We’re All In This Together but How Are We Coping?

By Melissa Jackson

It’s a huge ask isn’t it? Being told to work from home for the foreseeable future? Love it or hate it, it’s the new “normal”, but how are people adapting/evolving/diversifying to accommodate the changes brought about by Coronavirus and the “obligation” to WFH? We asked a handful of people, in different roles, to share their experiences.

Mark Walley, CEO at STEP (The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners), said: “Week one WFH was a novelty and there was great camaraderie as everyone adapted. Week two got tougher as the realities of the lockdown began to hit home, especially the mental wellbeing of our people as they wrestled the conflicting demands of partners, children, other family members, over-use of broadband, table space and, in some cases, the isolation that WFH brought. We have had practical and pragmatic discussions about flexing working times, with some agreeing with partners to split the day into two ‘shifts’ so each takes a turn with childcare whilst the other gets quiet time and space to work. Teams are meeting via video conference each day for a catch up, all line managers are checking in with team members regularly, social media groups have been established for the less ‘businessy’ stuff. There is a company-wide ‘water cooler’ video meeting twice a week that people can drop in to for a chat (we’ve talked gardening, TV, music, pets, anything but work really!). Team members are also taking turns circulating a daily song (you tube link), we are remembering to celebrate birthdays and even have a leavers lunch by video coming up!”

A press officer for a major charity organisation said: “I often work one day a week from home. The current situation has made me realise how different it is to work an occasional day (in a week) from home as opposed to full-time from home. It’s much more effort to keep communication going – you can’t just lean over the desk or round the side of a monitor to ask something. It’s also imperative that the technology works!  We do have one permanent home-worker in the team. This has made me think about how we can be more inclusive in future when things go back to normal. A very minor point: I’m not reading as much! I never thought I’d see the benefits of the Northern Line as ‘me time’!”

A BBC Radio producer said: “As there are thousands of BBC programme staff and only a few laptops for hire, there has been a big lag in their ability to make home-working work.  We have changed our programme content to minimise work, so no recording or editing.  I set up a rota for our team reducing our days in the building.  We use a lot of WhatsApp calls, emails, google docs.  The bits that don’t work is lack of kit - I have an iPad as my husband is working at home too and using our sole laptop.  Access to BBC online platforms has escalated beyond the capacity for the network to cope, so we are having to limit it. Teamwork remains, but obstacles mean it is more difficult and stressful. it’s not enjoyable!  Part of being in a team is bouncing ideas off each other, it’s also enjoyable to interact with your work family - most of the time - and a welcome break from the demands of home!”

James, who works for an investment management firm on the trading desk, said: “Working prior to the virus was always office based and also very collaborative. Some things have changed. I have become more ruthless about managing how I communicate with people. I have purged my Inbox and requested that a number of counter-parties take me off non-essential email lists, so now I only really get emails that are important. My team has become better at email communication. Emails are now better structured and clearer. We are also mindful of minimising email traffic so we only copy in people who need to be copied in. We use video conferencing too, which has been surprisingly effective. Indeed, we all feel the need to speak to colleagues regularly, even if there is no purpose behind the call, as we all miss the human interaction that the office encourages.”

A senior communications executive said: “We are lucky to be in a position where we can enact remote working, although it doesn’t come without challenges. We already utilised online meeting platforms for offsite meetings, so the format was already familiar. There is certainly an additional barrier to the human conversations when you are missing that face-to-face contact; the subtleties of body language and being able to read a room can be lost. On a team level, we need to overcommunicate, as for many, remote working is totally new – we need to work harder to ensure people feel part of a team.”

Founder and CEO of Zappi, an automated insights platform, Stephen Phillips, said: “I was dreading working from home - the distractions of wife and kids mostly - but also the lack of discipline and focus that being in an office gives me. I have adapted surprisingly well and now actually don't mind it. I don't have a desk at home (so have ordered one from Amazon) but otherwise seem to do what I normally do, which is sit in meeting all day, but now they are on Zoom. In fact, I am probably having even more meetings.

Being an international company, the meetings have in some ways got better. Before, you may have had four people in a room in London and then one on their phone from Boston and one in a conference room in Capetown. Having everyone on Zoom makes it much easier to manage the meeting and you get less of the London bias.

Finally, I have started all hands meetings on Fridays for 45 minutes where we highlight people from across the company, how they are coping and how business is going. It brings people together from across the company and people seem to be loving it. We even started last week doing formal Fridays so I wore a shirt and tie for the meeting.”

Rebecca Salsbury, Deputy Director of Platform, BBC (industry: tech/media) said: “Our experience so far has meant that we’re adjusting to, but not overwhelmed by, the changes. It’s still a little soon for us to know the impact on us and our productivity – but I have noticed a lovely upside: we are getting to know each other personally a bit more. After all, we’re getting a peek at each other’s home life (or at least our homes) every day! This is an added benefit at a time when we’re taking care to look after our own and our colleagues’ well-being. I’m personally refusing to refer to this time of the restrictions as ‘the new normal’. For me, the new normal will come later – after the restrictions are lifted, once we’ve had a chance to take stock. I’m certain that we won’t go back to the same way of working as before – it’s too soon to say how much different it’ll be, but based on my experience of the past few weeks, I know we’ll adapt – and I welcome a new and renewed flexibility.

Jemima, MD of a Leadership and Coaching company, said: “I have a morning team meeting and a 5pm meeting via Zoom every day. We plan work, discuss work in progress, debate and solve issues, and generally have an excellent communication exchange. I think it's fair to say I have more effective communication (getting things done!) than the general office exchanges. Throughout the day I call or Zoom individuals or sub teams and we are in touch frequently. My team knows I have a 'call me whenever you need' policy - if I am busy, I will get back ASAP. I worry about one or two being socially isolated (young people living on their own) so I try to also have more light-hearted chats with them too - catching up on gossip, chit chat, anything non-work related.

A clear theme at the end of two weeks’ remote working is this. If you spend a lot of time on Zoom/Video calls it can get very intense. The pace of working is much more intense too. There is no escape from pressures of work (eg no wander outside at lunch to the sandwich shop, or sitting on tube or train on way home). However, we have the infrastructure and team spirit to put a huge effort in to adapt and make this work.”