It’s been a funny old year hasn’t it? (apologies if that’s the 973rd time you’ve heard that this week). A pandemic wasn’t something any of us had factored into our plans for 2020 and considering, I think we’ve dealt with it all pretty damn well.
Since we first locked down in March, we’ve certainly learned a lot. So, what are our five key take-outs so far?
1. The office isn’t sacred (or is it?)
If you’d asked us all a year ago whether we could up-sticks and work from home at the drop of a hat, we’d have laughed in your face. “Ha!” we’d exclaim, “of course not”.
The office was held in high regard, a sacred space where ideas were born, leaders made, and deals brokered. The daily ceremony of chatting while the kettle boiled, swapping ideas at the printer and perching on the edge of a colleague’s desk could not possibly be sacrificed; it was a vital cog in the office machine; the fuel than fanned the flame of creativity. Shut ourselves away in our homes? No sir! It’s the office life for us.
Oh, look at us now.
As it turns out, we can function without the office just fine. Productivity levels are healthy, our output is steady, and the sanctity of the boiling kettle remains intact, even for a solitary brew. The physical office may be taking a much-needed sabbatical, but the virtual office has stepped in to service our changing needs with relative aplomb. We have learned, through some teething problems, that the digital space is a valid one, with its own rituals and routines. We’ve traded printer chat for Slack, desk-perching for a quick slide into the DMs. But it hasn’t come without its difficulties. Namely, collaboration.
When you work in the creative industries, collaboration is a crucial tool in your armoury. Traditionally, this would mean holing yourself up in a room with your colleagues and not leaving until you’d squeezed every ounce of creativity and ingenuity from your veins. Now what? A zoom? It’s hardly conducive to divine inspiration.
Be that as it may, we must and do persevere. Finding new ways of working is as worthwhile as it is challenging. When we finally make our return to the physical office, we can tentatively resume creative collaboration with the nervous excitement of a toddler entering a ball pit but, until then, the humble zoom will have to suffice.
2. Supporting employee wellbeing is essential
The last seven months have been, to say the least, a little odd. For some, it’s been a case of simply working from home, a bit of a drag but quite nice to wear your slippers to work. For others, especially those that live on their own, it’s been incredibly lonely.
Prior to the pandemic, when we saw our colleagues every day, ensuring their wellbeing was certainly easier – noticing a downturned gaze, a shuffle, a reluctance join in; the opportunity to offer a gentle word of encouragement or flash a friendly smile. With a huge chunk of the workforce now sealed away being a laptop screen, holding space for mental health has become a whole lot harder. But not impossible.
When your employees are scattered far and wide, it’s critical to check in. An email, a phone call, a token of gratitude for their ongoing commitment. Further to this, we need to offer flexibility, not just for our mental health, but for those with children or additional responsibilities that mean a ‘normal’ 9 – 5:30 just isn’t viable anymore. Greater understanding and respect for the fact that we all have lives and other responsibilities outside of work is a must to ensure employees feel safe, valued and heard.
3. Seeing isn’t always believing
By all accounts, zoom’s story over the past 7 months has been one of rip-roaring success. Those that were savvy enough to buy shares prior to the pandemic are laughing all the way to the bank. But here’s an unpopular opinion for you: zoom isn’t all that.
I know, I know, bring on the pitchfork wielding mobs, but hear me out. In the confusing early days of lockdown, zoom was a godsend, I’ll admit that. Connecting a diaspora of reluctant homeworkers, it meant the daily briefing was back in business, we could brainstorm to our hearts’ content, and PowerPoint could continue to plague our daily lives. But, no shade on the world’s most popular video conferencing service, is it just me or did it start to get in the way?
What started as one zoom, became three, then four, until by week three we were on zooms near constantly from 9am, right the way through until 6pm. The briefing, the pre-briefing, the sidebar to plan the pre-briefing. When were we supposed to get the work done?
There seemed to be an undercurrent of needing to be seen to be believed, showing up and speaking up to prove your value in the workplace – how can my employer know my worth if they can’t see or hear me? We weren’t used to working in silos, we didn’t know how to benchmark our success without constant interaction. We couldn’t just lean over our desk anymore and ask for our neighbour’s opinion, we had to formalise this interaction in the form of a video call, which took what would have been a five-minute conversation and turned it into an hour-long debate.
As lockdown continued and we all settled into homeworking, the anxiety dissipated. People begun to trust that they could work in their own little bubble, surfacing only occasionally to sense check before returning to the peace of an hour or more’s uninterrupted working.
So, what have we learned? We’ve learned to validate our own opinions and trust in our own thinking. If anything, remote working has helped fortify a cohort of more independent thinkers and encouraged employers and senior management to give their staff greater autonomy when it comes to decision making and shaping ideas. Let’s not allow this to fade away when we return to the office, let’s continue to nurture a culture of encouragement and ensure that the quietest voices still get heard.
4. Process is king
Eyes roll, brows raise, large sighs are heard everywhere. You heard me: Process is power, people! You might not want to hear it, but if we’ve learned anything from lockdown, it’s that a watertight process is a precious commodity and not to be taken lightly.
Sure, in the office you can get away with bypassing the briefing document, you can sidestep the diary and pull someone into a meeting room whenever you fancy. But, when you’re at home, you’re afforded no such liberties. Without rock-solid ways of working, it’s really tough to coordinate and maximise everyone’s time remotely. No shared diary? Lawless. No scheduled catchups? Anarchy. Booking resource on a first come, first served basis? Utter mayhem.
Those that have made the smooth transition into home working, the ones that sat smugly sipping their freshly brewed coffee and watching the rest of the world meltdown on Twitter, were the ones that had their processes licked. They knew who was doing what, when without going on an office wide manhunt. They knew where the first aid kit was kept. They knew when you were out of office at the dentist.
Don’t know where to start? In today’s spiffy modern world, there are even tools to help you run a tight ship, like Slack, Asana, Monday.com, Trello, InVision and a whole host of others.
Get organised, get happy. Simple.
5. Not all lockdowns are created equal
You could be forgiven for thinking, given the wealth of long-reads, podcasts and various other cultural consumables out there, that the pandemic has been the great unifier. Power-mums on six figure salaries are back at home, commanding the boardroom and the playroom in one fell swoop; retired medical professionals are rearranging their faces into expressions of kindly consternation as they return to the surgery; teachers turned delivery drivers are out en masse ensuring no child misses out on their free school meals; all in the pursuit of the greater good. This is not to be sniffed at, the British public certainly have risen to the occasion, keeping morale and sourdough supplies high, but don’t be fooled. There is a particular picture of a white, middle-class pandemic that we see in the media, on Instagram and Twitter. Yes, we are all weathering the same storm, but we are certainly not all in the same boat.
You may be fearful of another national lockdown, but there are people for whom this never stopped being their daily reality: the elderly, disabled and vulnerable.
You may feel uncomfortable when someone edges into your personal space to swipe the last yellow-stickered pack of honey roast ham in the supermarket, but you haven’t been out facing the risk of infection every day since the pandemic began. I’m not just talking about the undoubtedly courageous efforts of NHS workers but refuse collectors, cleaners, food factory workers, postal workers; those that don’t have the luxury of being able to work from home.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the importance of compassion, of empathy, of appreciating our fellow citizens. So, don’t be fooled into thinking that everyone’s pandemic has only been as tough as yours, everyone’s story is different and things outside of your virtual office might not look quite the same.
Want to know more? If you want to chat to our planning team about software solutions for home working, tips and tools for remote working productivity, or recipes for our best bakes, drop us a line.