Claire Cooper runs the Human Resources business Claire Cooper HR. She talks exclusively to 35 Thousand from her home in Devon, UK, where she’s been busier than ever throughout lockdown. She tells us how she’s getting by with bedtime reading, cocktail making and her teenager’s cappuccinos. For employees, she also has five tips for re-engaging your team when lockdown ends (see end.)
Q: Tell us about your work…
A: “If you ask my children what I do, they would say I have coffee and chat to people. In reality I’m a Strategic HR Partner for 27 global small and medium sized enterprises who have offices based around the UK. I help business owners put their business plans in to practice – hiring, firing, training and developing their teams to work to their optimum ability to achieve the business objectives.
My clients range from PR agencies, charities, racing car workshops, hospices, electrical engineers, manufacturing, coffee roasteries, estate agencies, private house staffing, to bingo hall equipment! The same legal basis but with all needing different characteristics within their teams.
I have an office at my home in Devon with a team of eight who are all working mums – seven who work within the business and one magic fairy who keeps my home organised.”
Q: What do you love most about your job?
A: “I love that no two days are ever the same, and that with case law regularly changing, I am always learning. I love it when a team really works well together – when you align a set of company values with the people within the company, I feel immense pride. I also love to see people succeed and I feel proud to support them through their journey.
I love laughing with my team and my clients, when days are tough – and putting stressful situations into the perspective of life.”
Q: What’s your context outside of work?
A: “I have one teen, one tween and an 8 year old who’s our comedian! My home is full of life: children being dropped off by friends first thing as they head off for work (we have a car that can take 8 children to school) and then there’s the team who work in an office within the house, followed by neighbours in the evening often popping in for drinks. Its rarely quiet.
I love sea swimming, laughing with friends as we fight our way into our wetsuits in a Devon beach car park, long walks (with a coffee half way around) and paddle boarding as the sun goes down.”
Q: What is your normal day-to-day life like?
A: “I’m an early riser. It’s the time when I can sip a cup of lemon tea by myself, hugging the aga in the Winter and sitting on my back door step watching my dog run around, in the Summer. I love to listen to the birds and take 15 minutes just for me, before the house awakens. If I can I try to do a HIIT session, if I’m not distracted by emails.
After school runs (shared with my husband), I’m in the office, usually at my desk for 8.45 with the team being in for 9.15. We work together until one of us breaks to make us all lunch. We use a group lunch break to share knowledge and catch up on any personal news. We all work together until 3pm when the team may leave to pick up children or stay until 6. If they leave early, they pick up work in the evening. Evening work is often helpful for clients; they are usually working ‘in’ their business during the day and find it easier to work ’on’ their business out of hours. It is also helpful for international clients working within differing time zones. Other clients prefer not to have any emails or communications sent or received out of core hours. All are different.”
Q: What has day-to-day life been like during lockdown in COVID-19?
A: “My teenage son has crossed off the week days on the calendar; Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs are now simply ‘day’, day’ day’ day…!
We may not all be in the same boat but we are all going through the same thunderstorm. With the team all working from home and all of us being parents of differing age children, our hours have had to fluctuate. Its very easy to start work at 6.15 am and not leave until bed time. I stop for lunch and supper with the family, but otherwise, I’ve been working at full capacity, furloughing, restructuring and contingency planning. Its an emotional time for clients, their families and their employees and there have been a lot of tears on all sides.
My job is to listen, to provide the legal response and then to coach the owners to move forward. It’s been a time of survival for most, and their businesses are their babies. Hard decisions have had to be made.
One of the things I have found challenging is that my magic fairy has gone – sounds ridiculous, but with the house in array, my head feels unstructured as well!”
Q: How has it impacted you personally and professionally?
A: “My clients are all on retainers and the business of the management of HR is required in buoyant periods as well as tough times. The impact on my business? To be honest, there’s been no change, just a little more appreciation.
I’ve had some intense conference calls with clients feeling numb and exhausted and yet still have to be guided through difficult decisions. We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails.”
Q: What are you finding challenging?
A: “The lack of time out. I walk in the morning before breakfast and then break at 3pm and do some exercise with the children. It took me a while to get to grips with giving the children house chores – my children are like my husband where they seem to start lots of projects during the day and leave carnage as they go…”
Q: Where are you finding hope and optimism?
A: “I have a positive outlook on life, I feel this is incredibly important. My family and my friends make me laugh. However acknowledging how you are feeling is also incredibly important. Positive thinking shouldn’t mean denial. It is natural in a sad or scary situation to feel sad or scared. It is natural in an infuriating situation to feel fury. Dont feel like you are failing for having natural responses to unprecedented events.
A walk by myself at the end of the day is important where I can listen to the birds again as my dog skips along by myside. A hug from one of my children is the best, or a bunch of flowers picked from the hedgerows and brought to my office with the biggest of smiles – it’s the simple things!”
Q: What do you miss most about life before COVID-19 that you never thought you would?
A: “Structure, and time for me – I can’t even escape to the loo without a little one wanting to chat to me! I also miss sea swimming, walks and laughing with girlfriends in person.”
Q: How are you getting through?
A: “Watching the countryside come into bloom. Enjoying the company of my family. Group Pilates and group girlie chats, both via Zoom, are great!”
My coping strategies are breathing, long and deep. Take stock. Don’t hide. Confront, close down and move on. Regular cocktails also prove beneficial.”
Q: What is your mindset about how to use your time at home?
“My work has enveloped me. Its ok as I know we’ll get through it. I’ve tried to keep weekends as family time, and we’ve worked on our garden, planting seeds and watching them grow. I’ve also enjoyed bike rides and family walks, and we’ve played – jumped in muddy puddles, giggled.
My 8 year old has learnt some great new skills – Barista training initiated in week one and I’m now receiving delicious cappuccinos at 11am every day!”
Q: Personally how are you managing your mind and wellbeing and that of your family?
A: “My family appreciate a basic routine. Boundaries help them to know when they can use a screen or do their own projects and when they may need to knuckle down with a family activity or school work. They like to know where they stand and feel more relaxed because of it.
Eating together and reducing any snacking is ensuring we all enjoy meal times ( and I know what’s in the cupboards!). Sticking to sleep patterns has also been key – we all need it. We’ve skipped evening TV to cuddle up in bed together and read. It prepares all for a better nights sleep.”
Q: Despite all the negatives and the brutality of the virus are there positives you feel are coming out of this – a silver lining perhaps?
A: “Carpe Diem! Seize the day and enjoy the here and now. Hug, laugh and play. Enjoy cooking, (we’re baking daily and cooking everything from scratch). Enjoy drinking – my cocktail skills are improving!! Reflect on habits and use this time to change anything that you don’t like.
Here are my 5 tips for re-engaging your team when lockdown ends:
Show you care about your people. Ask about their experiences, ask how they are coping and how their families are doing. Be openly caring – but be authentic. Ask yourself what they may have been through, and how might they be feeling.
2. Emotional intelligence
Some have more of it than others, but it’s time to dig deep. Watch out for signs of stress – reacting to an issue like they would not have done so before like being too quiet and removed or getting easily upset. Allow your people some latitude – please don’t take the approach that ‘They’ve had 6 weeks off, so what’s the issue?’
Have some patience, don’t be a ‘bull in a china shop’. You cannot drive your team to make up for lost time too quickly.
We’re not talking about making your team run up a mountain but just organise some get-togethers. Start before you return, with video calls. Tell them your plans, offer time they can call you before they return. Be a part of the team discussions.
Like never before. Welcome everyone back, whether from furlough, homeworking or just to normality again. Show empathy in what you write and say. Share plans to get things back on track and share the progress you make towards them. Highlight a couple of stories from within the team as people love real-life accounts. Say thanks, and then say it again.
If you feel you need to find more balance in your day read our article on finding your Zen here