By Jane Porter, Chief Operating Officer at Optivo

What was life before the pandemic like? After almost a year are we normalising life in lockdown? What is it we miss the most? Well except for the occasional long weekend, and of course holidays – no question – for me it is meeting with people (less than 2m apart!) and general social interaction.

Whether it is a casual encounter in the kitchen or stairwell at the office, or a gathering or meal with friends, we miss the ‘noise’ of conversation, the empathy shared when facing a problem or the smile in someone’s face that lifts your mood.

Our residents are all feeling the same. And it has been extra hard for some of them having to let in our contractors to check their boiler or do a repair when they are not allowed to let their family and friends in their home.

We’ve all got used to the added features of Zoom and Teams with breakout rooms and reactions and for changing our backgrounds depending on where we would prefer to be or the mood we are in. For our colleagues doing videos for online viewings and signing tenants
up on apps or remotely. And, the inevitable – “you are on mute…’’ which has to be the saying of the year. But nothing beats the conversations we have with each other.

And with real life interactions so few and far between the phone has become a lifeline for many. And not just to access Apps or to take photos but to actually call people. A human voice evokes feelings that no email, SMS, or other written form can do. Empathy, understanding, caring and you can even hear a smile. When we do the latter our voice changes and this is detected by those listening – try it!

Over 40% of Optivo’s residents from all generational groups are living alone. If you add single parents to this with both young and adult children it increases to 69%. Imagine finding yourself unemployed in lockdown, trying to apply for benefits you’ve never accessed before.

Or becoming a teacher to children when your own education seems so far in the distant past and you don’t have the tech kit needed to support your family. Or don’t have the money to put food on the table and don’t tell anyone.

A call out of the blue from one of our Residents Resilience Team can be transformational. It can not only lift spirits but it can give some practical advice on navigating Universal Credit complex processes. Or sign posting to the local food banks, some of them being run from our
own schemes. And for parents who need tech kit – access to our repurposed old iPads and new ones bought from our emergency fund.

The Residents Resilience Team was set up temporarily to redeploy colleagues in the first lockdown where services, other than emergency repairs, were in the main suspended. But there has been no looking back. The comments and feedback are so uplifting. Did I ever believe just one phone call could be life changing – never!

We know that it will take some time to wean people away from our calls and back to self- serve on our customer portal. But we know, that they know, where we are when they need help.

We know it can make a massive difference and for that reason we should never make our services only accessed digitally. There are times when we all need a voice, some reassurance, some help, to save a life. Never before has it been so apparent. While we wrestle with how we might work in the future one thing is for sure – the phone is not dead.