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Guest contributor Jennifer Atkins, People Director at Bruntwood
(Written on 16 April 2020)


Bruntwood had huge plans for 2020 after another successful year. Then Coronavirus hit… something we’d heard snippets about and that a few of us initially dismissed as flu... But in just four weeks we completely changed our way of working, re-shaped colleagues’ lives, and got used to business as “unusual”.


We have a plan


To prepare ourselves, we needed a plan. We kept it simple and then shared it with the business.

  1. Stabilise our operations
  2. Manage our costs
  3. Support our customers
  4. Keep the team together by prioritising safety, connection and job protection


We made tough decisions


We now needed to make that plan happen which meant big asks of our colleagues.


The Government’s job retention scheme is a lifeline. With just over half the business now on furlough we went to great lengths to emphasise that this was not a reflection of their value to the business; but a significant contribution to Bruntwood’s sustainability.


For remaining colleagues - it was an equally tough ask.  To keep the business going, with a heavier workload, we then asked them to agree to a 20% pay reduction.


The changes came into effect on 1st April (probably not the best day...!)


We made the right decisions


At Bruntwood, we want to “shape your world”. Now we’re having to re-shape it through the Coronavirus lens.


One of the first things we did (before lockdown), was map out colleague scenarios and our responses - whether it was finding themselves ill with COVID-19 or re-looking at childcare. We updated our sickness and absence policy and process - providing 10 days’ full pay for illness, self isolation and / or caring for someone with COVID-19 or due to school closure. We’ve always been fans of agile working so we were prepared for the additional flexibility people needed.


We’re keeping everyone safe


Before the Government announced it, we tested and implemented measures enabling office teams to work from home - supplying desks, chairs and screens where needed.


To protect essential workers based at our buildings with customers, we reduced services minimising the risk of infection. 


Maintaining colleagues’ mental, physical, financial and emotional wellbeing is a huge priority in the face of such overwhelming upheaval. So, we introduced new and refreshed support:

  • Health & wellbeing toolkit
  • Working from home toolkit
  • Regular promotion of our Employee Assistance Programme
  • Wellbeing webinars
  • New learning & development modules


And our Social Impact team collated great volunteering resources including the NHS scheme and virtual & remote as well as practical opportunities.


We keep talking and listening


As well as that we’ve really ramped up communications.


Our intranet now hosts a dedicated COVID-19 hub and every lunchtime, colleagues receive a daily update. In between, our Board regularly publish video messages.


Every Friday, we host a webex with our Senior Leadership Team updating them on the interim strategy, listening to colleague experiences, and of course, Q&A. Afterwards, the SLT cascade key messages.


For furloughed colleagues - staying connected is equally important. They continue to have access to the intranet, email and e-learning. We introduced a weekly bulletin specifically for them. And all managers are encouraged to schedule regular check-ins over a virtual coffee or happy hour.


We take regular “temperature checks” with short pulse surveys on key topics - communications & support, health & wellbeing, ways of working, and staying connected. In the coming days, we’ll launch a new platform allowing colleagues to share ideas and comments on an ongoing basis.


We’re visible


The regular video messages have been hugely popular generating great online conversations - despite being filmed on iPhones or laptops!


We’re making the most of the tech with Google hangouts or Zoom for larger group and we’re making the effort to connect in new and creative ways to maintain trust and relationships.


Finally, we introduced Director conversations - an open invitation to all colleagues to speak directly to a member of the Board every weekday evening.


Bruntwood has never been one to sit on the sidelines. Our people, our sense of purpose and teamwork, and our commitment to being a good employer, sets our culture and our response to a crisis apart.


We also have a strong sense of community. The Lighthouse testing facility at our Alderley Park campus was up and running in less than three weeks. The community there has also supported PPE provision. Our Citylabs campus is providing Manchester Royal Infirmary with vital storage space. And across our portfolio, we are providing much needed car parking space to key workers.


As Chris Oglesby, our CEO, commented “More than ever before, we have risen to the challenges. It's been humbling to see our values and service mission continue to be brought to life every day despite the changing situation. The business will forever be grateful for the extra effort that everyone has put in and the sacrifices made.”


Bruntwood is a Member of the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter. Bruntwood own, let and manage outstanding buildings, workspace, innovation and science facilities through Bruntwood Scitech and Bruntwood Works. Bruntwood is a business led by one purpose, creating thriving cities.

Bruntwood’s deep connection with the cities they work with and commitment to creating thriving cities sets them apart, this purpose also ensures every investment and decision they make benefits their customers, communities, and colleagues.