Navigating the Crisis | Louisa Richter von Morgenstern on leading m squared through COVID-19
“Maintaining our team was a huge priority at the outset and we have been able to do that. There has been a lot of one-to-one contact and I have enjoyed getting to know the team really well. Conversation revolves not just around the business but also around home and family. I have definitely missed working with the team in the office but I am looking forward to a walk in the countryside with my PA this evening. It’s always about people.”
As the second week of reopening draws to a close, we spoke with Louisa Richter von Morgenstern on leading m squared, her prime property project management and maintenance company, through COVID-19.
HOW ARE YOU NAVIGATING M SQUARED THROUGH THE CURRENT COVID-19 CRISIS?
Luckily we were quite agile having offices in London and Surrey, with our back office staff located in Surrey. We were therefore able to adapt almost instantaneously and with relative ease. People are always at the core of everything that we do and managing diverse teams over twenty years has taught me that if you get the people right everything else follows. We had to react swiftly to the health and safety requirements and dealing with potential emergencies in occupied buildings. Being mindful of keeping everybody safe, we introduced measures that went above and beyond the basic requirements, working closely with our clients and contractors to make sure that everybody’s concerns were addressed and catered for. Our own team has been amazing.
WHAT HAS THE SITUATION TAUGHT YOU ABOUT LEADERSHIP?
I have always preferred to work with people as part of a team, rather than simply directing others to achieve results. I think that it has been critical to listen during this time, as it always is, and to listen with compassion. Whilst digital communication is a vital tool I think that it is very important to pick up the telephone and speak in person. These times are unprecedented and it has been tremendously challenging for many people and businesses. Reaching out and focusing on one-to-one communication has without question been good for our team. Being management focused we are quite process driven and having good processes in place has meant that we experienced relatively little disruption operationally and we could successfully focus on supporting and strengthening the team.
WHAT HAS THE SITUATION TAUGHT YOU ABOUT M SQUARED?
I have been genuinely impressed at how well the company has been able to adapt and how responsive we have been. We have also taken on a new team member during this period, in quite a key role, and previously I would have questioned how well that would work whilst working remotely. It has been a great success, so the lesson learnt is to be flexible in your thinking and be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.
HOW ARE YOU – AND THE WIDER BUSINESS – SUPPORTING YOUR PEOPLE?
Maintaining our team was a huge priority at the outset and we have been able to do that. There has been a lot of one-to-one contact and I have enjoyed getting to know the team really well. Conversation revolves not just around the business but also around home and family. I have definitely missed working with the team in the office but I am looking forward to a walk in the countryside with my PA this evening. It’s always about people.
HOW HAVE YOU AND THE BUSINESS BEEN ABLE TO SUPPORT YOUR CLIENTS?
An important part of our role is to protect our clients’ assets and, particularly where buildings are tenanted, we have kept in personal contact with tenants to build and maintain trust and positive relationships. People are often sensitive about having contractors in their homes and Covid-19 has heightened that concern very significantly. We also have to ensure that the asset itself is maintained and that statutory requirements are met, so it has been a question of communicating positively with all parties, making sure that everybody is kept very well informed, being understanding and patient and then providing reassurance where it is needed. Once again, it’s about genuinely caring and investing time in people.
Having empathy and being sympathetic to your clients’ individual needs and concerns is also fundamental. Where one client, The King’s Fund, is a charity with Royal Charter working to improve healthcare in England, we simply have to understand how vital health and safety procedures are in a risk adverse environment. We also have clients located overseas, as far as Hong Kong, and the same principles apply long distance, in maintaining communication, being solution orientated and providing clear information and reassurance. You must understand your clients’ pain points and provide them with solid solutions.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE POTENTIAL LONG-LASTING CHANGES TO M SQUARED?
Looking at the positives this has been a good opportunity to hone and refine our processes. The ones already in place work well but there has been scope to add and I think that, although virtual meetings will not remain the norm for us, we will make more use of them in future. The most pronounced change that will be carried forward for us is the re-drafting of the bespoke contracts that we put in place for our clients. Even though we are currently easing out of lockdown, we are adding clauses that deal with timescales that may be affected due to lockdowns or restricted access, and also the provision of Covid specific risk assessments, PPE and the potential for further changes that may be directed by the Government in future.
HOW HAVE YOU, ON A PERSONAL LEVEL, DEALT WITH LOCKDOWN?
I absolutely love to cook and I have enjoyed every spare minute in the kitchen, conjuring up dishes from exotic far flung places. It has been a fantastic alternative way to travel and I managed to slip in an application to MasterChef at the same time! I have always wanted to write, so I have also started writing a book focusing on how to create and then maintain your dream home. The trick will be to finish it but I’m usually pretty good at following through what I start.
IF YOU ARE A LEADER OF A BRITISH LUXURY BRAND AND HAVE THE TIME TO TALK TO WALPOLE – AND THE WIDER LUXURY SECTOR – ON HOW YOU ARE NAVIGATING YOUR BUSINESS THROUGH THE CURRENT COVID-19 CRISIS, PLEASE CONTACT JENNI RAYNER ON JENNI.RAYNER@THEWALPOLE.CO.UK.