OPINION7 December 2021

Awards in the time of Covid-19

Awards Covid-19 Opinion UK

Awards ceremonies have had to alter significantly in the wake of Covid-19. Katie McQuater recounts some of her experiences chairing two years of virtual Research Live awards.

gold star with arrows pointing to it among black stars

It’s a strange time for awards schemes. While the glittering ceremony may not be taking place, there is still a sense of anticipation and excitement – with agencies working especially hard to stand out in these uncertain times. You might even say that winning awards takes on new meaning.

2021 marked my second year of chairing the Research Live awards judging panel for the MRS Awards. It also marked the second year of conducting the whole process virtually, with the judges reading a number of submissions ahead of a lengthy virtual meeting to discuss and deliberate who the winners should be.

The Research Live categories cover awards including agency of the year, best place to work and young researcher of the year. The exception is the innovation of the year category, which is judged separately in a Dragons’ Den style session with finalists – again, taking place remotely this year. I’ll defer to the finalists on whether that’s more or less nerve-wracking than presenting in person.

It was great to see such strong submissions to the Research Live categories this year, especially considering the period of transition and change the industry is going through.

The judges were impressed by the resilience and creativity of the sector in challenging times, with agencies showing off their ability to adapt and respond to rapidly changing circumstances and achieving strong results for clients.

While the industry continues to face challenges, insight has undergone something of a re-evaluation within many organisations over the past 18 months or so as they see first-hand the importance of accessing up-to-date information on customers and the market in general, and this was highlighted by the quality of award submissions.

However, what struck me most about this year’s submissions was the investments research businesses are making to foster wellbeing in their staff and build flexible approaches.

The shift to home working last year showed what could be achieved under tremendously challenging circumstances, but now there’s an understanding that we can affect more positive changes in our workplaces out of choice rather than necessity.

Many people are keen not to lose out on the flexibility – and in some cases, the reappraisal of work/life balance – they have experienced during this period. As such, many organisations are examining existing practices and taking a hybrid approach to work as offices have reopened.

Reassuring, too, was the strength of staff development highlighted in the submissions, with companies not resting on their laurels and taking more steps to ensure they retain and engage their employees.

It’s clear that this has become a serious priority for the sector and that organisations are not shying away from applying a forward-thinking approach to the way they work and the way in which they look after their staff.

As the sector moves further into recovery territory, I hope mental wellbeing and flexibility will continue to factor at the top of business priorities, because there is a huge opportunity to reset and reconsider work in a way that benefits everyone. In fact, I’d say it’s not just a ‘nice-to-have’ but an imperative.

Thank you to the wonderful Research Live judges this year and well done to all the finalists – with very special congratulations to the highly commended and winners.

The full list of 2021 MRS Awards can be found here

Katie McQuater is editor of Research Live and Impact magazine.