5 lessons from lockdown: What organisations can learn about collaboration and the route to recovery

If there are any silver linings to the COVID-19 pandemic, the renewed spirit of global collaboration and creative innovation would be one. As one of the few EDOs to collaborate with the private sector in the UN's Global Hack, Locate in Kent share advice for EDOs looking to ensure their organisations are sufficiently resourced and agile to survive and thrive through the crisis and the recovery period.

With three billion people in lockdown worldwide, we’ve been forced to get creative with how we connect digitally. Zoom quizzes, Instagram PE classes, and business meetings on Teams have really taken off as our personal and professional lives are now carried out online.

This ‘new normal’ has been put to good use over the last six weeks by the Global Hack, an initiative backed by the United Nations (UN) and European Commission, leading a series of hackathons.

Connecting people from all over the world, the objective was to come up with innovative ideas to fight the impact of Covid-19 and future-proof societies for upcoming global health crises. Areas included the economy, mental health, work, education, and the environment, amongst others.

At the inaugural event, more than 12,000 people from 98 countries united for 48 hours including some of the best and brightest minds in tech and business, using the online tool Slack to collaborate, discuss, and turn brilliant concepts into potential actions.

Locate in Kent was the only UK inward investment agency to take part, representing UK plc alongside many of the world’s leading tech investors. After judging the Economic and Environment tracks, CEO Gavin Cleary shares five key takeaways on how to adapt your approach to achieve business objectives and support your organisation’s recovery in a post-pandemic world.


1. Explore global collaboration 

This crisis has highlighted the often-used adage that as people, we have more similarities than we do differences. This is especially true when it comes to the challenges societies and businesses face internationally.

While there may be local nuance, the hackathon reinforced that to tackle global macro issues head on, like climate change or the spread of disease - maximising expertise from other countries, sectors, and leaders is vital – whether that’s in science, tech or healthcare.

Globalisation gives us access to more resources, more brain power, and therefore more creative and diverse thinking to help us solve issues together.

2. In a crisis, focus on what you do well and tailor what you already have

Berlin based start-up SunCrafter won the overall hackathon with their cutting-edge portable UV light disinfection station. Built in just 48 hours, the disinfection station is powered by using SunCrafter’s solar panel technology to provide a sustainable, reliable and inclusive hygiene solution to slow the spread of viruses like COVID-19 for public spaces and people in need.

It was a great example of how an existing solution can be tweaked and re-purposed for a crisis response. The organisation usually upcycles solar modules and gives second life to other components such as batteries. I felt that there is a real learning here for businesses that in a crisis, lean into your expertise and put your best foot forward by using your strengths as an organisation.

3. Maximise skill sets with fluid team structures

I knew the insights from the event would be invaluable but the perspectives on ways of working will definitely inform my thinking moving forwards as we work with partners to support Kent businesses through the pandemic.

The hackathon bought together people from nearly 100 countries, who either entered the event as a team or chose a team on the day. Teams were made up of three - four members matched on their skill set but individuals could swap teams throughout the event to allow for greater flexibility. The BD Waste solution in the Environment track for example, was created by a newly formed team with members from Japan, Kenya, Ghana and Dubai.

This fluid team structure allowed for an extraordinary cross-fertilisation of ideas. If the event had been in person, it would have been much more challenging logistically to match up such varied teams.

Online tools allowed people of different ages, career stages, and backgrounds to take part. They could also dip in and out of the work over the 48 hours it took place – allowing them to fit the tasks around their lives and other workloads.

Practically, I think this is a great learning for workplaces. Don’t make your team structures too rigid but focus instead on inspiring people with a common challenge and giving them the framework for collaboration. Set up your core teams but open up to the rest of your organisation when you’re looking for new ideas or how to solve a challenge, as it can often lead to even better outcomes.

4. But… invest in ensuring your team is tech savvy! 

Nearly everyone taking part was a digital native or techie by trade which meant that barrier to entry was removed and they could all interact easily, allowing creativity to be the focus.

This is key for adjusting to the ‘new normal’ and applicable for so many businesses – make sure your employees are digitally confident so that it leaves them with the capacity to focus on other elements of their role and carrying out the best work possible.

5. Protect mental health

Technology and how we use it is often criticised when it comes to mental health, however, the hackathon looked at how we can use tech to benefit our wellbeing.

According to the founders of Lithuanian mental health app, Act On Crisis (AOC), before the pandemic, approximately 12 percent of the world’s population was in need of psychological support. With three billion people in lockdown at the end of April, they predict that at least 360 million people worldwide are experiencing strong emotional imbalance.

To close this gap and provide those affected with access to the help they need, the developers created a package of emotional support tools such as breathing techniques, an anonymous support community, as well as free therapy sessions with 18 certified professionals.

Similarly, a ‘future of work’ solution built in just 48 hours during the hackathon, SERW, connects individuals with professionals for video consultations. A simple yet ingenious concept, users can access lawyers, therapists and fitness coaches through the app.

As we look to support our colleagues with their mental health and wellbeing and create more positive home working environments, it’s worth considering how solutions like this could help.

Contributed by Gavin Cleary, CEO of Locate in Kent

Gavin Cleary, CEO at Locate in Kent
Engaging with high profile agencies, the Kent community and business leaders, Gavin works to position Kent as the ideal location for growth and inward investment from across the UK and beyond. Locate in Kent’s role to promote Kent and Medway as a business location and support the creation of new jobs is funded and supported by Kent County Council, Medway Council, local councils, the Kent Developers Group - a partnership of the area's leading commercial property developers - and partners from the private sector. 
For more information about Locate in Kent, call 01732 520700, email enquiries@locateinkent.com or visit www.locateinkent.com

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