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Hive Mind: Three Lessons from the Humble Honeybee

...that may help during Coronavirus, by Mhairi MacLeod

Let me start with some good news - Coronavirus is giving nature a break.

While reports of dolphins in Venetian canals were quickly debunked as ‘fake news’, the images of clear blue water and a menagerie of marine life returning post-gondola are more difficult to refute.

This got me thinking, what can we – agency owners, marketeers and in-house teams – learn from the resilience of nature whilst we navigate Coronavirus?

Or for the purpose of this blog: what can honeybees, in particular, teach us?

Cue three remarkably relevant bee-facts:

1. Recognise when you’re a scout bee & ‘wiggle wiggle’

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Scout bees – like all bees – have an integral role to play.

From scoping out pollen to identifying locations for prospective new beehives, it’s in the DNA of the scout to seek out information and opportunity for the betterment of the colony.

And this is where the ‘wiggle’ comes in. Through a series of intricate movements – considered a wiggle-based dance – scout bees perform a download of their findings to the rest of the hive.

 During Coronavirus, and in the months that follow, it’s vital that we recognise when we too are scout bees.

 From that call with HMRC when you found out they were taking guidance from businesses on realistic payment terms for VAT (true story), to the discovery of a straight-talking podcast from the team at Cactus – which contains a must-do Coronavirus agency checklist (listen here) – every day during the pandemic will present new information.

It’s up to us, however, to share these insights.

So, do as the scout bee does and ‘wiggle wiggle’ on LinkedIn, on Twitter, to your colleagues via Google Hangouts, within WhatsApp groups, or – better still – send them to the Marketing Society who will syndicate your findings across their channels.

You don’t know when another scout bee’s wiggle could be just the information you’re looking for.

 2. Prepare to ‘Overwinter’ with your colony

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When faced with a harsh winter, honeybees take to ‘overwintering’, a process that sees the entire colony cluster together to keep warm; entering a period of stasis where all unnecessary expenditure of energy is suspended for the overall good of the hive.

So, what does this tell us in the face of Coronavirus? Three things.

Firstly, it’s within our agencies, departments and networks that we’ll find the warmth and protection we need to weather the months ahead. Be this an in-house team or a collective of freelance creatives, start building clusters for mutual support.

Secondly, if there ever was a time to master expenditure forecasting and cashflow, now is it. There will always be low hanging fruit – areas where you can better keep gas in the tank by spending smarter and others where you may be able to split bigger bills – like a quarterly rent payment – into smaller monthly chunks.

For those facing a more sobering outlook, consider making use of the raft of government grants, loans and furlough schemes, as well as investigating rates relief where applicable.

Lastly, what this isn’t the time for, is making rash decisions. Like the bees, in the face of depleted abundance, entering a period of stasis can insulate against the kind of high intensity, snap judgement calls you may later come to regret.

Remember: Coronavirus is temporary. Instead, focus first and foremost on the health of yourself and those around you. You will – after all – need this to be able to enjoy the sunnier months ahead.

3. Festoon’ to rebuild & restore

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As world-famous honey makers, bees aren’t short of attention from those of a sweet-toothed persuasion. But should a beehive become damaged by the hand of man, or paw of bear, the bees have a sensible solution: ‘festooning’.

This tactical response sees the bees link ‘hands’, forming a living chain that fills physical gaps in the side of the hive; enabling restoration to begin.  

The same can be said for knowledge gaps. Realistically, no one person has all the skills or tools – from HR to accountancy, IT to employment law – required to tackle Coronavirus from a business perspective.

Who is in your festoon? Where are there missing links that could become critical in the months ahead?

Recommendations are a good place to start. We highly value the guidance of Gayle Templeton for HR, Lucy Gannon at Blackadders for all things legal and Chris Masson and the team at AAB when you need the calm-spoken reassurance of a numbers person.

As for what’s in the toolkit, be sure to take forecasting tool, Float, up on their offer of a free trial, as well as freemium level access to Zoom for video conferencing and, of course, remote pub quizzing.

And finally…

It’s in our nature as marketeers to be resilient, creative and relish the challenge.

At LUX, we’re choosing to view the next few months as a ‘change in brief’; an opportunity to pivot, think differently and have the kind of impact that would not have been possible even two weeks ago. Take supporting our client, Lidl, to deliver thousands of bags of fruit and veg to frontline NHS workers as testament to this.

Ultimately, it’s in your nature to do the same.

If, at the very least, you are now intrigued by the world of bees, I can highly recommend – the aptly titled – ‘The Bees’, by Laline Paull for must-read fact-based fiction during self-isolation.

Get your copy from – the ironically titled – Hive, which enables you to buy books from local, independent booksellers and is set to reopen shortly following a surge in demand.


Written by Mhairi MacLeod, Director & Co-founder at LUX