As late February rolled around, I began my career with the Calico Group as part of the Media and Communications team. For those first few weeks, I learned the ropes, met countless new faces and started to get to grips with the task at hand.
Then, after only 3 weeks in the office, everything changed. Once a distant concern, the COVID-19 pandemic suddenly brought everything crashing to a halt. Our team suddenly needed to leave the office, embrace the Zoom call and begin working remotely from home. That was over three months ago.
Suddenly, we were thrown into red alert. Strategic planning was eclipsed by crisis comms as services adapted, guidance rapidly evolved and confirmed cases across the country exploded.
As starts go, this has certainly been interesting. My own experience is far from unique. Across the Calico Group, over forty people took up new positions in and around the onset of lockdown. Despite the varied nature of our roles, there are shared experiences among those commencing Calico careers during the COVID chaos.
For those working from home, practicalities presented some early obstacles. For new Health and Safety Business Partner Janette, the first hurdle was where to set up shop. After joining Calico in early March, Janette suddenly found herself working from home. She says, “I had to adapt a spare room and kit it out with desking and suitable seating. Although initially an upheaval, I now have a good system going that enables me to work effectively.”
Cobbled together work spaces aside, home working has had some other, more social drawbacks for new starters. When asked about difficulties faced, Janette pinpointed, ‘The isolation. Not knowing who to go to when needing assistance with various elements of my role’. This isolation is even more pronounced within a varied organisation like Calico, where ‘getting to know staff roles and responsibilities and understanding the very diverse divisions of the group’ can be tough at the best of times.
Starting any role during a pandemic is daunting, but taking over as MD of a business presents some unique challenges. Luckily, new Calico Homes MD Mark was well-prepared for his unexpected bout of home working. As he recalls, ‘I was working from home and doing a lot of remote working in my previous organisation (…) so it hasn’t felt like too much of a shift!’. Like Janette, Mark has found getting to know the company he heads a little more difficult given the current climate, ‘I am not doing everything that I had probably planned – for example getting to know the neighbourhoods we work in and our customers (…) the situation has meant this has been difficult. ’
At frontline services like SafeNet, working practices have been adapted to allow vital support to continue. Here, new starters have seen a noticeable spike in demand throughout the pandemic. Sophie, a new refuge assistant at SafeNet reflects that ‘Some days are extremely busy, where the job can feel impossible’. Fortunately, she continues, ‘every day is different, and I think that’s something not to be taken for granted’. New domestic abuse support worker, Sarah, has found she has had to provide additional support to residents, many of whom ‘have faced extra anxieties’ as a result of the pandemic.
While starting new roles during a global pandemic hasn’t been ideal, a common theme from those I spoke to is that Calico has remained as welcoming as ever. Albeit from a safe distance. Beverley, Horizon’s new Safeguarding support worker, says it best, stating, ‘Even though these are difficult times, I have been made to feel welcome by colleagues and everyone is so helpful.’
This has certainly been my own experience. Whether it’s a quick call from a line manager just to check-in or a pair of incredibly helpful colleagues (thank you Lisa & Becca), Calico has quickly felt like home. When things do return to normal, which they will, us new starters will be stronger for this experience. In an ironic twist, the thing that isolates and distances us will ultimately draw us closer together. By starting when we did, we’ve metaphorically dived in at the deep end. The good news is, we’ve all come up swimming.