During 2020, the REC, like all businesses, has had a lot on our plate. The threat from COVID-19 and its numerous impacts on both our members and our business dominated. We’d already started modernising our processes in 2018 and 2019, with work on a new CRM system and website, but suddenly things had to be accelerated to help members cope with the crisis.
Like many of our members in the face of challenge we looked for opportunity. We embraced the need to change rapidly from an organisation reliant on personal face-to-face contact to a virtual contact organisation within days, or weeks at best. So, what did we do?
Delivering services like training and events to members virtually required a change of mindset. The team pivoted in two weeks from face-to-face training to virtual tuition through Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which was no small achievement. As we know that was extremely quick when compared to other education and learning organisations.
With our marketing and account management teams able to work from home, contact with members has been maintained and renewals for 2020 continue solidly.
Transforming the exams process to meet social distancing rules was a more complicated task. Serious due diligence is required when examining regulated qualifications and we didn’t want a repeat of GCSE and A-level difficulties to play out with our qualifications. Instead we worked hard to select the right partner – leading experts in the field- to take our exams online.
Our first online digital examinations were held in September. 180 learners sat exams which wouldn’t have been possible had stayed with our old paper-based system.
Events were another challenge we moved quickly on. All our member events were transferred to webinars or Zoom meetings, with MS Teams being used for internal conversations. It proved effective but we wanted to deliver a properly interactive and high production value REC2020 – our annual conference in the summer. Our previous AV supplier had a fantastic platform which worked well and kept participants engaged.
There were a few niggles that we can improve on, but the feedback we’ve had was fantastic and the numbers don’t lie, over 950 registered for the event and we broke our own records with over twice as many attendees on the day than we had ever had before at a physical event. We are extremely grateful to our speakers, sponsors and organisational team. We’ve set the bar high for next year!
My one lesson to share on an event like this is that the ability to network is much diminished, so we are changing the way we approach this next time around.
Towards the end of summer members were starting to return to their offices and had brought staff back from furlough. As a result, the demand on our legal and customer services lines increased. So, we needed an internet-based soft phone system which would patch callers through to individuals working from home. This was installed recently, and every staff member can now answer the phone as if they are in the office regardless of where they are. All they need is internet connection and a login.
There is something missing I hear you say, the team! The team were brilliant, they rose to the challenges, brought in their own energy and enthusiasm and it was a revelation as to how many problem solvers we have at the REC. Inner strengths were found and across the business team members stepped up to support each other and adapt. Everyone played their part brilliantly the team showed agility and developed quickly to meet new challenges. That change is lasting, and the REC is better for it.
Back in March 2020, when the national lockdown was called, the atmosphere across the country was one of concern, be it for others, our health or the future. As a nation we stood on the streets every Thursday and clapped the NHS and key workers, my street as did many others, also clapped delivery drivers as they drove past. People went shopping and said thank you to the shop staff and they meant it! So why drag us back to where we were in March? Because it has been key to this acceleration; it knocked down the traditional barriers and hesitations that are associated with change. The speed with which we were able to pivot was because of the clear and identifiable need to step up and help members in a time of great need. The need for change was self-evident. We ensured due diligence and were still able to reduce cost and improve services. Change came easy because everyone focused on the big things that needs to adapt which they also experienced in their own professional and personal lives. Clearly, the REC accelerated its digital footprint in 2020, mostly down to a shift in culture, caused by the clarity of need that COVID-19 created. When I think about the quotes I have heard and used, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ is the one that springs to mind and 2020 was, I think a great example.