Expectations vs reality: a pandemic placement

Starting a placement this year has been unlike any other.

COVID-19 has impacted every workplace in the UK, resulting in a very different placement experience for many. The obvious change from expectations is limited time in the office, however the continuous support from Liquid has helped me and Owen and ensured a smooth onboarding process during the pandemic.

Outlined below are three challenges that were raised by COVID-19 for placement students, how Liquid has overcome these issues and how we are adopting these solutions into our business for the future, following the pandemic.

  1. Staff well-being

The challenge

Remote working has impacted the mental wellbeing of many, with face-to-face social contact and non-work-related conversation limited. Being out of the office has definitely taken away that ‘water cooler moment’ for us placement students to get to know their team on a more personal basis.

What we did

With the UK entering a third lockdown, the directors at Liquid tried to think of numerous ways to maintain the wellbeing of our team. Liquid has hosted virtual socials, online yoga and mindfulness sessions and has now even created a ‘Liquid Book Club’. In addition, the directors at Liquid have formed ‘buddy groups’, each containing four to five team members who wouldn’t necessarily work together on a daily basis, virtually recreating that ‘water cooler moment’ for us all.

The result… how we’ll work better in future

Remote working has generally increased the awareness of mindfulness and mental health issues in the workplace and in our personal lives. It has encouraged us all to have more open conversations with our colleagues and to discuss honestly how we’re feeling and coping.

Through the various activities and the creation of buddy groups, Liquid has created a supportive network ensuring a seamless transition to remote working for myself and Owen, along with the rest of the team at Liquid too.

  1. Training/webinars and networking

The challenge

One of the main benefits of a placement is to gain key contacts in your desired field for your future career. However, with three lockdowns and limited office time, this has meant that like many other aspects of our work, networking has all been virtual. This has created difficulties around naturally communicating with key contacts, both internally at the firm and externally.

Liquid strives to provide a broad work experience for their placement students, in particular through numerous training sessions with industry professionals, both internally and externally. However, due to COVID-19, this has restricted access to training sessions, as some would’ve taken place in person.

What we did

Completing a placement year in Public Relations, in particular in an agency environment, has allowed me and Owen to still be able to contact key stakeholders and build stable rapport with the clients we are both working with, growing our networking profiles.

During the first lockdown, Liquid provided the team with a series of virtual training sessions with non-executive director, Adrian Wheeler. In addition to these sessions, Liquid has continuously provided us with great opportunities to join insightful webinars hosted by platforms such as the PRCA and Roxhill, to expand our experience and industry knowledge further.

The result… how we’ll work better in future

The COVID-19 lockdowns have taught us that as a company, we’re able to successfully conduct training sessions virtually through video platforms. Following this, in February 2021, Liquid is launching a series of virtual work experience sessions for sixth form and university students, which Owen and I are participating in. This experience will allow students to participate from home and gain incremental skills along with industry knowledge.

  1. Client and team communications

The challenge

Online working has required adaptation from everyone but has raised particular challenges for new starters and placement students, with communications between colleagues, clients and us being mostly virtual.

What we did

The growth of video platforms such as Zoom, has been evidenced over the past six months, with customer growth rising 458%. Owen and I have been getting to grips with a variety of online video platforms including, Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams for day-to-day communication both internally and externally.

Through the use of regular team catch-ups and Liquid’s supportive culture, we have been taught how to effectively communicate to support clients and colleagues through the unexpected challenges during lockdown.

Furthermore, Liquid has re evaluated their reporting strategies, speeding up the introduction of its own evaluation product,  Gauge,  to digitally feedback results to all clients. Liquid has introduced Owen and me to these key reporting techniques to allow us to have regular direct contact with the clients we are working with for added experience.

The result… how we’ll work better in future

Following this, the Liquid team as a whole, from placement students up to the directors have all had to learn new skills through working at home that we can apply to future working at Liquid. Our clients have had to understand how to work virtually, as well as ourselves, and we are continuously discovering new ways in which we can support them.

Owen and I entered our placements with expectations of a selection of skills that we would learn. Whereas now, positively reflecting on our time so far at Liquid, we see all of the additional digital communication skills we’ve learned to help form a modern-day skill set. This has moulded us into both confident, independent workers, as well as virtual team players.

Throughout our placement year so far, Liquid has successfully maintained a diverse working schedule and prioritised the mental well-being of the whole team, replicating the welcoming and friendly office culture it is renowned for and greatly exceeding both mine and Owen’s placement expectations!