January 2020 was a celebration for me, as my small business reached a milestone that many don’t reach – a fifth birthday. It all started back in early 2014 when my husband, who experiences anxiety and depression, had a situation at work where he was punished by his employer. Having not experienced this myself before, I felt a strong sense of injustice for all employees who may be experiencing a similar situation. I became highly motivated to create a forum where business leaders could talk openly about their own experiences. A forum where they could explain to other organisations around the world that looking after the mental health and wellbeing of your employees is business critical. This is where our Wellbeing @ Work events were born. Thankfully, the conversation around staff wellbeing and mental health has developed significantly around the world in recent years.
Our plans towards the end of last year had been to up-scale the business further, expand the team and grow significantly. All the different areas of the business were part of this plan, so we invested heavily to deliver on this new phase of the strategy. That’s when conversations in our APAC region started to focus in on a new challenge – COVID-19.
Our business is based on delivering live events and business conferences. We bring together business leaders in large groups to inform, educate and inspire them to create successful wellbeing programmes that develop workplaces where employees and organisations thrive. We run these events in 15 cities around the world and our Singapore event, due to take place in April 2020, was the first to experience issues with speakers, attendees and partners. This challenge quickly accelerated around the world and before we had time to really understand the scale of the problem, we were postponing more and more events due to the social distancing laws around the globe. Our conversations had gone from scaling up and growth, to cost-cutting and survival – all in a matter of a couple of weeks.
Nothing can prepare you for the dramatic change most of us experienced (and many are still experiencing) and whilst I love a good self-help or business advice read, I’m not aware of a useful book on ‘How to Mitigate Against a Global Pandemic in Four Weeks’ (although I am sure there will be many published later this year!). As I watched what I had built up over many years start to crumble around me, I made the conscious decision to take time out and to think creatively. What do our customers need? How can we use this to our advantage? How can we pivot the business and survive? Not an easy task when you are having some difficult conversations with your amazing team, loyal customers and trusted partners, but it was essential.
This creative thinking helped us build a 24-hour virtual event in May called G24 – a global mental health summit starting at 9am in Sydney and finishing at 5pm in San Francisco – completely virtual. We were due to deliver six live events during the first half of 2020 across four continents, so G24 enabled us to still deliver the content that our communities wanted, providing home-workers from around the world with a focused day of solutions, all in one day. The turnaround was incredibly fast, our communities reacted swiftly and positively to our innovation, and goodwill was raised to a new level.
This was quickly followed by a complete pivot of our entire business model with new digital products such as our global membership community and a programme of fully virtual events for the rest of the year focusing on Asia and Australasia, Europe and North America. A much larger audience will be catered for at each event, enabling us to further our core focus to reach as many business leaders around the world with a positive message about the benefits of a holistic workplace mental health and wellbeing strategy.
Six months on from the challenging period of early 2020, I see huge opportunity to grow our global network much faster, reaching areas of the world and organisations that we could not have reached in a physical environment. My sense of purpose and passion is as strong as it has ever been, and we have reverted to our growth plans with vigour and excitement.
The global pandemic continues to be unsettling for many, challenging for all of us and above all strange that we cannot interact as human beings like we used to. However, it has also provided us all with new opportunities, different freedoms, and fresh ideas. Adapting and pivoting is something we all need to master in today’s fast-moving world. Having a strong purpose in what you do with your life has an even greater importance now and if that purpose is genuine, then you will find a way to dig deep and make it work. I hope to connect with you at one of our virtual summits soon!