challenge. Brave pill taken, I had a fanciful notion that I might be able to cut it in the private sector. Surely my experience working latterly in North America for nearly 8 years, as well as previous roles focused on Asia and EMEA geographies, could be of some assistance to an ambitious growing Scottish company. Enter a former colleague and friend Grant Fraser, CEO of Digitonic Ltd. A couple of coffee meets later and a plan was hatched. Grant's instinct told him I could bring experience and connections - mine told me not to screw it up!

Truth be told, at times over the first couple of months my head was spinning. Having spent 25 years with the same public sector agency, I had a healthy understanding of both the organisation's culture as well as ambitions. I knew where to find things. I simply told myself it will take time. Settle into the new role, accept it's going to be very different, and most importantly try and enjoy it, I said.

Fast forward a few weeks. March 11th 2020. Decision made - all of Digitonic's team members across its Glasgow, London, US and India locations are to be mobilised to work from home by the end of that week. This felt serious, yet for many a sense of denial (just like earlier in the year) seemed to prevail. As a collective, we have now spent 100 days apart, save for Google Hangouts. It has been tough and not quite the introduction to the private sector I had anticipated. A lot has happened over these 100 days.

Our journey has been grounded in the realisation that whilst COVID has presented significant challenges it has, in parallel, offered opportunity. Maintaining a sense of perspective has also been important. For far too many the daily choices are stark - choices such as paying the electricity bill or putting food on the table is sadly a reality for many. It would serve us all well to remember this.

So, to Digitonic's journey thus far and a few reflections on 'COVID-19 Redefined'... I suspect some of what I share may resonate:

C for Confusion quickly followed by the need for Collaboration grounded in Compassion. Immediate adjustments were made, often supported by others, be it suppliers or customers, with a general understanding that this was a time to put people before profit. Our experience talks to each of these and we thank our network for both their support and integrity.

O for Organisation which in time and with patience began to offer a sense of Opportunity. Admittedly as a digital marketing company our transition to a home working model was seamless but this would not be enough on its own. Forensic financial forecasting alongside enhanced communication across the company would be vital. Accepting the new reality, with all its uncertainties, quickly focused the mind on where we might see opportunity both in terms of revenue but also how we organise ourselves and engage with our most important asset: our people.

V for Vulnerability whilst aspiring to a new Vision. There are likely very few companies that haven't at one point felt incredibly vulnerable. Unprecedented, uncharted and uncertain are very familiar terms of late but leadership always requires a vision - in good times and bad. Step forward Grant Fraser and Iain Wilcox, our CEO and MD respectively.

I for Intensity but also recognising there might never be a better time to secure Insight on who we are and what we want to be as a company. The intensity we all met as COVID unravelled across international markets meant long days, difficult conversations and of course worry: worry about the future, our families, our ability to look after others when apart. Difficult periods often provide real insight to the character of others around us. We quickly realised that we have an exceptionally committed, professional group of people that we're fortunate to call our team. We also wanted to understand how they felt about the new normal and the future. Hence our engagement with Best Companies and some compelling insights from our team that we'll build upon moving forward.

D for Damage Limitation with the need to shift gears quickly to a level of Determination perhaps we didn't know we had. Stabilizing the business was the immediate priority. This considered we had to call upon reserves of determination to battle through perhaps the most challenging of periods known - the battle continues.

The WHO declared Coronavirus a global pandemic on 11th March the very day we at Digitonic drifted apart in the physical sense. 100 days later I think we may be closer than we’ve ever been. I think we all recognise this will not be a 2020 problem alone so we prepare and plan on the basis that further setbacks may befall us. Our experience to date together will stand us in good stead.

6 months into my role I have experienced an induction like no other. It has been a steep learning curve but one that has seen me get to know the company and its people in ways that would have been unimaginable otherwise. We have worked incredibly hard and we have looked for and benefited from support from others. We'll remember the experience and the help afforded to us.

In less than 6 months Digitonic is a different company to the one I met on 6th January. I guess we have had to re-define who we are and what we do. COVID-19 redefined us perhaps. We look ahead cautiously and our duty of care to the team members that continue to support us in meeting obstacles en route remains absolute. We will also look to do more for others as there are many that need it.

Making a change after a long career with the one organisation or company isn't for everyone. Not only can I now find things at Digitonic but I have found out a lot about myself. At this stage of my career I am happy about that.

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