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What a difference a year makes…..

For so many reasons 2020 will be an unforgettable year to everyone. The year when “social distancing”, “self-isolating” and “lockdown” became everyday vocabulary, hand sanitiser and facemasks were must-have accessories, and many of us embarked on a new journey of self-discovery,  acquiring numerous new skills including the essential art of “Zooming”. Here The Smart Training Company team members bring a personal perspective and talk about what has changed for them, what they have learnt and their thoughts on the year ahead.


The pandemic has affected everybody- whether young or old and for most of us it has involved a full rollercoaster of emotions. We all wish that the virus had never happened and certainly that it could all be over. However instead of focusing on a list of wants and regrets, I have really enjoyed a lot of what 2020 has brought with it.

Professionally it has been challenging; we have had to overhaul our business and adapt our training delivery completely. And personally, it has also meant a huge amount of change from which I think there have been some lessons.

Flexibility- When the schools closed for the first lockdown, my husband and I both worked at home and were able to take it in turns to work, and homeschool our 5-year old twin boys. However, with Mark having changed roles at work since the first lockdown and now being classed as a key worker, the situation is very different. I am now homeschooling during the day and doing most of my work in the evenings. This came about after several days of realising how difficult it was to do both at the same time! The approach that I have found works best is to start the day with a structured plan and to not be afraid of breaking this depending on how we are feeling as the day goes on. This way, we get as much done as possible whilst also keeping our sanity!

The Year Ahead- I think that the world of learning and development has changed beyond recognition. We have seen the adoption and success of virtual training at such a pace that we have moved forward 5- 10 years in the last 10 months. The benefits to Hospitality businesses will be huge; team members will be able to learn as and when they choose, the content will be bite-size and can be done anywhere. Live sessions can be much shorter and tagged onto the start or end of a shift which will mean flexibility, greater efficiency and cost-savings.

The Importance of Training- I think we now all realise that it will be a very gradual process to re-open the country. Employers will need to consider the importance of training within their reopening plans; many of their team will not have worked for 12 months and so will effectively need to be re-inducted into a business that will have changed.

I long for the days when we can host friends and family once again; to have a houseful of noisy children running around the garden whilst us parents enjoy a relaxing drink and share amusing stories of our recent parenting wins (and fails!). In the meantime, I intend to go on valuing these once-in-a lifetime lockdown experiences of being fully involved in their schooling, more “cuddletime,” fun and games.


2020 was set to be a good year workwise with some new clients coming on board and some exciting projects imminent, then it was all change. It quickly became apparent that we were looking ahead at a very different landscape and we could be certain it was ever changing.

Day to day, I’m office based at home and have been for years, so no change there. The upside was no travelling! This created a better work-life balance which I still enjoy and the upside of more time with my family. As a SMART team working in the hospitality sector, we wanted to be human through all of this, so we created various support tools, broadened our knowledge, shared research, and we talked about and shared our stories through videos and blogs. We have adapted and survived – always putting people first. We have all supported each other personally and professionally and we also welcomed new team members to the fold to broaden our experience, knowledge and support for our clients and industry colleagues.

Personally, I felt it was important to have a routine every day. I became an NHS responder and helped with deliveries for my local shop. I walked every day and then went back to swimming when the local leisure centre was open.  I took the opportunity to utilise free online learning courses.  For work, Sarah, Jo and I invested in training on Zoom to ensure we were able to transfer face to face learning to an online platform. That was an adjustment for me as I tend to gesticulate and move about a lot in a training room! But it does mean life can go on in learning and development and still be lots of fun!

My partner continued to work, based at home and my 16 year old daughter waited patiently for her ‘predicted’ GCSE results so she could find out if her aspirations for sixth form and beyond would be possible. Thankfully this all worked out and she is now very experienced in having Teams online school lessons! My daughter colours her hair regularly in a vast variety of colours and I have enjoyed her experimenting on me!

I’ve missed going to the theatre, cinema, gigs and festivals but have a lot of rolled over tickets and experiences to look forward to! I’ve made more effort to keep in touch with family, friends and colleagues and appreciate the importance of what human contact gives us all, now more than ever. I am looking forward to some face-to-face meet ups and a few reunion parties when we are allowed!

From a professional development perspective, I finished my Level 2 Counselling Skills Course in May 2020 and am now part way through Level 3. I have been able to appreciate and use what I have already learnt and know this path for me will be vital to offer support in hospitality workplaces in the future. Never more so than now, has it been so important to look after our well-being and to regularly ‘check-in’ and support our family, friends and colleagues.

Jo W

Wow! What a difference the last year has made to all of us. Not just me and my family, my associates and our business, our beloved industry and our clients, but the whole country and everyone throughout the entire world. Sometimes the only thing that keeps me buoyant is understanding that we are all in this together and that we are experiencing the same feelings of uncertainty about the future and what the next few years will bring. It’s been a very surreal and difficult 12 months, but it’s good to take stock of all that we’ve been through and appreciate the positives to come out of it.

When I think back to this time last year I was either going to and from London on the East Coast Line or I was stuck on some motorway in yet another traffic jam. I must have spent around 4 hours a day, 4 days a week travelling from one venue to the next to deliver another 6 hour workshop. Fast forward 12 months and I am now stuck at home, 24/7, juggling homeschooling with running Live Online Learning Sessions and so many Zoom conference calls! So reflecting on my personal work experience, what positives will I take from this time?

The first has to be taking our training workshops and developing them into Live Online Learning Session (LOLs). Investing in my own personal development and understanding how to create engaging content and interactive syndicates sessions and activities that can all be delivered in this new virtual world.

Also, from a work perspective, another positive has been the development of bespoke training materials for some of our clients who want to engage and train their teams themselves during this time. I have loved creating new training material incorporating fun activities. It’s been so invaluable to some of our clients to have this training material created for them with full training notes and a one to one coaching session to guide them through the process.

So yes, what a difference a year makes. I think for me this next 12 months will be about creating and delivering more online content, as there will be more demand for creating bespoke training content and materials so that our clients can confidently deliver their training to their teams themselves.

Jo A

Being already set up to work from home, arguably my daily working life didn’t initially change significantly other than the usual peace I used to enjoy was drastically interrupted with all four  family members now joining me at home! Initially, my working day helped provide me with much needed structure and purpose, broken up intermittently by daily Joe Wicks workouts, lots of baking, regular dog-walks,  and a couch to 5K challenge with two of my children! Webinars and Zoom calls became the norm, and as time passed by, the need for that visual connection with colleagues and peers became ever critical. I started craving face to face contact, an excuse to  “dress up” in something other than gym wear or dog walking attire, and to meet colleagues in person. I developed working relationships with colleagues, who 12 months on, I have never even met in person, yet feel I have known them for years now! The constant ease of 24/7 accessibility meant Zoom calls were going into the night, often then personal enabling connection with friends and family, and therefore the distinction between working and downtime became increasingly hazy.

Productivity definitely increased in the first few months – both on a professional and personal basis. I valued my “alone” time at my desk away from everyone else so worked longer hours, but also enjoyed being able to have more time to embark on DIY and gardening projects outside. However as time has gone on, the novelty of being at home has started to fade, and I now crave contact with friends and family, and being able to do normal things in large groups, going on holiday and having a party!

Almost 12 months on, and I have a whole new regard for human contact. I often pick up the phone to talk to others rather than sending a message, and in between lockdowns often jumped at the chance to go into normally mundane in-person meetings! Whilst working practices may never go completely back to what they were, I do believe that there will be a new found appreciation for team interaction, communication and well-being, and really hope that going through this challenging time will make us more grateful for what we have. Ooh…and I can’t wait to be able to give friends and family a hug!


This time last year, life was busy with driving thousands of miles, staying away in hotels at least twice a week and looking after my dog Ben at weekends.   2020 was looking good with lots of compliance training for hotel groups and a variety of trips were booked including a safari in Kenya.  Within a month starting in February 2020, my diary was empty and during the first lockdown, I had created a long list of tasks to complete before we were back to normal! If only I had known then, what I know now! This included painting the office and developing a website for holiday home owners for health and safety.

I also joined the team at The Smart Training Company helping to develop the FREE out of lockdown thinking tool.  This was a huge turning point for me as being self employed over the last 10 years, I was used to doing everything on my own and now I had a fabulous team of ladies who I could rely on to provide a listening ear and lots of creativity.

My skills improved dramatically from creating online courses, zoom meetings,  entering the world of Microsoft teams and even cutting my own hair!

My dog Ben has been by my side all year, I have found that walking has been my sanity and 2021 my focus is on looking after my physical and mental health.