1st October 2021

Nice to see you, to see you…

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Nervous, scared, unsure, excited, happy, reassured, connected, proud!

I know that’s not how Brucie’s catchphrase is supposed to end, but these are just some of the emotions felt by the MBKB team this week as we met up, along with our partners and better halves, for the first time in 18 months, coming together as a family to celebrate, belatedly, MBKB’s fifth anniversary.

And this jumbled mix of emotions felt by the team at MBKB will undoubtedly have been shared by many hundreds of thousands of workers over the last few months as they re-emerge after lockdown. 

It is unlikely that there will be any business in the country, probably across the globe, which has remained completely untouched by COVID-19, and the challenge for each business will have been unique.  As an apprenticeship training provider, we’ve felt a deep responsibility to our clients to try to provide a constant service throughout. It’s been tough, but by transferring our teaching and support online at the start of lockdown, we’ve manged it, and not only that, but our workforce has also grown during lockdown.  Which means that many of us, nine to be exact, myself included, had not met any of our colleagues before the start of this week, adding to the apprehension felt before we finally got together.

For us newbies, the feeling was that of a job interview all over again, but this time there were 30 interviewers. Will they like me? How big will my bum look in business attire post lockdown (although to be fair none of my colleagues knew how big my bum looked pre-lockdown.) Which then leads into, what should I wear? Will anything fit?  Followed by a large online shopping expedition to find something comfortable to wear. Collectively we’d already had the discussion about coaxing our feet back into high heels, or not in my case, that ship has already sailed and there’s no more disguising the fact that I’m only 5’ 2”.  But colleagues’ height, or lack of it, was the ice breaker we needed when meeting for the very first time, when we were tasked with placing colleagues in height order virtually, and then re-arranging ourselves into the correct order once we were all together.   ‘Who tall are you?’ was the ideal activity to smash through those Zoom preconceptions and have some fun, it’s funny how you create a mental image of a person you’ve seen on screen which is often very different to real life. The photo accompanying this blog shows the ensuing chaos as we tried to rank ourselves.

But amongst all the light-hearted banter and excitement of meeting colleagues for the first time, there’s a much more serious aspect to gathering together after such a long time apart. And one which almost everyone in the country will feel to some degree or other.

As social beings, working from home and social distancing has had a significant impact on all of our lives, and we need to be mindful of how we tentatively come back together again.  Businesses need to find a way of acknowledging an individual’s choice (both staff and clients) about personal safety, whilst managing any fears about reconnecting in the workplace, at the same time as trying to return to some level of normality. 

Every business has dealt with this differently. At MBKB we’ve had a very democratic approach, having regular staff discussions and voting on when face to face meetings should recommence.  We’ve been there for each other throughout, keeping each other going through difficult times, creating team challenges (you really should check out a couple of the videos on our YouTube channel, hilarious!) and kindness boards, but what happens now, as that draws to an end?  Lockdown has been hell on earth for some, and secretly welcomed by others, so how do we ensure that everyone is comfortable and reassured?

After being delayed twice due to the COVID restrictions, many of the MBKB staff had conflicting emotions about finally getting together for our anniversary celebrations. Nervous yet excited were the feelings most commonly shared.  To help address this, colleagues were given the option of wearing a wristband to indicate their feelings about social distancing, with red meaning “I really want to talk to you, but from a metre away please”, or green wristbands proclaiming “I’m done with social distancing”.

Yet just the simple act of being together in one room after months of Zoom meetings had an amazing effect. Though one or two still felt unsure, most colleagues found themselves happy and relaxed being together, and finally getting to know each other. We learnt new things about each other which we would never have found out online. Things not connected with work, but which make you work better as a team when back at work.  Who knew that a tutor’s misspent childhood would result in such skill with a yoyo? Who would have guessed the enthusiasm with which the Time Warp could be performed? Remember how those who indulged in one of the blue cupcakes were always going to be found out because their mouths turned so blue they looked like they’d eaten a smurf?  The new recruits’ first attempts at the mind-boggling Cha Cha Slide dance is an initiation ceremony like no other and I will be destroying the video as soon as I get my hands on it!   These are just a few of the shared memories we now have that make us smile as we wait for our next get together, making us realise how happy we are all in one place, the inclusion of our partners bringing an even greater feeling of being an extended family.    

And now the event is over, and we’ve returned to our desks the length and breadth of the country, we must remember how we felt when we were together, more connected, with a sense of belonging, proud to be part of Team MBKB and excited for what the future holds. Bring it on!

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