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We care about technology-enhanced human systems. So we thought we would share regular thoughts and opinions about why we think they matter so much.

Learns from lockdown – the HARBOUR hive

As I write this we’re back in the office – kinda – ish. The office is open anyway, but for the moment we’re letting people come back as and when they want, so whether it’s convenience, continuing childcare challenges or genuine health concerns, on the 3 days the office is officially open we might see anywhere from 4 to 10 people of the 30 or so we might normally have had in on any day previously. For me I think I prefer the segregation in my mental state that being in the office provides from working from home, but it’s not without aspects I miss – not least the ability to just “be there” for the family if / when needed (although I’m sure everyone has tales of when “being there” wasn’t convenient for that video call or looming deadline).

But I wanted to share something that struck me as we were really getting into the guts of lockdown – an observation that came both from nature and one particularly insightful colleague.

I’m fortunate enough to live in the countryside, and with 2 dogs to walk and backing onto woods I was never really totally locked down as many people had to deal with. Then as we moved from Spring into Summer I noticed a lot of insect activity around a tree trunk. A wild bee hive had colonised it. A wonderful treat to behold. And over many dog walks I regularly checked in on the hive – watching their behaviours adapt with the weather, from their own cold morning lockdowns where they kept together for warmth, to hot day frenetic coming and going as they harvested from the surrounding flora.

And it struck me how much it reminded me of our office, which certainly had its times when it might be described as “buzzing”. The constant interaction between the inhabitants – the coming and going – the activity – the shared purpose.


But I also took a video at slower exposure (or ‘slo-mo’ as the kids call it :) and I found it fascinating how my attention was drawn to completely different aspects of the scene before me.

At normal speed your senses are blown away by the buzz and the action. But at slo-mo your eye is drawn to something else altogether, or at least mine was. Now I’m drawn to the “air con” bees – those whose job it is to regulate the temperature within the hive, circulating the air from the outside. Every bit as critical as every other bee in this wonder of the natural world, but so easy to overlook when you’re caught by the buzz and the action at normal speed.

And then it struck me how I was actually seeing similar from within the weird alternative perspective that COVID-19 had forced upon us. Without the buzz and distraction of activity it was possible to view our business reality very differently. Where a process made perfect sense before, when stretched out and viewed over remote working confines - it maybe didn’t. Where something previously seemed to be a slight crack in an approach that could easily enough be papered over, looking at it from the side rather than head on and it might show as a gap rather than a crack, and something that absolutely needs addressing for the process to operate as it needs to.

When I shared this with Sarah (our very own Green Queen) she took my analogy a step further. Lockdown and this strange half-world we’re living through right now hasn’t been easy on anyone – and working to keep a medium sized business ticking along has been, certainly from a management perspective, pretty damned draining. I’m sure there are plenty of articles from knowledgeable people explaining why physiologically video calls are so exhausting (certainly when they're back to back), but our commitment to do our level best to be there for our team and clients meant a new level of what I described as ‘hyper-communication’. We were acutely aware that for some of our team we might be the only interaction that they have that day, whilst for others working anywhere other than in an office was a complete first for them and for others they had to do their best to juggle child-minding with work commitments, so regularly checking-in became essential, let alone ensuring that people were clear on requirements whilst doing our best to maintain the company spirit and feeling of togetherness we’d worked so hard to foster over the years.

Sarah saw the HARBOUR business even more like that hive. A mass of ongoing interactions, many broadly imperceptible under the buzz and outcomes, where the business and sub teams all worked together, communicating in so many ways beyond those we formally set out – and the channels we were now restricted to. Take a bee out of its hive and pop it in a glass jar * and, even if you provide food and water, the little thing is gonna get worn out trying to get back to doing what it does. We, like the bees, are fundamentally social animals, and when that level of interaction is removed then everything becomes harder – sometimes to the point of exhaustion.

And don’t get me wrong. Right now we’re taking every day as it comes and grateful that we’re in a position to be able to bring most everyone of the 30% we furloughed back already. These are tough times, likely to get tougher, and some businesses and many individuals find themselves in truly horrible circumstances for no fault of their own, so even though we’ve lost one or two clients and are seeing others drastically affected, we’re still very much keeping our heads above the water and have good reason to be positive about our future.

So I’ll take feeling knackered and we’ll continue to do our best to support each other – very much living our Dare to Care – but there’s certainly a lot we can learn from nature as we continue to evolve into this new world, and slowing down, more actively opening my eyes and my mind is certainly a key take away for me from this all.  


*  I’m not in anyway advocating putting insects in glass jars – we need to protect our bees!

Blog post by Alex

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