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Life at Mercer & Hole: One year since the first lockdown

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In support of the National Day of Reflection, the team at Mercer & Hole have been looking back over the past 12 months; what they’ve found hard, what they’ve been grateful for, and what they’ve enjoyed. There’s no getting around the fact that it’s been an incredibly difficult year, in so many different ways. We have all made sacrifices in the hopes of protecting each other and keeping each other safe.

On Tuesday 23 March, there was a minute’s silence at 12pm to remember everyone who has died during the pandemic. People are encouraged to light candles from 8pm and leave them on their doorsteps as a symbol of collective grief, remembrance, and reflection. Even those who have not lost anyone to COVID-19 have still experienced loss – loss of time with friends, family and loved ones with whom they would otherwise have been sharing life’s big and small moments.

“It has been a rollercoaster year. Highs have included more time to spend with household family, but lows have been missing friends, colleagues and loved ones. There has been more time for reflection, and an appreciation of the important things in life…  the team at Mercer & Hole has been amazing. I have a lot to be thankful for.” – Alison Palmer.

There are elements of lockdown living that will irreversibly shape us all, in life and in business. Resilience and adaptability, I hope, will be the winning elements, over and above any residual fears of what is yet to come, or could return. It is a determination to keep things moving and overcome adversity that will shape our future choices and outcomes for the better, I am certain.” – Jo Upshall.

Since the announcement of the first lockdown one year ago, it’s an understatement to say that many aspects of our lives have changed drastically. Mercer & Hole has always been very much an ‘in person’, office-based, client-facing firm. So, along with everyone else, these new changes brought about a significant challenge for us. We are immensely proud and grateful to say that we are just as close with each other, and with our clients.

One of our clients commented: “It just so happens that 2021 coincided with being our 40th year in business. That’s a long time and we have seen off a number of tricky recessions over the years. However, nothing has come close to the devastation caused to our hospitality customers during the two COVID-19 lockdowns in the last 12 months. But we are still here and there are now some green shoots appearing on the horizon at last. Just a word of thanks for you and your team’s support. We had great continuity of service even though the Mercer & Hole team was split between the office and home. You were never far away and always ready with advice and support when we needed it.”

“The last year has brought home how much we really care for our clients and want them as people to not just survive but thrive as the world begins to open up again.” – Helen Cain.

A huge part of how we’ve managed to maintain relationships with clients and with each other is how we’ve adapted technologically. Due to the high frequency of updates and changes, we have had to re-shift our focus constantly. In order to maintain communication of accurate, up-to-date information, we launched the COVID Hub on our website in just a few days. This became very popular with our clients as a way of keeping them informed of the rapidly changing situation and how it would affect them.

Another main facet of keeping our contact lines open and strong has been getting used to communication platforms like Microsoft TEAM’s and Zoom. In some ways, our determination to make the most of these new tools has improved communication.

Another one of our clients wrote the following: “…a year on from Lockdown – again, thank you for all your team’s efforts during this very trying period. 12 months ago, I am sure I was not the only one who was deeply worried about how we would get through this – and a few short weeks later we had all transitioned into meeting with clients on line… colleagues will have another steep learning curve getting back into working face to face again – but we are a gregarious species, so getting back together is long overdue.”

Retaining a strong team spirit during these times has its challenges but joining a new team during a time like this can have even more. One of our newest staff members, Bhavin Patel had this to say about his experience: “[the Rickmansworth team] have supported me all the way through during my first few months. They have answered all my questions no matter how small and whether it is relevant or not. Most importantly the team always work together very closely and share the knowledge even in the current COVID-19 situation. We have regular team meetings, and we share the knowledge and work as required. I didn’t feel like I was a newcomer, and it feels like I have been working with them for a number of years now.”

With face-to-face events out of the question, our team came up with all sorts of innovative ways of keeping in touch and finding moments of solidarity and joy together. Over the last summer, we made lockdown videos and kept lockdown diaries to acknowledge and document the ‘unprecedented’ nature of the times.

We knew our staff were creative, but even we couldn’t have foreseen the level of creativity they would show in both the poetry competition and the photography competition we held. The former received a huge response, with people picking up their pens (or opening their laptops) to express both the difficulties and small joys of lockdown. To showcase the winning photographs captured on camera by our team, all the photos are now hanging proudly in our newly refurbished office in St Albans.

We were also lucky enough to receive a dance masterclass from Strictly Come Dancing star, Kristina Rihanoff, and to get into the festive spirit we held a Christmas Quiz, a raffle, and an evening of wine-tasting. These events invited people to have some fun, but they also brought everyone closer together despite being physically apart.

It is also important to acknowledge that not everyone has been able to work from home all the time. We have a number of staff who had to work from the office to keep things moving smoothly, particularly our secretaries and payroll team, for whose work and dedication we are extremely thankful.

“My take-away from lockdown is going to be the inclusiveness that came from the regular updates from Paul and Gill, the competitions, the wine-tasting, quizzes, etc. It didn’t matter what your role was in the firm, we all got the same message and opportunity to join in at the same time.” – Sheilagh Suthanthiran.

Wellbeing has always been central to Mercer & Hole, particularly with regards to our focus on staff being able to maintain a really good work/life balance, but it has been a particular focus over the last year with everybody recognising how important it is that we look after ourselves and each other in a time of particular mental and emotional strain for so many. As part of our efforts to support our staff and their mental and physical health, we’ve had online Zumba classes, Pilates classes and a session on mindfulness; all of which have been well-received and help us prioritise our wellbeing.

A part of ensuring that wellbeing is a priority is to make sure everyone still feels connected and part of the same team. To help us do that we have had to ensure that we communicate effectively and remain adaptable and resilient. These are the things that have seen us through the last year. Summarised by Henry Page: “Stopping to think about what the firm has overcome and achieved during the last 12 months fills me with enormous sense of pride and awe and is something that can only be achieved through the people who work with us.”

Reflecting on this past year is not easy, but it is important. To every member of our team and to all our clients: thank you for your continued support.

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