What can we take away from the time we have spent working from home?

Leading our teams from home over this prolonged period has been a new experience for most of us. It’s required us to adapt and show flexibility as we try to limit the impact the current situation has on our people, their ability to succeed and the environments we’ve created to enable that success. We have all had to learn fast, and those in leadership positions have had to adapt rapidly to ensure employees are having their needs met and are striking a healthy balance between work and their social life.
Ben Flowers, Engineering Leader at BCGDV was on hand to facilitate the conversation. Here we’ll take a look at the key takeaways from what the assembled leaders had to say about leading during lockdown.

The boom and bust in productivity

Settling into a balanced routine during lockdown took some time to get right. Yet it was broadly acknowledged that during the first month companies saw a big spike in productivity.

However, encouraging this might have seemed, it was largely the result of employees working longer hours. Working from home lends far fewer moments of downtime, be they around the coffee machine or something as innocuous as walking to a meeting. The attendees all agreed that working through the lunch break was a frequently encountered problem, and employees had suggested that not having a clear line of demarcation at the end of the day, such as a train journey or cycle, meant it was difficult to switch off or not reply to emails late into the night. Overall, people were falling into unhealthy cycles and it was clear that maintaining this high pace was going to be unsustainable. Quickly, productivity dropped considerably.

Managing employee wellbeing

In order to understand how to mitigate against this overworking, it is imperative that employees have one-to-one’s with people who are not their line manager, so they can be “realistic and honest about problems they are facing in the new working environment”. What became clear was that individuals were not taking any holiday and so burnout levels were high. It is undoubtedly unsustainable to work without the decompression one gets from taking a good tranche of time off – even if it was spent at home.

Building on this, the discussion moved onto a management-led wellbeing strategy that involved giving employees access to the app Thrive. The app helps to reduce stress, anxiety and other conditions that have been exacerbated by lockdown. It is game-based and can be used to help relax you before a particularly stressful situation or on a more ongoing basis to help you manage everyday occurrences. What’s more, the app has no relation to any company, so employees can be confident their data isn’t accessible to their employer.

Other top-down ways of creating down-time during the day included providing employees with licenses for virtual board games or signing up to Jackbox, which offers collections of easy-to-play party games that anyone can join simply through the web browser on their smartphone.

These novel practices have worked in tandem with great employee-led initiatives like ‘shout-out sessions’ which leaves people feeling encouraged and positive going into the weekend and ‘coffee and bakes’, which gives people a chance to chat and show off their baking skills! Events like these were dubbed “virtual water-cooler” experiences. Another great example is putting in place a “cross-functional banter channel” on Slack, which combats the tendency for individuals to only speak to those within their immediate team and allows people to share mood-lifting content.

Managing disruption

Almost everyone will have been on Zoom meetings which have been interrupted by young children, pets or delivery drivers. Our panellists agreed that these occurrences were by no means a significant disruption, and in fact had really helped to humanise the situation and make people more empathetic towards the challenging circumstances many faced. It can be argued that those who have families have a great support system but having to entertain and teach young children is stressful and will result in productivity dips.

What’s more, young people who live alone are not as likely to be distracted, but they had their social support network shut-off, as normal activities like going to the pub or the gym were impossible. These younger employees are also used to bouncing ideas off each other and collaborating. For anyone in a leadership position, it’s essential to “acknowledge these generational differences”, and to empathise with the various challenges’ employees of different age-groups are experiencing. Overall, whilst disruption had influenced both professional and social life, it’s certainly the case that remote working has improved emotional intelligence within the workplace.

What is the future of remote working?

Most of the leaders agreed returning to the office was something employees were keen to do, but only for 1-2 days a week in order to take part in ideation and heads-together work. What’s more, the lockdown has shone a spotlight on the great benefits that implementing a remote-first ethos can have. These range from having “a wider hiring pool”, to spending considerably less on real estate and remapping offices so they are more geared towards collaborative spaces.

Moreover, now that everyone has worked remotely, people have a greater understanding of how to use the technology effectively. Before lockdown, those who were dialling into meetings remotely found it to be stilted and they were frequently being cut out of the conversation. Now that everyone has experienced video calling and virtual workshops, it’s anticipated that future events which rely on having a remote aspect will run much smoother.

Bringing the event to a close, the panellists discussed how, going forward, they would try and diminish the number of meetings that were occurring. One of the benefits of remote meetings is that they are incredibly efficient, with usual time-drains such as searching for a meeting room no longer being an issue. However, it is easy to fall into the trap of moving immediately from one call to the next without having any breaks. To combat this trend, there is a useful feature in Outlook which cuts down meetings, ending them five minutes earlier and starting them five minutes later, to ensure employees get the time they need to decompress in between calls.

Hi, I’m Will, I’m a Node.js consultant at La Fosse. If you have any thoughts on this article, or are interested in attending the next event, please don’t hesitate to reach out on 02081678685 or William.rollings@lafosse.com.