Employee CommsHR

Working  (undercover!) Remotely.  A Personal Perspective of a Whole New World.


 — July 27th, 2021

Working  (undercover!) Remotely.  A Personal Perspective of a Whole New World.

In 2017, way before the pandemic, we made a decision to close our office based outside Woking, about twenty five miles south of London.

It wasn’t an easy decision and there was much angst, but for a variety of reasons our office was becoming more of a headache than a necessity.

Like many small businesses we’d picked our location because it was close to the directors’ homes and it had excellent transport links.

The M25 motorway was ten minutes away and Heathrow airport and Waterloo train station were only 30  minutes away on a good day.

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But over time people, including us, had moved. By 2017, all of the team were an hour away, and some much more.

We also found that fewer clients were visiting us in our office, and wanted us to meet us in theirs (which we preferred because you pick up so much from being in clients’ offices).

We were also making hiring decisions based on people’s ability to travel to our office which didn’t seem the right priority; neither was recruiting people to provide office cover.

Oh and Catherine, our ‘number cruncher’ was constantly querying the costs incurred including rent, rates, cleaning and why did we need to have a gardener to plant pots?

We knew we needed storage, meetings, and ‘collaborative’ space. But that could be anywhere and didn’t actually require an office.

Conversations with colleagues were positive but we were ‘shy’, about letting people know about our new plan.  And what was that plan?

We invested in tech (including Microsoft Teams and a Dropbox cloud storage approach), sorted out what to do about post and phones, cleared out the office, hired a document retrieval company (for those people like my business partner, Lisa who can’t bear to throw things out) and started working from home.

We built-in weekly team video meetings, and bi-monthly face-to-face with food thrown in.  And we just got on with it!

In some ways, it wasn’t a big stretch for us as we’d always done some remote working. But the new tech, as everyone has now experienced, was a game-changer. By the time the pandemic broke, we’d been home-based for two years.

It’s important to mention that home working in non-pandemic times is very different from during a pandemic! We’ve all experienced the fight for Wi-Fi, space to work, home-schooling, and other demands which can make homeworking a little stressful!

If you’ve only experienced home working during a pandemic, you’ve probably not experienced it at its best.

So, what have we learned about changing our working model?

#1. Take people with you

We all know that many people find change hard.  So consult and talk about it as much as possible. And listen. The change will mean different things to different people, and you can’t possibly fix everything.

One of the things we miss most about the office is being part of a local community.  We knew the bakers, dry cleaners, and the coffee shops, and were involved in the village as much as we could be.

#2. Most people need people around them

We know some of our best work at HarknessKennett is achieved when we work together as a team and someone says; “have you thought about this?”. We get more buzz out of that than someone sending us an email saying “you’ve used the wrong font”.

So, build in time for collaboration. In an office, so much of that can happen naturally. But working remotely you need to make an effort to catch up with people. It needs to be done so people don’t feel they’re being checked up upon

Plan interactions into your schedule. And experiment with some of the social stuff. We did a virtual wine tasting and it worked a treat as a Christmas party.

#3. Do something beyond the day job

If your culture permits, allow people to do something different outside work and recognize them for it.  From James’s earliest days at The Body Shop we encouraged volunteering. It’s a joy, and we all volunteer, whether at vaccine centers or with elderly relatives, providing each of us with important face-to-face social interaction especially during the initial days of the pandemic.

#4. Helping your organization adjust

With so much talk about hybrid working, you can’t adopt a one size fits all approach.  We’d recommend creating some personal profiles; take time to think about the different employees you have and articulate their experience.

Reflect on the positives of the situation and acknowledge the difficulties. If working processes can be adapted to make the employee experience better make sure you tell everyone what’s being done and suggest how people can manage this better for themselves.

It takes time to adapt to any kind of change, and hybrid working is no exception.  As we all begin to settle into the changes to our working patterns, or indeed for some going back to our original ways of working, we need to keep talking; about how we feel, what works, and what doesn’t.

And throughout listen and recognize that for many of us these are the biggest changes we’ll ever experience in our working lives.

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