Rumours had been rife on social media and WhatsApp groups that the army was going to lockdown London. People were bulk buying toilet paper (what was that all about?) and one of my friends commented on social media that she couldn’t find ketchup anywhere! These more trivial things aside, I was really starting to worry about my family, my colleagues, and the business.
Jane Gaunt felt similarly and about a week or so before lockdown was announced, she and I decided to close the office. The Ardent team agreed to work from home and Microsoft Teams/Zoom/Skype were at the ready. The driving factor was that we all used public transport to some degree, and we all had young children. At that point we didn’t really know the effects of the virus on different age groups.
Shortly after lockdown was announced, my cousin became seriously ill with the virus. He was hospitalised, put in an induced coma and was on a ventilator. Our family still can’t quite believe how well he recovered, but the experience showed us at a relatively early stage in the pandemic, the ferocity of the virus. In May when I had a couple of days of a high temperature, aches and exhaustion, I was genuinely worried I might end up on a ventilator like my cousin. It was scary in lots of ways of course, but I think being a business owner/self-employed person added further level of worry for me, like thousands of people in a similar position no doubt.
The first lockdown wasn’t as bad as I had feared, but of course at that point nobody thought we would still be in the midst of the pandemic a year later. I had space in the house to work quietly and I surprised myself with how productive I could be working from home. Whilst activity in partner recruitment remained high, I did wonder if the activity would lead to people moving jobs. Would a partner move to a new firm having only met potential colleagues virtually? Thankfully, the answer was yes – though not for everyone of course. Overall, clients and candidates adapted well and worked hard to make processes go smoothly.
One benefit of home working as a recruiter is the ease of meeting both candidates and clients over Teams/Zoom/Skype from the comfort of our own homes and at more flexible/suitable times. That said, I do miss in person meetings and the energy of being in the office, bouncing ideas between colleagues in person, and of course, good natured banter.
Other benefits have been the lack of a commute, and best of all, being able to take some time out to have lunch with the kids, kick a ball around or, thanks to the glorious weather from last spring/summer, sit out in the garden and watch them have fun on the trampoline. Another plus of not being in the City has been saving a fortune on takeaway coffees, but unfortunately, I cannot say my booze spend has reduced!
From a business perspective, Jane and I made some quick strategic decisions to manage costs, but agreed that we should do what we could to keep the team together. We knew that the market, particularly for associate recruitment, would become extremely challenging and we wanted the team to know that they wouldn’t be penalised for things that were out of their control.
A small number of our competitors took more serious measures and dissolved associate teams entirely, or reduced their numbers, and nobody could blame them. The situation was very uncertain. As a business we had always been prudent financially and so we were able to take the short-term financial hit to ensure we kept the team together and hit the ground running when life started to return to normal. As it turned out, there were chinks of light in the form of intermittent pockets of associate recruitment, and partner recruitment remained extremely buoyant throughout the year, both with longstanding and new clients. Things could have been a lot worse.
Summer 2020 provided a much needed injection of fun and a refresh, thanks in no small part to the amazing weather. It seemed like the best summer weather in years, but that may have been because the freedom felt so precious. A week in Devon by the sea, meals out, day trips out and seeing friends and family did bring much needed positivity which really helped me when back home headhunting.
The end of the Summer/early Autumn began with some real excitement for Ardent as we welcomed Matt Parsons, an experienced and talented legal recruiter, to the team. Jane, Jon and I had worked with Matt previously and knew that he would be a fantastic addition.
Though Autumn did have its challenges, the whole team were confident that better times lay ahead and despite the cancellation of Christmas get-togethers and the prospect of another lockdown, we had a lot of fun at our Ardent Christmas party which took the form of a virtual cook-along.
When the new lockdown came, it felt significantly more difficult than the first. For a start, nobody could fail to be touched by the daily news of rising infection levels and an increasing death toll. Like millions around the country though, my day-to-day focus was on juggling work commitments and home schooling alongside my wife, a nurse working part-time in the vaccination programme. The days of the last lockdown certainly seemed longer than the first though with much more work completed in the evenings.
As we arrive at the anniversary of the first lockdown, it’s important to reflect on what’s happened over the last year, and to be positive about the future. With the end of the current lockdown in sight, the legal recruitment market is very busy and there is a real buzz amongst the Ardent Team. We are all really looking forward to a face to face get together, most likely in a beer garden in the country at the end of April. We will return to the office at some point, but with more homeworking than before, which is good news as I will still be able to make time for bouncing on the trampoline with the kids!