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Written by Alex Broxson, Chief Marketing Officer
With the importance of staying at home, the vast majority of us all at Retail Assist have moved our office lives back home. Whereas in the office we all followed similar rhythms, with everyone’s living situations differing and our ways of going about our working lives evolving, we’ve asked our colleagues to share their working lives with us in our latest blog series.
So, whose house are we off to? This week, it’s the turn of Alex Broxson, Retail Assist’s Head of Marketing.
Here, she explains juggling work commitments with a love of running, maintaining marketing strategy and trying to keep calm whilst managing her new colleagues – her two young daughters!
I’m writing this during the third week of working from home. Whilst working from home is nothing new to me – I’ve done it in a previous role, and already work remotely or in different locations for Retail Assist – the difference is that now we’re all at home as a country and as a family. I’m joined by my husband, who is also really busy as a Sales Director and co-founder of his own telecoms business, and my two young daughters, aged 2 and nearly 5 (young being the operative word here!)
I’m going to be honest: during the first week of lockdown, I had bit of a wobble on the first day. Firstly, I think it was the initial shock of the COVID-19 lockdown announcement: it wasn’t a surprise, but the “officialness” of the situation just really hit me. It was also the pressure of trying to manage a really busy and responsible job and marketing team at a time of crisis, but to also all of sudden have to manage schooling for my 5 year-old, at the same time as being a parent to two kids!
In a work sense, I found this difficult because I have always liked to maintain a line between the career-driven, professional me, and the me that is a parent. At first, I found it really hard to accept that my kids might walk in on a video call and cross this professional line. Whilst this now seems silly as everyone with kids is in the same situation, I didn’t want it to impact my professionalism (people that know me will probably disagree with this anyway and say I’m a bit of a prankster!)
However, I needn’t have worried. It was after one of our daily conference calls that both Dan, our CEO, and Matthew, our COO, picked up on the fact that I wasn’t quite myself and called me to check I was ok. It was so great to have their support, to talk things through and discuss how I was initially finding it tough, and also to address some of my concerns, for example, if the kids walked in on one of our board calls (which as parents themselves they were absolutely fine with!). Through talking to both of them, I came to the realisation that I was just being way too hard on myself. In many ways, it also helped that my husband is in the same situation. Ultimately, we are in this together and the only way we were going to do this is to share the load. Even if it does involve your daughter walking in on a video call announcing that she has just eaten a unicorn ice cream lolly to all participants on the call (this actually happened today – it could have been much worse, I know!). At the end of the day, we are all human and we’re all trying to make the best of the situation we all find ourselves in.
So how have we started to cope? We’ve started to figure out our working patterns that suited our calls and workload for the day and taking it in turns with the kids. It also helped that I spoke to some of my other friends, who are working, parenting and schooling. It turns out we all cried on day one! As the weeks go on, it is getting much better – or dare I even say more ‘normal’.
My working day has to flex around to ensure that I can get everything done. So, in some respects, the benefit of working from home is that I can start as early as I want to, or I can start working on things again in the evening to get through everything. For me, getting a few hours in from around 7:30 – whilst the girls are happy having their breakfast and playing together – allows me to clear the decks, before all the video conferences start. Also, not having the commute can be great in that some mornings I can get some exercise in before I start work. Not only is this beneficial for my fitness and wellbeing, but also for my mental sanity, too! This is something that was pretty impossible before all of this, as I would have to be out of the house ready with both kids dressed and ready by 7:15am in order to get in to Nottingham by at least 9am. One thing I am not missing is the commute and city traffic!
I’ve usually exchanged a few messages with my marketing team first thing, firstly to check we’re all feeling ok and in good health, and then to catch up on anything urgent.
At 10am, I join the board update call, in which we are assessing all areas of the business, the market and planning activity to ensure we maintain activity and have a strong base for the future company.
Not to give away too much, but we are in the middle of working on some exciting projects at Retail Assist, including a rebranding, a new website and a software product launch! If anything, this time is giving us, as a marketing and sales team, the ability to get the new branding and software looking amazing (obviously a slightly biased opinion!). We will have some exciting stuff to share with you very soon…
As a company, we’re supporting our customers through these changing times, ensuring that they have all the remote working capabilities in place. We are also supporting some customers to make the most of this quieter time and move projects along, and also get ready for the opening of store estates again.
At the moment, my days are spent working with the directors, my marketing team, sales team members, branding agencies, website developers and those in our product development teams. This is in addition to our regular marketing planning meetings – to plan appropriate PR, campaign and social media activity – as well as discussing ideas for events of the future. Later this year, Retail Assist will turn 21 and I’m thinking that we’ll certainly be ready for that 21st party! We’ll make sure it’s a good one.
Whilst retailing and hospitality might be on pause for now, I believe the consumer will be more than ready to come out of it after! I know I personally can’t wait for that first meal and drinks out. Whilst ecommerce retailers have done well – and have really found their societal importance, out of necessity – I think we’ll find a whole new value for the high street. Maybe we’ll come back from this with a whole new appreciation for social interaction, and experiences in-store. I personally have found value in local and sometimes independent retailers, too. I visited a local butchers and deli at the weekend; the experience was great and they had an extremely responsible approach in terms of social distancing to protect the consumer. Because of the positive customer experience I received, it’s certainly somewhere I hope I continue to visit once this is all over.
I believe it is also becoming a time for innovation. My friend and I were discussing how many local retailers would often complain that they couldn’t compete with the likes of larger retailers such as the Ocados and Tescos of the world, and they couldn’t deliver. Since the trading restrictions, they have now found ways to make this happen in order to survive. I have also seen this first-hand from my brother: he has a country pub and restaurant which, prior to COVID-19, was trading extremely well. He has obviously had to shut down completely but has made use of a space which he can leave unlocked and formed a community shop selling all basics, including alcohol – a necessity in these times! He is now also looking at setting up an outdoor pizza oven for takeaways (socially distanced), which will then be used for future events, when he is hopefully able to trade normally again.
We are yet to see what ‘normal’ starts to look like again. But I would say there are certainly things we will all learn from this, and value going forward. There may be some things that we don’t rush back to; it also shows how we can work well remotely and can handle lots of things being thrown at us. I’m sure things will continue to evolve. Above all, I hope we can all stay safe!
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