The great home working experiment

There’s been plenty written already about how the current pandemic has affected the way we live and do business.  In some ways I don’t want to add to that noise. But it is useful to reflect – so this post looks at working through lockdown, and what it’s meant for Freshleaf.

Earlier this year, as the spectre of lockdown went from being a possible to a probable, businesses began to make plans for remote working, and we were no different. Could we work from home? What were the limitations, the likely roadblocks? What would we need to do to make it successful? From a business perspective, remote working is eminently possible for us. Our trade is our skills. And the use of those skills only requires ourselves, and various types of digital assets, which can in the main be accessed from anywhere.  But home working isn’t something we’ve really ever done before, so when we closed the office in early March we were all thrown into an unexpected remote working experiment.

To begin with, WFH was novel, different. It felt a bit like a non-uniform day at school: really still business as usual, but with an exciting element of skirting some of the rules.  Our project management and collaboration tools made it easy, and productivity seemed unaffected.

A handful of weeks in, I did a survey to see how the team were taking to it. The results were really positive. No commute, more time with family, productivity as good if not better than in the office, less stress, feeling healthier. More ability to be flexible with hours, even better work/life balance. Given that WFH had been forced upon us, the outcomes seemed perhaps better than we could have hoped for. There was some concern about reduced communication & collaboration – but there seemed to be a feeling that we could work on that, and it would likely take some adjustment. We had video calling and Slack and we can always pick up the phone! Plus, it wouldn’t be forever. Or at least that’s what I felt, anyway.

But as time went on, the novelty of WFH began to pale. Sure, we have two ‘all-team’ catch-ups per day, as well as general and personal Slack channels. We try to pick up the phone to discuss issues as we would if we were all in the same room, and we try to share a bit about our days. We do quizzes and share silliness and things of interest on Slack. Everyone’s got more comfortable with video calling and it’s nice not to have to commute. But there’s no disputing that we aren’t anywhere near as connected as we were when we all worked together – actually together, in the same room.  Slack doesn’t support chit-chat and banter in the same way as you experience in an open-plan office, and no amount of effort or workarounds can really replace that. Remote working - as it turns out – can make you feel incredibly remote.

WFH is often seen as a perk, but this experiment has shown that you can have too much of a good thing. I normally love my job, but by July, after five months of lockdown, remote working was sucking all the joy out of it – and I could hear the same thing in the voices of my team when I spoke with them. The support of a team keeps you engaged with what you’re doing, provides a sense of joint endeavour, and makes you laugh even when you’re doing those awful dull tasks that make up part of every job.  Without that, it can feel like a real grind.

It affects everyone differently, of course, but for many of us, when we re-opened the office in September we breathed a big sigh of relief; reconnected and remembered why we enjoyed our jobs in the first place.

Of course, now we’re back at home again, and I wish I could say that we’d learned something last time that would make it easier this time. But at least this time there’s light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a vaccine. And like with every experience in life, all we can do is this: be grateful for what we have (a business that hasn’t been wrecked by COVID), leave behind the negatives and take the positives with us. We will work remotely more often in future – but we will do so by choice, and we will always come back together between times so that we enjoy the benefits of being part of a good team.

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