Case study: Jerry Barnor, BA(Hons) Banking and Finance

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Jerry Barnor is a final year BA Banking and Finance student studying at UWE Bristol.

I always knew I would study Finance at University, it’s something that I’ve always been interested in. I would regularly follow the financial news and read articles about inflation and interest rates and how this affected the economy. It was fascinating to me even though at that time, I didn’t fully comprehend what it all meant.

As I’ve progressed through my course this has all fallen into place and I have a much deeper understanding of the subject matter. I still continue to follow the financial news the difference now is that it makes complete sense to me.

Friends, finance and facilities

My time here at UWE has been really good – I’m close with all my classmates and the teaching and staff have been great. Very different from what I was used to previously (at college). There’s a good mix of lectures which focus on both theory and practical application. I’ve been involved in debates and presented both individually and as part of a group. This was something I had never done before. I’ve also been involved in reflective essays critiquing my work to understand how this could be improved.

“I’ve made some very good friends both in and out of class and I’ve taken advantage of the facilities such as the Bloomberg Trading Room. The data you have access to is incredible and has been valuable to support my studies, in particular with writing my dissertation.”

From Bristol to Barcelona

The great thing about UWE is there’s always something going on. And I had heard about an event called Go Global. Go Global is an opportunity for students to work on a short-term internship in a different country.

There was a position at a tech firm in Barcelona which I applied for and got the job! The firm specialised in gaming which is something I know about (being an avid gamer myself).

The placement was over two months in the summer and through Go Global and Erasmus I was given a bursary of £1,500 which helped finance my flights and accommodation.

The role was quite varied, I was working in the marketing department supporting recruitment of new clients. This involved writing emails and setting-up meetings. I was also lucky enough to attend some of these meetings and present to prospective clients. I would create estimates, getting the balance of each pricing model depending on the needs of each client, which was a great way of bringing my financial knowledge to the role.

Being in a working environment you learn so much. I feel I had a good grasp of different software (Word, Excel etc), but using this in a real scenario was very different! I feel like I’ve learnt a lot.

“Taking part in the Go Global scheme was such a fantastic experience and I made new friends who I’m still in touch with now.”

Team Entrepreneurship case study: Anton Bailey and Invicta Audio

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We have spoken to several Team Entrepreneurship students and recent graduates who own start-up businesses about their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. This case study is from Anton Bailey, founder of Invicta Audio.

I have always had a passion for learning by doing rather than learning through academic studying, and team entrepreneurship gave me the chance to do that whilst gaining a degree at the same time. I’m currently a 2nd year student at UWE Bristol.

Invicta Audio

My business is called Invicta Audio, previously Invicta prior to Covid–19. I set up Invicta in March 2019 as an events company as I had a huge passion for events and Bristol nightlife. I was also an aspiring DJ trying to find my way into the highly competitive music scene, working for Blue Mountain club and Lakota on several projects. This helped the brand to gain a more regular and loyal following. We also put together a fresher’s event at Blue Mountain club with another member of the team entrepreneurship course. The event was a huge success and was amazing for both of our brands, helping us to grow within the Bristol music industry.

The impact COVID-19 has had on how I run my business

Before lockdown, I had been organising a mental health fundraiser event and also another show for the end of summer. Unfortunately, both events have been cancelled due to covid-19, which was a bit of a knock down. However, I then had the idea of starting a label as it had been something I had thought about before. I decided to diversify my business into Invicta Audio, making it a label and events company.

I came up with the idea of doing a massive launch project and with free time at hand it gave me the chance to sort everything out. I hired one of my close friends, a label manager, to help me out with the launch. I came up with idea of the launch LP, which is a 19 track LP where you download the tracks for free and in return the downloader subscribes to our social media channels and SoundCloud.

I used my social media marketing skills learnt from running events to promote this launch LP. It ended up doing so much better than I could’ve ever imagined. We gained over 1.5k SoundCloud followers in under a month and are currently at 1.7k followers and it’s growing every day.

We have now managed to create a platform where we can sell music to our followers and when events come back we now have a wider consumer base to sell our events to. We are now releasing music frequently on our SoundCloud and I’m currently working on new projects to help grow our business even further and will hopefully be able to throw a huge event for our new consumers after lockdown is fully lifted.

What I’ve learnt

During this time, I have learnt so much! I have learnt about how to run a label and what goes into the release of music behind the scenes that you never would’ve realised before. I have also developed my skills with social media marketing and will definitely be using those skills with my events when they’re back on. I have also learnt that just because we are in lockdown it doesn’t mean your business has to stop or you can’t start a new venture which isn’t affected by covid-19.

If it hadn’t been for covid-19, I probably wouldn’t have started this label as I didn’t have the time, and my brand definitely wouldn’t have grown the way it did. I know it’s very cliché, but I have learnt not to keep all my eggs in one basket!

How I’m feeling about the future of our business

I am feeling very positive about the future of Invicta Audio – the launch LP was just the start of many projects. I also want to further expand the business into a booking agency – keep your eyes open! I’m hoping we can continue to provide quality music and events for all of our consumers and I will do my very best to make this happen alongside finishing my degree. My dream one day is to be involved with putting on a festival.

Check out the Invicta Audio SoundCloud.

Team Entrepreneurship case study: Abbie and Organiko

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We have spoken to several Team Entrepreneurship students and recent graduates who own start-up businesses about their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. This case study is from Abbie Lifton, founder of Organiko.

I am young entrepreneur currently in my first year of the UWE Business (Team Entrepreneurship) Program. I am also the founder of a vibrant start-up, Organiko.

From a very young age I have always wanted to run my own business. Having joined the program in September I quickly realised this course would be my opportunity to begin creating my first business venture, Organiko.

Organiko

Organiko, is a start-up currently providing high-quality, eco-friendly, organic cotton t-shirts personalised with our unique logo or leaf icon. Our future aim is to provide eco-friendly loungewear and activewear to a diverse audience. The business formed from my passion to find affordable and accessible sustainable clothing, in particular sportswear, which can biodegrade or be reused when such items are no longer needed.

The impact COVID-19 has had on how I run my business

COVID-19 has had a huge effect on Organiko and has led us to have to make dramatic changes to our business model. Initially, we were going to sell on market stalls as it was a cost effective, efficient method of selling but also, allowed for direct face-to-face feedback from our consumer. However, government restrictions meant taking such approach was not possible at this time. As a business, we have had to adapt and change and are currently in process of developing a website to enable ourselves to sell online and reach a wider market.

An advantage of COVID-19 on Organiko, is that it has allowed the launch to happen much quicker than initially expected. Being in lockdown has meant I have been able to focus on planning and completing the initial steps of development which has allowed for the launch to happen much sooner. Obviously, developing the website alone has taken longer than expected however, we do expect to launch in the next few weeks.

What I’ve learnt

Before COVID-19, my knowledge of how to develop a website and construct a successful social media page was minimal. However, this lockdown has allowed myself to begin exploring such areas and learn from the challenges I faced. Lockdown has not only enabled me to launch my business on social media but has also allowed me to understand the benefits of being able to sell online. Both are experiences which I wouldn’t have considered this early on if I had followed my initial plan.

From this experience I have discovered the importance of being able to adapt within business. This isn’t necessarily diverting completely from plan A to plan B , it’s about being able to take a different approach when things haven’t gone to plan. For Organiko, this involved turning to trade online rather than trade via market stalls. Personally, I saw this as being a diversion from the original plan rather than a dismissal of the market stall option.

The final lesson learnt, is to be resilient no matter what. Even though I am still within the early stages of development, there have been multiple occasions where by I could have given up. However, having known I have already invested money and time into this project I am not willing to give up easily. For me, it’s about failing efficiently and having tried all avenues before I give up. At the end of the day, an entrepreneur’s mistakes allow for lessons to be learnt and ultimately, the business to succeed from them. Being resilient through these failures gives the progression for both myself and others to succeed.

How I’m feeling about the future of our business

I am feeling positive about the future for Organiko. The market is expanding as consumers are becoming aware of the impact waste within the fashion industry is having on our environment. In particular, as the younger generation are becoming aware of the global issue, the need for sustainable clothing will increase. Obviously, there is a worry that consumer spending has been impacted by the current situation. However, I do believe that I have a unique product which addresses the evolving environmental issue, currently present within the media, that consumers will only want to invest in.

Visit Organiko’s Instagram here and Facebook here.

Team Entrepreneurship case study: Luke Gandolfi and FLAVR

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We have spoken to several Team Entrepreneurship students and recent graduates who own start-up businesses about their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. This case study is from Luke Gandolfi, Head of Marketing at FLAVR.

FLAVR

FLAVR is a recipe-based, grocery shopping platform, which innovatively combines the benefits of both conventional online supermarket shopping with meal kit companies (for instance, Hello Fresh or Gousto). Thus, providing an efficient, end to end grocery shopping experience where customers benefit from an abundance of choice, flexibility on commitment, the freedom to try new and exciting meals, all while saving you time and money.

The impact COVID-19 has had on how I run my business

Covid-19 has not had a significant impact on the way we run the business. For a tech start-up, remote working is familiar. It does not pose many difficulties, especially when compared to the plethora of other challenges we face from the economy as a whole. In any case, the team were predisposed to work in isolation before the presence of Covid-19 (isolation, of course, being the natural habitat for Tech geeks), which allowed for a swift and smooth transition to wholly remote working. 

That said, albeit not strictly regarding the manner in which we run the company, the most drastic companywide challenge for us came down to team focus; and more importantly, where to direct it. 

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have assiduously focused our resources on finding and building solutions that alleviate some of the most frequently experienced issues within our domain. 

For example, the pandemic has resulted in situations whereby most people want to avoid going to busy supermarkets and waiting in long queues. To address this, we created a concept which we are incredibly proud of – the ‘Slot Spotter’. The slot spotter allows users to track down online delivery slots to place orders online conveniently. 

Another problem which is frequently faced by customers is the annoyance when products are out of stock. This is compounded when customers are unaware beforehand meaning people have to re-plan their weekly shop or meal plans.

To address this, we curated product availability-based recipes; recipes that consist only of available products, in real-time, at your chosen store. Due to our ability to collect live data on locally available products, we have the means to provide a shopping experience that significantly reduces the chances of having to put up with out of stock items!

To assist customers further, we decided to make our services free during this time.

What I’ve learnt

The following are a few key learnings that have become apparent to me during this time.

1.    Team alignment has become crucial, even more so than before. In a period when the team cannot meet up face to face and absorb one another’s energy and excitement the source of motivation must be derived elsewhere.

2.    The benefits of a team routine are not trivial. When the majority of your time spent is in one area, most likely inside, it is inevitable for routine to slip. The transition from mid-week to weekend becomes blurred and therefore having a team routine, keeping accountable to one another is crucial to maintaining healthy headspace and an attempt at normalcy. 

3.    Another interesting concept I have discovered to appreciate more is the importance of body language when communicating effectively in face to face situations. The lack of ability to read peoples body language due to reliance on video platforms has become noticeable when participating in meetings and giving presentations (task’s which primarily rely on reading the room and adapting to the situation and atmosphere of the people around you). Weight has now shifted onto the interpretation of tonality and intonations in speech.

4.    It is also interesting how the use of technology has made way for better team democracy. As a start-up company that spans two cities, it is often the case that the city with more members becomes the centre of our ecosystem or the ‘hub’. With the use of technology; being no longer bound by any geographical limitations, we have seen an equal split between the two cities. 

How I’m feeling about the future of our business

Positive, undoubtedly. 

Whilst this pandemic has caused extensive hardships to families who have lost loved ones and to the economy, which may well take years to recover. I do believe the situation has proved to be a significant test to people’s mindsets, and there are definitely positive aspects to come from it. Individuals who have and can continue to maintain an optimistic and opportunistic mentality will prosper. 

At this moment in time, the government and population are focussed on the considerable changes to the economy, which are unequivocally viewed as disastrous. The detriment to the economy has been noted as much worse than the financial crisis of 2007/2008, a period which most people recall as being full of despair and uncertainty and when nothing positive came about as a result. 

However, it is not often considered that there is a contrary perspective. The crash of 2007/2008 proceeded into a time that gave birth to some of the most influential and successful companies of this day and age; to mention but a handful – Airbnb, Uber, WhatsApp, Slack, Square and Groupon.

Opportunities present themselves, especially in time of crisis. Although these opportunities may be riskier and are often more challenging during a period of economic downturn and uncertainty, the upside is tenfold. The reality is, valuable businesses can succeed and prosper through crises. 

If we ask ourselves fundamentally, what the purpose of business is, I would insist that it is merely finding solutions to problems (as trite as that may be). Therefore, is there ever a more noble time than a crisis to make this a reality—a time where there are more urgent challenges and demanding problems to address. This sense of finding problems to solve is certainly what gets us out of bed in the morning; the opportunity to have a more significant impact on the world should we succeed.

Visit the website here.

Team Entrepreneurship case study: Joe Stallion and Solvi Solutions

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We have spoken to several Team Entrepreneurship students and recent graduates who own start-up businesses about their experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. This case study is from Joe Stallion, co-founder of Solvi Solutions.

Solvi Solutions

Solvi Solutions is an organisation specialising in Marketing Automation, using technology to streamline the marketing process, while delivering relevant and personalised experiences to a company’s audience, saving both time and money for busy workplaces.

The impact COVID-19 has had on how I run my business

The drastic impacts of this pandemic have been reflected across the local and national economy, affecting the daily operations of many businesses. Whether sales are booming or declining, this environment calls for a response.

At Solvi Solutions, face-to-face interactions are preferred, but not essential, when delivering our service. This has allowed us to continue with some level of normality. We strive to maintain our high standards, giving our clients one less thing to worry about during this time. 

The focus of our account management strategy shifted to support a broader spectrum of client needs, often ranging from a friendly chat about business to website development and maintenance. We have continued to build our community through digital networking events, looking to expand this support to others.

Internally, it has been a similar story. We have facilitated change to look after our most important asset: people. For some, home working is a dream, but for others, it can lead to burnout, loneliness and declining productivity. Many of these challenges can be attributed to a lack of structure, making it important to engage in daily video calls to address pressing tasks and business objectives. It is also a great opportunity to engage in the social element of business we all very much miss.

What I’ve learnt

In both life and business, adversity is one of our most effective teachers. COVID-19 and its wider economic impacts continue to represent a formidable opponent for many businesses, including my own.

In times like these, strategic partnerships and business relationships are key to survival. This pandemic represents a common enemy through which businesses in both local and national markets can collaborate for the greater good. We have done our best to exchange the currencies of knowledge and information to assist those struggling in this time. 

At Solvi Solutions, we have reached out to our network providing cost-free advice and guidance surrounding the digitalisation of business operations and processes. In return, our network has granted access to networking circles, software discounts and testimonials. This transmission of value has been instrumental not only to coming through this pandemic afloat, but also becoming more resilient than ever before.

I came across a quote from Simon Sinek, one I wish I had seen earlier, but am glad to share with you now:

“Always plan for the fact that no plan ever goes according to plan.”

As a business, we had never planned for viruses, volcanic eruptions or meteor showers… and I don’t think we ever will. Successfully planning for every eventuality makes a couple of big assumptions (1) we can accurately predict what that situation might look like and (2) that our plan goes to plan.

Adaptability in the face of change triumphs stringent planning, while also being useful outside of a global crisis. We have leant to use our agile nature to adapt to market demands and continue providing value to new and existing clients.

How I’m feeling about the future of our business

The future for businesses, including my own, remains unpredictable. However, the entrepreneurial traits of optimism and open-mindedness can overcome the uncertainty that this pandemic has created.

Feelings of negativity can become overwhelming in times like these. After discussions with my co-founder and the wider business community, it became clear that everyone was feeling a similar way. Most businesses had to adjust the direction of growth away from their desired path, adding to the pressures of the pandemic. 

It becomes important as a business to accommodate this new path and view it through a positive lens. At Solvi Solutions, we have proceeded to re-frame our offering to help those recovering from this crisis, and our marketing automation continues to support a range of businesses in the South West. Pivoting, transforming and conforming to fresh market needs is our anchor in remaining positive moving forward.

Visit the website here.

A Toolkit for Living in a New Building: a visual post-occupancy evaluation of Bristol Business School

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How does a new university building change the behaviours of the people who work and study there? Today marks the launch of the report A toolkit for living in a new building: A visual post-occupancy evaluation of Bristol Business School’, the culmination of a ground-breaking two-year collaborative study between architect, Stride Treglown, construction partner, ISG and researchers from the University of the West of England. Using participant photography, Instagram and image-led discussion groups as a data generating methodology, the report details the value of taking a sensory approach to the post-occupancy evaluation (POE) of new buildings.

Going way beyond more usual ‘technical-functional’ analyses of how new buildings operate, our report provides an in-depth, user-centred account of how the transparent, collaborative, flexible and open building affects working and studying practices. It ends with a set of future-focused recommendations and value propositions for stakeholders involved in commissioning new university accommodation.  Using innovative visual methods including Instagram, participant-led and participant-directed photography, alongside image-led discussion groups, data was collected over a full year cycle with over 250 participants contributing to the study; 30% staff, 60% students and 10% visitors. Building users were asked to submit photographs and captions of their spatial experiences in the building that addressed two questions:

How do you feel about the building?

How are you using the building?

Only 10% of our findings replicate areas covered by traditional POE, suggesting there is great utility in employing more qualitative approaches to deep dive into the value offered by contemporary campus architecture. Instead, social and psychological topics including health and wellbeing, the rhythms of food, drink and sensory experiences, reflections on identity and belonging, unexpected delights and the ‘wow’ of the building set against the reality of working in transparent and visible ways are presented alongside captivating images from the project.

Given the current Covid-19 crisis, the Bristol Business School building is currently closed – as are most university premises – and the lessons we are learning about ourselves as we work under ‘lockdown’ conditions might have implications for how generative buildings are designed in future: e.g. blending physical presence with digital connectivity more extensively. Even though this research was completed before Covid-19, there are valuable lessons in this report. Attending to the sociability of work and study in different spaces, and the psychology of location-independent working may prove to be especially significant as we navigate through the current pandemic.

The full report can be downloaded from www.myuwebbsview.com

Home-working during COVID-19

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Harriet Shortt

Harriet Shortt is Associate Professor of Organisation Studies at The University of the West of England, Bristol. Harriet’s research focuses on organisational space, artefacts, the materiality of work, and visual methodologies. Her research has been published in journals including Human Relations, Organizational Research Methods, Management Learning, Visual Studies and the International Journal of Work, Organisation and Emotion. Harriet has led research projects in both public and private sector organisations, such as the Environment Agency, the NHS, Stride Treglown Architects, and ISG Construction. This is a guest blog from Harriet. 

We are all currently experiencing a situation we have never been in before where society has had to change and adapt beyond recognition, and one of the biggest changes we have had to make is the one associated with our work spaces. Many of us are now working at home and this has meant a complete shift in where we work and left some wondering how to cope with these changes. I have been asked to put together this blog with some thoughts and reflections for those people who have found themselves unexpectedly working from home.

Before we think about space, it’s worth thinking about work more broadly first. I have seen the use of the word ‘productivity’ floating about a lot recently. Be cautious of using this word (and this goes for employers/organisations/team leaders as well as us as individuals!). Whether it’s to ‘prove’ you are being productive at work or being productive in other ways – like taking up a new hobby or learning a language or suddenly taking up running – we need to remember we are in the middle of a pandemic and we are not out of it yet. Trying to set never-ending targets for how you are going to self-improve and working to unrealistic expectations is not good for your mental health or work – it is known as ‘toxic productivity’ and we need to recognise when this creeps into our working lives. Productivity does not look the same as it did before Covid-19, so adjust your goals, your boundaries, and your breaks from work to reflect this challenging period of time.

Let’s now turn our attention to home spaces. Our homes have now become a complex shared space. It’s an office, a gym, a place to relax and for many of us, a classroom. This can make it hard to find a ‘dedicated workspace’ that also encompasses everyone else’s needs in your household. Even for those who are used to working from home, this will be a new challenge as the routine of perhaps working at home alone will have likely changed and you’ll be sharing your ‘work’ space with others. This is going to require negotiation and open conversation about how, where and when we work with a house full of people. Be mindful that everyone’s boundaries have been broken and need to be re-established carefully.

Finally, it’s worth reminding ourselves that this is going to take time. We have all been dumped into this situation and working from home is more complicated than just finding a dedicated workspace, so don’t expect to get it right straight away. Try working in a particular space and if it doesn’t work, that’s ok – try somewhere else. Some work activities may work well in some home spaces, and others will need alternative spaces, so don’t feel you need to stick to the same place every day.

So, some thoughts on creating and thinking about our ‘new’ home-working spaces:

Free up different spaces for different tasks

This might mean adapting or re-appropriating your home spaces at different times of the day, for example, currently my dining room is a classroom by day and a family area at the weekends. I often take work calls in the kitchen or the garden so I can keep an eye on daughter, but my work that needs concentration is done is quieter spaces.

Think about your space creatively

Could you use liminal spaces (these are spaces ‘in-between’, like landings, hallways, stairways) in your house as a make-shift office, a place to take private calls, or as a place to find a few moments of quiet and reflection? I recently wrote a blog for Work Wise UK that explores this very topic and how the liminal spaces of our homes can provide some important and unexpected uses whilst we’re working at home during this crisis.

‘Own’ your space

Wherever you do choose to work from, make sure you make it yours, even if this is just temporary. Research shows that the more you are able to have a sense of ownership over your workspace and create a sense of identity, the more positively it will impact your sense of wellbeing and connection to your work.   

Re-claim your ‘normal’ spaces

If you are having to appropriate a ‘normal’ space (like a kitchen table) into a workspace, try to turn it back to a ‘normal’ space at the end of the day. This might help you to manage the boundaries between work and home, and with your sense of work/life balance.

Visual communication tools and ‘being on show’

For many people, technology has enabled them to make this transition to working from home easier. However, this still comes with its own problems. It has been clear since the majority of UK businesses have adopted remote working, that being ‘visible’ and ‘on show’ in our home spaces has brought many advantages and disadvantages. So, it’s worth reflecting on some of these issues as an individual or as an employer; having your camera on for meetings is a great way to connect socially with your colleagues and the backdrop of your home can be a conversation starter! Lots of people have been commenting on the backgrounds of their colleagues’ homes, the pets that accompany the meetings or even the children that might make a brief appearance. Having spoken to a lot of people about home working spaces over the past few weeks, there is a real sense that this has made us all more ‘human’. Seeing inside other people’s homes has made them more ‘real’ and people have enjoyed seeing this informal/ private side, rather than the typical traditional/formal interactions we are used to in the office. It is this that has brought people together.

Nonetheless, let’s be conscious of privacy and visibility when using these audio/visual communication tools. Others I have spoken to feel they are inviting people into their home spaces that perhaps they would not choose to. The blurring of the work/home boundary has been emphasised by our current use of technology. So, be respectful of asking colleagues to turn on their videos during meetings – there is a case of being social and connecting, but there is also a case for privacy and managing boundaries so that we keep some of the sanctuary of our homes to ourselves.

Capturing this experience in photographs

Apart from workspaces, my other area of research involves visual research to explore the everyday lives of workers. I use an approach called ‘participant-led photography’ and this includes asking people I work with in my research projects to take photographs based on a brief e.g. ‘what work spaces are important to you and why?’ and then they talk to me about their images. This method elicits rich stories from participants and gives them the opportunity to talk about what is meaningful to them at work. Over the past 8 weeks for so I have seen so many images being shared on social media that picture what its really like to work at home. Social media platforms are a rich source of data at the moment and images captured and posted by workers all over the world depict the complexities, the joys, the difficulties and the juggles of working from home. I think this could be a great opportunity for organisations and employers to do their own visual research:

  • Organisations can collect data about the complexities of employees working remotely. Ask your team to take pictures of what it’s like working at home, where are they, how are they sharing their workspaces, what do they enjoy and what are they finding difficult. This could be a creative way of engaging your team, but also getting feedback. Remote working is here to stay in some form, so the more information and data we have about how people are doing it and how they experience it, the better.
  • During the current crisis, these images could be part of weekly catch ups and individual conversations with your line manager or be part of a PDR session. Or, they could be collectively posted on a virtual team noticeboard and discussed as a group. Either way, it might help people to reflect and share, and for organisations to sense-check how their employees are coping with working from home.
  • Post Covid-19, these images could also help us learn from this experience, as part of our recovery – teams or organisations could hold an exhibition of people’s images that document what working from home looked like for them. We will, at some point, need to come together to reflect and heal from this experience and a good way to do that might be through the eyes of employees and their photographs.

If you would like more information or to get in touch please email bbec@uwe.ac.uk.

Creative ways to take a short break

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As a result of the coronavirus outbreak many of us have been asked to work from home if possible. Whilst we have hopefully all been able to adapt in some ways to our new lifestyles, it’s important to remember to take short breaks for our well-being. This notion was definitely pushed out to us from every angle at the beginning of the UK lockdown, however, we wanted to see how people have actually been able to implement this into their new daily lives and share some of our tips for making the most out of working from home whilst staying physically and mentally healthy.

Breaks give much needed time to rest your eyes, stretch your stiff muscles, to unwind and take a fresh outlook on your work. They are a great way to rebalance, refocus and recharge so that concentration and energy levels don’t waiver. To make sure you remember to take a break, it’s a good idea to have it planned for a certain time of the day, so you don’t forget to give yourself some well-deserved rest.

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the ones that work the best. We’ve pulled together a short list of ideas and how they have been implemented by our UWE colleagues.

Stretch out stiffness by doing a 10-minute yoga or fitness session

Getting up from computer to do some stretches is always a good idea. Not only will you give your body a rest but your mind also. There are countless benefits to practising yoga even for just 10 minutes each day and you can find plenty of short yoga sessions to follow online. You can also find live fitness sessions like these run by UWE Bristol Sport.

“I’ve dusted off my fitness hula-hoop from the cupboard and find this is a great way to take a short break whilst working from home in the middle of the day, or when I feel tired and in need of an energy boost. I just do 10 minutes at a time whilst listening to my favourite radio station” said Rose Adderley, Communications and Events Officer at UWE Bristol.

Studies have shown that getting active, even for 10 minutes, can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, which in turn can improve your overall health. Yoga also improves your flexibility, strength and posture, increases your energy, improves concentration throughout the day and so much more. So, if you haven’t thought about including a short yoga break in your daily routine, why don’t you give it a try?

Make a delicious smoothie

A lot of people like to snack while they work and sometimes it can be difficult to not give in to temptation and eat something that might not be that good for us. Taking a break to make a smoothie that’s delicious and also gives you nutritional value is a great way to take a break from working. We are also seriously missing the delicious smoothies we used to be able to grab at the Atrium Café in Bristol Business School so this is a perfect way to get your smoothie fix!

There are plenty of great recipes out there for you to choose from like peanut butter and banana to berry to green smoothies, whether they’re packed with vitamin C or protein rich, taking a short break to make yourself a treat like that will definitely help boost your energy.

The Atrium Café ‘Love Yourself’ smoothie is a tasty way to get your fruit in. They use mango, pineapple and passionfruit mixed together with coconut milk and raspberry sauce.

Listen to your favourite music

A good way to take your mind off work for a short break is by kicking back and listening to a few of your favourite songs that get you excited and your energy levels pumping. It’s known that listening to certain genres of music can affect your mood, so choose something that you know will lift your spirits up and will have you feeling refreshed to continue working.

Kat Branch, Music Enrichment Strategic Leader at UWE Bristol, has put together a playlist for her couch to 5k journey with songs that inspire her to get up and moving. You can check it out here.

Alternatively, why not delve into the world of podcasts? This way you can take a break and learn about something new. There are hundreds of podcasts on Spotify, plus UWE Bristol have a host of different subjects on their SoundCloud, including the Bristol Business Engagement Centre’s first episode of their Future Impact Podcast series

Step outside

We all know that stepping outside to get some fresh air is great for your energy levels and also for your mental health. It’s good to change your surroundings to refresh your mind and going outside for a short walk to help your mind and body to relax and recharge with new energy and a fresh perspective. Use the hashtag #UWEStillActive to share your walks and fitness journeys whilst in lockdown, or to find inspiration and motivation.

The UWE Bristol Wellbeing team are here to help if you need it. You can get in touch via the website.

Alta case study: the importance of mentoring platforms

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Due to Covid-19, we are all facing uncertainty and change in our personal and professional lives. It is more important than ever to stay in touch with people in your professional circle and get support from mentorship programmes. We recently spoke with Susan Durbin and Stella Warren who are founding members of the alta mentoring scheme, a bespoke industry-wide mentoring programme designed for women/by women, in the aviation and aerospace industry, and also Rosalind Azouzi who is a key member of the alta Steering Committee, also offering administrative support for alta, on behalf of the Society. They have answered our questions about the platform, the importance of having a mentor and their advice in these unprecedented times.

Susan Durbin is Professor of Employment Studies/Human Resource Management, at Bristol Business School, UWE Bristol. She specialises in researching women’s employment in male dominated areas. She has published her work in a number of leading academic journals and is the author of, Women Who Succeed: strangers in Paradise? (2015) published by Palgrave Macmillan. Susan works with organisations in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors, to improve gender equality and support for women. She is also an active member of the Bristol Women’s Commission Women in Business Task Group, a Trustee with Fair Play South West, the gender equality network, and a member of the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Women’s Committee at the Royal Aeronautical Society. She is a Chartered member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Stella Warren is a Research Fellow in the Bristol Leadership and Change Centre with a background in applied social research. She supports a wide range of research project teams within Bristol Business School and also teaches research methods at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Her expertise includes social marketing and the understanding of psychological pathways for behaviour change in health; gender and inequality in organisations; the gender pay gap; and women working in male-dominated industries. She is a member of the British and European Sociological Association and on the board of the Research Network ‘Gender Relations, Labour Markets and the Welfare State (RN14).

Rosalind Azouzi is Head of Skills and Careers at the Royal Aeronautical Society. Rosalind supports the talent pipeline into the industry, from outreach programs for school children, to careers advice and support for early career professionals. Rosalind has a remit over the wider skills agenda, with a focus on diversity and inclusion. She sits on a number of committees and groups, including the Women in Aviation and Aerospace Committee, The Women in Aviation and Aerospace Charter and the Aerospace Growth Partnership.

What is the alta mentoring scheme?

Launched on International Women’s Day (8th March) in 2019, the alta mentoring platform is the first scheme of its kind operating in the global aviation and aerospace industry. It is the result of a one year, ESRC-funded Knowledge Exchange project and the matched financial and in-kind contributions from the industry partners (The Royal Aeronautical Society, Airbus and the Royal Air Force). The year-long project involved research led by Professor Susan Durbin and Stella Warren (UWE Bristol) and Dr Ana Lopes (Newcastle University) to design and launch a mentoring scheme designed, ‘for women/by women’. The aim was to provide a mentoring scheme for professional women across the industry, based upon what women wanted from mentoring with an industry wide mentoring platform, to provide career and social support and build a community of women across the industry.

In practical terms, any professional women in the industry wishing to join alta, registers to join with the Royal Aeronautical Society and the request is moderated by RAeS staff. Once the applicant is accepted, they will receive an email and asked to sign in (creating a password) and complete a series of matching questions. The in-built algorithm sorts through the mentee’s answers to these questions and comes up with the top three mentor matches (mentors also complete the same set of matching questions). The mentee then decides which mentor to approach and makes a request through the system. Once the mentee and mentor are matched, they decide how and when to meet. Alta is a safe and secure environment, through which communications and meeting dates can be organised. There are supporting materials, such as an alta handbook, videos and mentor/mentee training.

What are the benefits of having an online mentor/what does online mentorship usually involve?

There are a number of benefits to having a mentor, especially for women who work in male dominated environments, such as the aviation and aerospace sector. The sector has a skills shortage, which could be partly addressed through the recruitment and retention of more women (women comprise just 4% of pilots and 10% of engineers in this industry, with very few occupying senior leadership positions). Mentoring can therefore be a key retention tool as women who have mentors can feel a sense of belonging, feel more valued, gain the support they need to progress their careers and make use of a ‘safe space’ where they can talk to a trusted mentor, about personal and work related challenges. Despite these benefits of mentoring, it is a rare resource for many women in male dominated sectors, which alta was designed to address.

On-line mentoring platforms, such as alta, have several advantages in comparison to face-to-face mentoring, including the exchange of knowledge, development of individual capabilities and sharing of identification with the mentor’s expertise. There is a body of academic research that highlights the benefits of on-line mentoring platforms. These include online mentoring transcending organisational and geographical boundaries, making it widely accessible and a benefit to under-represented groups; increased interaction between mentors and mentees; easier access to information; and feeling supported. It is also important to note, however, that online communication can be more impersonal and if mentoring is provided solely online, the support provided by the mentor can be less useful. This makes blended mentoring schemes that combine face-to-face and online facilities, such as alta, ideal.

Online women’s spaces can be less of a challenge as they offer a ‘virtual’ and convenient means through which women can connect and support one another. They can help address marginalisation, isolation and exclusion and ensure that they are comfortable expressing their needs in a ‘woman to woman’ environment. They can also be a means by which to challenge the male dominance of workplaces.

Given the current situation with many people working from home due to Coronavirus, how can a mentor best be utilised?

The alta mentoring platform offers mentors and mentees the opportunity to connect via the platform and to join the alta ‘community’, thereafter leaving mentors and mentees free to choose how they conduct their mentoring, e.g. face-to-face or virtually.  Alta members are, in this time of unprecedented crisis, able to enjoy the benefits of the alta on-line mentoring platform. It enables alta members to stay connected and to reach out for help and support when it is most needed.

The value of on-line mentoring has never been so important and it may also become a time for mentors and mentees to take stock of where they are in their careers and where they would like to go; a time for reflection and a re-assessment of where they are and where want to be. Mentoring is a great way to do that. It also gives mentors the opportunity to reach out to other women and even take on some additional mentoring, offering help to those women who most need their support. Mentors can therefore best be utilised via the alta platform, at a safe distance but offering comfort and advice to women who may be feeling especially isolated, vulnerable or lacking confidence if their roles have been furloughed. Or they may simply want to reach out and turn the current situation into a more positive one.

What successes has alta seen?

Alta is embedded into the Royal Aeronautical Society’s careers service and meeting its commitment to achieving gender equality throughout the industry. It is now part of the mentoring ‘offer’ of the founding partners (Airbus, The Royal Air Force and the Royal Aeronautical Society) and in addition, just over 300 individual women have already signed up as mentors and mentees from across the industry. A number of high-profile industry organisations have also joined (e.g. GKN, Safran Landing Systems, Collins Aerospace, Airbus) each making a financial contribution to the scheme, to support its associated member networking events and activities.

A number of additional high-profile organisations are also in the process of signing up. Alta is gradually bringing together competitor companies in the industry, as well as professional women who would otherwise not be in contact. A number of alta networking events have also been held since its launch, including a ‘speed mentoring’ session and a social event in London and an alta promotion/networking event at the UWE Bristol. The team feel it is also important to retain face-to-face mentoring and networking events when the current lockdown is lifted as this enables women to re-focus on their career and personal development as well as make new friends and contacts.

What challenges has alta come across?

During the research phase of the project, the project group, comprising academics and industry partners, operated mostly by consensus, but some challenges between the academic and industry worlds were inevitable. For example, one of the main challenges arose from assumptions around timeframes that needed to be negotiated. While the academic team were used to developing long-term projects, the business partners were used to implementing projects in a matter of months. There was also an on-going process by which participants came to understand – and shape – the role of the researchers within the project as a whole, as well as their own role as project co-owners. As it was the first time most participants engaged with this type of project, finding one’s own role within the project group was a process rather than a given. While the researchers were mostly accustomed to doing research on people, the other participants were accustomed to having people (e.g. consultants) provide a service for them.

Since its launch, the challenge has been to roll alta out to the industry, without saturating the market. The decision was taken to approach a small number of industry employers at a time and open up the scheme to their female professional employees, without inundating the system. This approach has proved fruitful, but it has meant that alta has grown more gradually than we would have liked. Other challenges have involved the initial pilot roll out of alta, to the founding partners, and realizing that more work needed to be done. For example, after piloting, some minor changes were made to the matching questions.

There is a need to gain further funding support for alta, going forward, which will prove to be more of a challenge due to the impact of Covid-19 on the sector. In spite of this, the aim is to maintain the platform, with its free access, to individual women and to encourage organisations within the industry to offer their financial support at a time when their female employees really need it. The alta platform is cost-effective and offers a safe and secure site for women to support one another.

Is now a good time to become a mentor or seek a mentor?

During the current pandemic, the restrictions on movement and new ways of working remotely have resulted in a physical disconnect from family, friends and colleagues. For those who already have an established mentoring relationship, this can be a crucial source of support, facilitating an opportunity for both mentor and mentee to discuss concerns and keep connected during this unprecedented time.

Any time is a good time to become or seek a mentor but in the current Covid-19 climate, it has never been so important. Mentoring via the alta platform is not only beneficial to the mentees who utilise it, but also for the development of mentors. Even more importantly, alta offers the opportunity to commence and continue safe mentoring, at a social distance, and to help to overcome feelings of isolation. It offers a space and time for reflection and the continued building of the alta community.

A huge thank you to Susan, Stella and Rosalind for their input in this blog. If you would like to find out more about the alta mentoring platform you can watch our webinar on the subject here, and visit the alta website here.


Six Top Tips for Video Interviews

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Moon Executive Search, Faculty of Business and Law Advisory Board member, have listed their top tips for video interviews in this insightful blog. Originally posted on Moon Executive Search.

We have learned some valuable lessons over the years whilst speaking with candidates and clients via video calls, and we hope that sharing them will help you succeed at your interview.

Interviewing candidates online has become increasingly popular for employers and is now necessary under the current circumstances of near lock down. This method of speaking to potential employees will likely be the future of recruiting.

Video conferencing apps, including WeChat Work, Zoom, HouseParty and Slack have had an enormous increase in downloads recently with FaceTime and WhatsApp video calls being used heavily for one to one conversation too. The use of video calls in work and home life show no sign of slowing down and will become the normal way for our clients to speak to candidates. We have found that there are certain habits and behaviours that will help you impress.

Here are six top tips to help you succeed at video interviews:

1) Smile – Video conferencing can be disconcerting, but everyone is in the same boat so embrace the situation, engage and show how much you want the role.

2) Check Your Tech – Making sure that your devices are charged and that you have signal is paramount to having a successful call. The failure of some connections is unavoidable, but the employer is likely to notice poor administration. Also, the rhythm of the interview could be broken by the interruption and could fluster the candidate. It is always worth considering and informing the employer that you have a back-up method of communication ready, just in case something goes wrong.

3) Clear the Room – Take anything that could be distracting away from the desk. Have your notes, your tech and a drink. Make sure that the door is shut, and the room is as quiet as possible. A clear room and desk will help you think with clarity and focus on the task in hand.

4) Dress to Impress – Just like a normal interview, look as presentable as possible. If you can find photos of the staff on social or their website, use these as a guide to how formally you should dress. The smarter you dress will influence how smart you act, so dress up and carry yourself elegantly, even if you are sitting in your living room.

5) Do Your Homework – Make sure that you know as much as possible; the history of the company and the important people that work there as well as financials, company set up, trading history and supply chain and competitors. Write notes based on the information on the website and try to ascertain everything you can about the culture. This will build confidence and the employer will notice your tone and posture through the lens.

6) Prepare Questions – When making notes about the company, write down 3-5 questions that you would like to know about the company that you can ask either throughout or ideally at the end of the interview. It is also a great idea to have bullet points ready to show case your skills and relevant to the role. The more in-depth your study, the more insightful the questions will be and the more chance that you will be hired. Asking just one insightful question can make all the difference.