Optimus Blog - Chris West, CEO

In an effort to better our communication, perhaps generate debate and to document our journey in the good ship Optimus we have decided to embark on a blog. Don’t think that this will simply be a soapbox for me, the CEO to talk about how wonderful we are. Hopefully we’ll have enough of the team here to do that for us!

But as CEO I take the first step so here are some reflections on the last year in our lives.

What have been your challenges? Personally, and as a business?

Perhaps we can share them, they do say that a problem shared is a problem halved.

"What a difference a year makes"...... I suppose that I've gotten that saying entirely wrong, traditionally it would be "What a difference a day makes", but it's impossible to reflect upon the last period of our lives and not be struck by the feeling that days have merged into weeks, weeks into months and inexplicably months into a full year since we disembarked various elements of normal life, in Optimus' case abandoning offices at Gordon & Willow House in Aberdeen & Inverness.

I first took notice of something unusual happening attending a business gathering called Doqarucon on the 5th of March last year, a busy day with a full schedule of speakers at the conference and a "must make" client meeting, in person, on the other side of town at midday.

There was a talk by an American businessman, but it was delivered by video link, he and some of the other conference attendees had elected not to attend through personal or company choice. "Air travel being restricted?" I thought to myself, that just seemed such a remarkably knee-jerk reaction.

But, just a couple of short weeks later the world as we knew it changed, 370 days later I find myself in the back garden, coat on, clutching a mug of coffee for warmth to celebrate my mum's birthday without breaking social gathering rules! What a "Plot Twist" to use the words of Gavin Oattes, who hosted Doqarucon a year previously; what a ridiculous incredible plot twist in our lives.

Of course, by calling it a plot twist I don't mean to make light of what has been unimaginably horrendous for so many, I see my privilege; white middle aged man in a c-suite role, countryside surroundings, a job delivered mostly through the computer and so transferable to my home office with minimal fuss; enough surplus electronic devices in one household to allow 5 concurrent video calls during home schooling periods!!

I'm a million miles away from others out there. But regardless of my role, background, privilege or outlook on life I am just human. And yes, I was hacked off by this plot twist. Like so many other supply chain companies in the North East, Optimus had been weaving and bobbing for survival for 6 years and just as the door seemed to be opening again the world stopped using our industry product…

I'm not one to panic , it's not in my nature, however I defy anyone not to have been walking an emotional tightrope in early to mid-2020 given all that was going on. When I look back at my broadcast emails to the Optimus team trying to keep folks up to speed, I remember frantically writing them at 5 past midnight of an evening, sleep could be put on the back burner surely because realistically how long can this thing actually last for?

Then at some point, I don’t quite remember when but certainly within the first few weeks I noticed the silence, the deafening silence of a muted world that just seemed to have halted…. I liked it; time to reflect and actually listen to my own thoughts. Time to enjoy things I'd done unconsciously before, running was always an incredibly boring means to a mediocre fitness end, all of a sudden it was me and the dog (and anyone else from the house who'd care to join!) against the world exploring route after route nearby. Work and family pressures remained in place but all social and kids’ extra-curricular pressures evaporated, there were few days where we had to be somewhere at a prescribed time. Sunday night Zoom pub-quizzes with extended family that we rarely phoned prior to COVID were suddenly the novelty highlight of the week and “SOS” WhatsApp groups were being set up left, right and centre, neighbours helping neighbours simply because they could. And work hadn't melted down. Optimus was merrily(ish) continuing its operations, suddenly from 80 separate locations, not without compromise but with relative technical ease; in no small way due to the amazing pro-active service we receive from ABC computing and the resilience of our incredible people. Maybe post COVID existence, with precautions, wasn't so bad after all?

So why do I use “Plot Twist” as terminology instead of disaster or catastrophe....... Well, what is a good plot twist? It comes as a shock, totally unexpected, and it paves the way for an alternative ending. In many ways, the plot twist is the point of the book or the movie! We are a species that has been supremely adept at reacting, at problem solving. Just look at how many vaccines have been developed and approved at unprecedented pace, it is a genuine scientific, manufacturing, logistical and planning triumph, the speed that vaccination is occurring.

Major issues have plagued our generation, not least Climate Change, Racism & Discrimination, Inequality, Technology / Social Media addiction and proliferation and so many others that we know exist but don't seem to have faced down with compassion. How many of these have been relegated, distracted from or worse still insighted through unscrupulous use of a dazzling array of global media vehicles in recent times. What if this monumental plot twist is an opportunity to re-write humankind’s next chapter?

Well, change starts small, so what has Optimus done?

First and foremost, we stuck unapologetically to the "work from home" message that the Scottish Government promoted early on, Why? Because we can, its within our gift, because we value personnel and their family’s safety and the minimisation of risk, because we don't want to put extra pressure on an incredible army of front-line workers. We recognised that working from home is an unavoidable compromise of both the office and the home, that one size never fits all, so we've tried to personalise our approach to home office requirements and risk. Working with every single person to seek practicality, comfort and safety in their newly inaugurated "home offices". We've tried to provide as much relevant information as we can to the team throughout in as timely a fashion as has been possible. We've kept a functioning and absolutely critical social committee throughout, organising events on behalf of the population and providing opportunities to connect. Some of the simplest of things that may not have registered in the office have provided solace and scope for team banter such as Fitness challenges, Photo competitions and Friday playlists. And who can forget the rapid fire weekly quiz on a Monday lunchtime to kick the week off, well I try to forget it given my dismal performances!

And lastly we’ve continued normalising the mental health conversation, the stresses of the last 12 months are largely untold as yet, and everyone is influenced by their unique experience and situation. We can hope that folks will reach out and talk, but “hope” is not a strategy, better that we are all a little bit more curious about how the person next to us is feeling and help them by asking.

So “what a difference a year makes”, Changes at work. Changes at home. Changes in society?

I believe that in time reflecting on this plot twist of humanity, we’ll have unearthed a treasure trove of as yet unknown positives, we’ll count the opportunities for improvements that the human race didn’t just pontificate about, we actually took and we will come together and lean on each other for support whilst we mourn the losses and acknowledge the hardships endured by so many.

Progress doesn’t come without loss, so in the memory of all that have given let’s take the opportunity that we now have to thrive better together with both hands.