Working from home – what we’ve learned about doing business through lockdown and beyond
Simon Kemp, Partner
When lockdown was announced Connected Consulting, a small business specialising in tech recruitment, was lucky to be able to continue working without any hiatus at all. All our data and programmes have always been the cloud and all our employees already had portable work devices so we had no major undertakings, as many firms did, to equip everyone and make everything required accessible remotely.
As lockdown loomed, we asked staff to make sure they had what they needed to work from home. When it actually arrived, we asked them to take home everything else from the office they would need to be comfortable working home for a sustained period – things such as chairs, extra screens and keyboards. We wanted to be sure that no one was struggling with a workspace on top of worrying about their health, family welfare and new daily logistical challenges like getting food.
So, without any major logistical hiccups at least, the big “Working From Home” began.
Confident that business continuity was assured, and having checked in with all our people on their health and happiness, desking options and home set-ups, we began the strange few months that has been Lockdown 2020.
The first thing we did as a management team was to instigate a daily team video meeting, and it has been an incredibly valuable addition to our daily routine. Although the meeting is not always perfect and it has needed to consciously evolve, a daily get-together gives everyone an opportunity to talk about things that may interest or impact other members of the company in a proper forum in a way we didn’t do before. We also chat about what we’ve all been up to outside of work. From a personal point of view, and as a long-term home worker, I really appreciate this meeting – I have never spent so much time with the team. It also allows us as managers to see and ask how people are doing emotionally and physically – as well as in terms of work – and we have used this forum over the weeks to reassure staff when necessary and to keep them abreast of our plans and intentions.
Interestingly, some staff tell us they feel better appraised now of what’s going on than they used to when going into the office every day, when we tended to rely on informal and ad-hoc communications. It’s easy to think that a small number of people working together in a small space would be communicating and interacting well, but we’ve learned that time put aside for work and personal communications helps people feel involved, valued and able to contribute, in turn keeping up engagement.
Of course, there’s a lot of speculation in the media as to how office-based businesses may embrace working from home long-term, and there are daily news stories about large corporates closing offices or changing employee work from home policy. Gartner reports that 48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after Covid-19, as against 30% before the pandemic. I question that this is necessarily the right approach for everyone.
From an employer point of view (and a recruiter to boot), the proven success of home-based working has the undoubted appeal of opening the doors to a wider candidate pool, reducing the need to find talent within a limited geographic area, and completely changing the possibilities for everyone. There are opportunities to reduce costs of premises and overheads. But equally, there are challenges. We need to make sure our channels of communication are clear and functional, that staff are happy, engaged and productive; that they take breaks and don’t feel they have to be permanently available; that they won’t develop any health problems from inadequate or incorrect desking; that we devise appropriate ways to assess and recognise achievements and developments; that we continue to identify training needs and provide support; we need to consider how to, onboard remote workers (if applicable), to preserve our brand values, to preserve a genuine sense of team.
From an employee point of view, there are obvious attractions: time and money to be saved from not commuting, increased flexibility on childcare and other commitments, and opportunity to pursue other interests in previously lost break and travel times. On the other hand, the lines can become blurred between home and work, negatively impacting home life; social interaction is much reduced; the spare room might be needed for a vising aunt or a new baby; winter may not be so much fun at home as the summer has been.
Of course, priorities and preferences will vary from person to person – and they may change over time. I think that any policy we and similar companies look at adopting needs to be informed and flexible, probably offering a degree of blend as well as a degree of choice. Two-way communications will be key to finding the balance, and employee welfare will be a priority.
I think one thing is for certain, though. The challenges presented by lockdown have forced us to look at things differently and to implement new management techniques – and overall I would say that has been a good thing.
I’m looking forward to taking what we have learned and turning it into a great, new way of working together, however that may look.
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