Navigating the Crisis | Aino-Leena Grapin on leading Winch Design through Covid-19

“For leaders, this is the defining moment in our careers. This is what we will be remembered for. Did we handle the crisis with a strong moral compass, an agile strategic mind and lots of empathy for what others are going through: our team members, our families, our clients, our communities?”

Today Aino-Leena Grapin shares with us how she’s navigated yacht design firm Winch through COVID-19, and what she’s learnt in the process about leadership and the importance of team spirit.

How are you navigating your business through the current COVID-19 crisis?

Fortunately for Winch, as a design studio, we have been able to carry on working from home. None of our architecture, yacht or aviation projects have been cancelled. Some will have delays due to building restrictions, but we have ploughed on where its been safe to do so, even carrying out inspections remotely.

Now is a great time for our clients to be considering new projects, perhaps a little opportunistically. Despite not being able to meet with clients face-t0-face, we have managed to sign up a few new projects since the covid-19 crisis started, in every category.

What has the situation taught you about leadership?

For leaders, this is the defining moment in our careers. This is what we will be remembered for. Did we handle the crisis with a strong moral compass, an agile strategic mind and lots of empathy for what others are going through: our team members, our families, our clients, our communities? When navigating through a crisis, a good leader is many things: a coach to the senior leadership team who are dealing with turbulence, a strategic thinker who can anticipate what comes next, a motivational and honest communicator to the wider team.

And what has it taught you about your business?

It highlighted a number of things for me. The first being our collective agility: we started to close the office ahead of the lockdown to protect our employees and within a matter of weeks, we became a studio that operated mainly from the headquarters in Barnes, to a team with the ability to work collectively and remotely from all over the country. The whole team was equipped with high-spec laptops within days and provided with all equipment needed to do their jobs effectively and comfortably from home. We launched our new YouTube channel in a matter of days and we adapted our daily communication operations immediately so that everyone’s voice would be heard.

The next thing I’ve learned is the extent to which our team spirit keeps us going. We already had a monthly internal newsletter called WOW (The World of Winch), which featured project and team news. Since the beginning of lock down we’ve now started circulating this weekly to keep our morale up and team spirit going. Funny videos, memes, pub quizzes and anecdotes are helping us feel connected to each other more than we thought it ever could.

Another of the biggest lessons I have taken on board is my deepened understanding of our resilience; not only the Winch studio but the whole supply chain. Our partners who have continued to build our projects almost without any interruption, the resilience of the creativity of the suppliers and craftspeople who help bring our projects to life and importantly, how we each demonstrate our own resilience when we support each other through difficult times.

How are you – and the wider business – supporting your people?

Last year, we made mental health in the workplace a priority. We trained 10 members of staff as Mental Health First Aiders and the whole Senior Leadership Team in mental health awareness. This was to better recognise better when an individual might be struggling but also to adequately support them from within WD by providing safe spaces to talk and arranging external resources such as counselling.
It was a blessing in disguise that we put this in place prior to lock down, because this support couldn’t have come at a better time. The key has been for us to state loudly and clearly that it is okay to not feel great every day and to support flexible working hours so that those with families can help with home-schooling. By talking about mental health as a priority and by admitting that as a leader I also have my own mental health challenges, we’ve allowed staff to freely discuss how they feel and the challenges they face. We’ve been gaining a sense of the mood of the company by sending out regular pulse surveys to see how everyone is finding the day-to-day as well as an extensive opinion survey to find out how the WD team feel about returning to the office and what would make our people feel the most supported.

Our valued suppliers are critical to the success of our projects and we realise that some of the smallest studios and independent craftspeople who have worked on Winch projects may be struggling currently. Therefore, we have launched an initiative called ‘Under Winch’s Wing’ where we are offering advice, actual support and our platform to those small studios who need a boost at the moment.

We’re also staying loyal to our charity commitments. Every year, we as a studio, raise many thousands of pounds for The Blue Marine Foundation, Maggie’s, Place2Be and the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust.

What do you see as the potential long-lasting changes to your business?

We will take on board what we’ve learnt during this time and will translate these lessons into the future of Winch Design. We will be more discerning when it comes to essential travel and will favour virtual meetings wherever possible in a bid to not only reduce our carbon footprint but to enable our people to spend more time on home ground. We will maintain focus on keeping in touch with clients and industry contacts; we have enjoyed the benefits of checking in, seeing how they are doing, learning what their outlook is and sharing insights with one another. We will also maintain a working from home policy to some degree.

We have also been thinking about how the current crisis might durably change our clients’ lifestyles and therefore have been thinking ahead and will continue to invent the future of design in yachts, private aviation and bespoke homes on land.

Certainly, a major priority for us will be to continue our intense focus on sustainability. We signed the Walpole manifesto and are also partnering with The Water Revolution, the foundation for sustainability in yachting. We are currently working on a broader framework to our commitments to the planet and to society. More on this to come…

How are you, on a personal level, dealing with lockdown?

I miss walking around the office and seeing sketches and visuals of what the teams have been cooking up. Daily interactions with some of the most creative people are so exciting and motivating.

On the bright side, it has been wonderful to have lunch as a family every day, spending more time as a family. We even added a puppy to our lives, which is not without its challenges!

I have been exercising on my static bike and meditating daily, far more than I usually do, as a foundation for my own mental wellbeing. If I have done both those things, as well as journalling and prioritising my objectives for the day and week, I am then in the frame of mind to be able to help others!

www.winchdesign.com