Let’s be optimistic

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications

I’m not an overly religious person, however I respect our Christian heritage and identity. While we pause to think about the 250 people killed and hundreds more wounded by suicide bombers in Sri Lanka last Easter, this weekend is generally considered a happy time for Christians – as they believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that his resurrection symbolises that death is not the end. On this Maundy Thursday / my birthday – during what is an unusual period in our nation’s history – I urge everyone reading this blog, whether you’re a believer or not, to reflect on this holy message of hope and to inject a bit of optimism into your outlook. As I’ve written countless times before: although optimism isn’t everything – it can make one hell of a difference.

Last summer – or BC (before Coronavirus), more than half of all Tory MPs and two-thirds of Conservative Party members voted for Boris Johnson during the leadership contest. In December, the electorate voted in one Conservative MP for each day of the calendar year. People roundly rejected ‘Project Fear’ and bought into Mr Johnson’s optimistic vision – to ‘get Brexit done’ and focus on the people’s priorities. He’s already delivered on the former and is working on the rest, such as controlling immigration, which is why – four months on – polling finds ratings that have not been seen for a British prime minister since the early days of Blair’s premiership.

Now that he is feeling under the weather – but improving, I reckon we owe it to ourselves to reject ‘Virus Fear’ and to cheer him on. While everyone can do their bit, some have additional responsibilities.

In my opinion, publishers, editors and journalists have a responsibility to educate and entertain. Now, every time someone tunes into the news, logs onto Twitter or picks up a newspaper, all they see is ongoing news about the number of deaths as well as who and how many people have been tested, and whether the heir to the throne is a priority (the answer is: yes); comparisons with other countries; talk about designated survivors; lessons about the UK constitution or lack thereof; speculation about caretaker leaders; and yes, plenty of codswallop from Piers Morgan. I understand that news channels have airtime and newspapers have column inches to fill but there must be a limit.

Further, for many people (politicians, their aides and PRs included), working from home during the lockdown presents an opportunity to spend more time talking to loved ones, friends and family, albeit by Zoom, Houseparty or whatever is the tool the whiz kids have concocted. I say: embrace it!

Go for a walk and discover something new about your local area. Plan that big vacation to Greece and get into shape for it. I, for one, long for downing a pint of pale ale outside a traditional pub on a hot August day and sipping white wine by the swimming pool in Tuscany. Follow what’s going on with other populist campaigns around the globe, including President Trump vs the former VP Joe Biden – now that Bernie Sanders has finally dropped out – as well as growing support for both Matteo Salvini and the Brothers of Italy as more and more Italians become disillusioned with the EU’s response to managing Covid-19.

And finally, (start or) keep reading. For books, try ‘The Churchill Factor’ by you know who or ‘The Gatekeeper’ by Baroness Fall. For newspapers, it must be The Daily Telegraph and The Yorkshire Post (by the way, do continue to buy them and support the industry). For magazines, try The Spectator and British GQ. And online, try alternative media such as Spiked and Politicalite. Before you know it, we will be back to normal and you’ll be complaining about not making the most of this time and weather.

Every death is tragic, and everything must be done to prevent more, flatten the curve and move forward. It’s why everyone must adhere to the government’s advice: to ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives’, because, together, we can get through this – and, this summer, we’ll raise a glass to those loved ones we lost before their time and say Cheers! to our future.

If you have ideas for this group or would like to get involved please email:  info@toriesincomms.org.

This piece was written for our website and has been republished by The Commentator (‘Let’s be optimistic!’ – April 8, 2020) and Politicalite (‘Despite Coronavirus, let’s be optimistic this Easter’ – April 9, 2020).

WFH: With trust comes freedom

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the government has advised businesses to enable their employees to work from home (WFH). For many, today was the first time they’ve done so. As someone who already benefits from a company policy that allows people to WFH from time-to-time, I wanted to share some thoughts and best practices for making a success of this new-found freedom. More freedom should always be a good thing!

Now is the time for everyone to stop all non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel. We need people to start working from home.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the first daily press conference on the coronavirus pandemic

For most industry sectors, working 9-to-5 is a thing of the past. In fact, for many in public relations and public affairs it hasn’t been a thing for a while. After the initial introductions, most interactions can be done over the phone or email. I don’t expect anybody to eat breakfast at their desk, hit ‘reply all’ to group emails or stay five minutes past 5pm – just to be “visible”. I do encourage folk to attend morning meetings, read (the daily news and books) and attend industry events – such as those hosted by Conservatives in Communications – to improve their knowledge and skills, and build their networks.

The key to making all this work is for managers – i.e. line managers not managers of other functions – to trust their teams. In turn, all colleagues must deliver – at home and in the office. It’s really that simple. Get it right and the benefits can be a-plenty:

  • Higher productivity. Don’t take my word for it – try Googling academic studies on this.
  • Greater availability. For example, people are more able to join calls with Asia and the US.
  • More time, be active. Spend more time with your friends and family. I use some of the time it would take me to get to and from the office to exercise and I’ve lost a stone and a half (10.5kg) since January.
  • More money. Instead of spending your hard-earned cash on overpriced coffees, £10 lunches and transport, spend it more wisely.
  • Support local. Where possible, spend it in the local community.

The reality is this: people need very little to do their job. In a similar vein to my blog post about 10 PR things to consider in 2020 and beyond, here’s a list (not exhaustive) of 10 tips on how to make a success of WFH and remain productive amidst the chaos:

1. Make space

Ideally, you’d have a home office – a separate and quiet space just for work. Not everyone has that luxury however, including most people who live in city apartments. Instead, it can be the corner of a spare bedroom or dining/living space. Preferably, it won’t be the kitchen table as you should avoid mixing home and work life. It also becomes difficult if there’s more than one occupant WFH or on holiday.

2. Right equipment

At a minimum, you will need a PC/laptop, internet/wi-fi and a mobile phone. If possible, buy a printer, shredder and a lamp.

3. Create routine

Establish one early on – that works for you (and hopefully for others). For example: get up by 7am, check inbox and social media channels, do exercise, get ready, work from 9am-12pm, pop out and grab some lunch, read the daily news, work 1-5pm with a break in between, do some personal chores, cook dinner/ attend event/ see friends and check emails etc. once during the evening. For the record, I don’t cook!

4. Be available

Be online. Be available. You shouldn’t have to prove yourself or over communicate, because you’ll be sat at your desk – albeit in your home.

5. Stay connected

Stay in contact with the outside world – colleagues and further afield. Setup phone/ video meetings, create colleague WhatsApp groups, follow social media channels and have the news or radio on in the background. Don’t hesitate to ask for what you need.

6. Get organised

Unless you rate them (I don’t!), you don’t need Microsoft Teams and other tools like Slack to do your job. Good old Microsoft Outlook, Google Suite and Skype are enough, and do share invites for personal time off.

7. Purposeful meetings

In terms of meetings – the fewer, shorter and more purposeful they are the better. Avoid scheduling meetings for meetings sake. Weekly should be enough – consider making them bi-weekly or even monthly. You don’t need to use the full hour – 45 minutes is ideal but aim for 30. For this to work, test connections, be on time and avoid all the clichés. Every meeting should have an agenda, which you stick to, and everyone is responsible for recording their actions.

8. Face time

WFH does not mean never seeing colleagues again. Face-to-face interactions are vital. Where possible, you should meet in-person at introductory meetings, networking events and yes, team socials.

9. Go outside

As mentioned early on, just because you’re now at home doesn’t mean you can’t go on the balcony/ walk around the garden/ go to the shop. It’s important to get fresh air!

10. Keep reflecting

Continuously reflect on what’s working well and isn’t, and shake-up accordingly.

If you have ideas for this group or would like to get involved please email: info@toriesincomms.org.

This blog was republished by the public relations firm Vested.

Events, dear boy, events

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector

The unpredictability of politics was perhaps best described by Harold Macmillan as the sudden appearance of “Events, dear boy, events”. Although nobody – including his biographer – has been able to trace back to when he said that!

As the first quarter of 2020 has shown, the UK government has had to respond to ‘events’ rather than push on with other priorities. First came the storms (Brendan, Ciara, Dennis and Jorge) that caused travel disruption, flooding and damage to infrastructure. Next were sustained attacks on the Home Secretary – from the Left, disgruntled civil servants and some in the media, including that ghastly cartoon in The Guardian. But nothing, nothing could quite trump Coronavirus and its dominance in the national conversation. At work, you will hear colleagues singing the national anthem or happy birthday (twice) or counting to 20 – while washing their hands. At home, some family members are ‘self-isolating’ having stock-piled enough paracetamol, pasta and toilet roll to last them a lifetime.

Pesky things, these events. So far, the prime minister and his team have weathered them all. What’s next, I hear you ask? Only one of the biggest events in the parliamentary calendar and the first for more than a year.

Several weeks ago, Rishi Sunak had no idea he would be replacing Sajid Javid as the country’s second BME Chancellor and delivering a Budget this Wednesday. Nor could he have envisaged ‘Black Monday’, which saw some of the biggest daily stock market drops since the 2008 global financial crisis and trading in US shares briefly suspended.

Thankfully, his closeness to Number 10 – he was Boris Johnson’s stand-in for one of the TV debates – as well as his time in financial services (Goldman Sachs and The Children’s Investment Fund Management) and more recently as Chief Secretary to the Treasury means he has both the support from the top and the experience to deliver the goods against economic uncertainty. The question is how radical can and does the Chancellor want to be in reshaping the UK’s economy?

My suspicion is he does but he can’t do everything this time; with the more dramatic measures postponed until either the Spending Review or Autumn Statement. Speaking on The Today Programme about the Budget, George Osborne said the government needs to “vaccinate the economy”. He is probably right.

Just look at what has been pre-briefed: 2020 will be the last year that women are taxed on sanitary products plus there is double funding for flood defences, employment tax breaks for veterans and £8 million for football pitches. All of these make sense to me and I’m certain will be welcomed by those affected, but they are hardly earth-shattering. I hope – and anticipate – there will be much more on the levelling-up agenda, as expectations of this government – from all quarters, but especially blue-collar workers – are very high; more so, as it’s been the longest gap between budgets since the 19th century.

It is customary for the Chairman of Ways & Means to chair the debate on the Chancellor’s Budget. I look forward to being in the chamber to see Dame Eleanor Laing – the first woman to hold that post – on this historic event, during Women’s History Month.

If you have ideas for this group or would like to get involved please email: info@toriesincomms.org.

This piece was written for our website and has been republished by Politicalite (‘Events, dear boy, events’ – March 11, 2020).