Susan Aktemel

Executive Director, Homes for Good Social Business Group

What was a typical work day like before the corona crisis?
Before COVID – lots of travelling (mostly to London), working with investors and stakeholders to grow our housing portfolio. This usually meant up to 6 meetings a day – non stop. A Glasgow based day would be mostly working from home or popping into the office to catch up with the team.

When the outbreak started, what was your initial reaction?
My first reaction was to do a very fast risk assessment across everything – impact on tenants, potential loss of rental income, how the team could work from home, and a rapid update on the finances of each of the businesses. Once I was on top of that, and saw things were OK, I relaxed and focused on supporting the team to deliver.

What impact did this have on your day job and how did you adapt?
We went to remote working on 12th March and the first week was a novelty for all of us, then I realised that I would be living on Zoom for the foreseeable future. Communicating with the team scattered around the city, in a very different style ( from informal and collaborative to very direct / command and control), in a very uncertain context, and it required me to be 100% ready to change on a daily basis – the first few weeks of that was absolutely exhausting.

What are the big challenges you have faced / are facing as the pandemic continues?
The biggest challenge by far is supporting our tenants remotely – our whole business ethos is based on human contact and relationships. Supporting tenants through phone or video is really hard for everyone. There has also been the challenge of supporting my team, who have been just superb throughout this, and understanding what is happening for them has also been difficult, as we all have up and down days, but we are all doing well so far.

How have you kept going through the tough times?
It’s clear that this is a storm that will pass – although we don’t know quite when – and this is what I focus on. Also, I reset every day, and the weeks are flying by. Although we are living through horror, the business challenges and opportunities around us definitely keep me very motivated. There is more need than ever for quality homes, so we have to be ready. When it gets tough, I look around me at home, at my lovely girls, doggies and husband – I know I am lucky.

What acts of kindness have you seen or shown that have made you smile recently?
One of our tenants has started looking after her neighbours, getting shopping, making homemade soup, checking in on them – they have all lived together for years, but this is the first time it has happened. I also recently got a bottle of Cairngorm Gin through the post – that made me smile!

What has this crisis taught you – both professionally and on a personal level?Professionally, I have learned that I am good in a crisis and know how to steer my team and company through it – this has given me increased confidence. Personally, I have realised just how much I love being in Europe, and how I have taken hopping on a plane to Barcelona totally for granted – I am aching to do that just now, and am grateful for the sneaky week I had there in January. I will not pass up chances to travel again.

How are you trying to stay happy and healthy?
I stay happy by spending time with my daughters, talking lots to my husband and close girlfriends. I walk more with my dogs than I ever have, that is also good for the soul. Cooking more, drinking less and getting a decent sleep is also part of the routine, it wasn’t always like that!