The last few months have been challenging for many businesses. Some have thrived, others have fallen victim to the lockdown. Behaviours have also changed from a shift in working practices, to how we collectively respond to crises. The pandemic has given us the opportunity take a step back and revaluate how we work and operate, potentially creating new ways of working in the future.
Here are 4 things we learnt in lockdown.
- Working from home
Working from home (WFH) can be great for some people, particularly if they have space at home to set up a dedicated workstation and create peace and quiet to concentrate on their work. It frees people up from long commutes and can increase productivity where work can be completed in relative isolation.
Bosses have realised that employees can be trusted to work remotely, and the technology does work – mostly! Kevin Ellis, chairman of PwC commented recently that the shift to working from home has “bashed away presenteeism for ever”.
So, what are the downsides? For those WFH with families or housemates in situ, uninterrupted space to work and make calls will be at a premium, as well as broadband speeds with multiple users online. Workstations can be cramped and makeshift – even ironing boards have been pressed into service as temporary desks, so especially for young people or those with young children around, WFH conditions are not always ideal.
- Zoom or Teams meetings?
Whilst video-conferencing technology has been around for at least 30 years, the lockdown pushed everyone in at the deep-end and forced a crash course in Zoom or Teams, which has demonstrated that we can do it, we’ve learnt to mute/unmute, to screen share and to set up video calls with relative ease.
New forms of meeting etiquette have been established, raising hands, taking turns, chairing skills have adapted, meetings have become shorter and more on-task. We have squirmed at the unfamiliar sight of our own faces on calls and nosied at our colleagues’ decor in the background. We now wonder why we routinely travelled so far for a face-to-face discussion or even took a plane journey for a business meeting.
‘Zoom fatigue’ and eye strain, however, are the downsides of back-to-back calls, meetings and even interviews, plus evening ‘socials’, so whilst it can be useful tool that we will now see as a good option to avoid unnecessary travel, it is not ideal for constant daily business.
- Health and Safety is paramount
Health and Safety has come into its own as a business-critical function, even for the most low-risk office situation, and is now appreciated for its vital role in employee and customer well-being – literally a life or death matter. We are all much more ‘hands on’ (no pun intended) with risk assessment and mitigation, infection control, building flow and the logistics of managing shared spaces like toilets, co-working areas, and kitchens with social distancing in mind.
An enhanced focus on mental health and well-being has come to the fore as well as physical risks, in view of the constant anxieties of Covid-19 news and personal/family issues which people have had to deal with. These require sensitive handling, particularly if staff have been furloughed and have underlying concerns about future security of employment. Supportive, honest communication is therefore a constant priority for leaders.
The status, visibility and appreciation of our cleaners has rightly increased as we depend on them for constant hygiene. Our essential reception staff are in the front line politely juggling the non-contact management of essential visitors, customers, and parcel deliveries from behind a Perspex screen. A shift on reception as part of our skeleton team cover teaches all of us how multi-faceted the art of customer service really is, with multiple technologies to operate simultaneously.
- Step Up to the Crisis
In the face of a global crisis, it is inspiring to see how employees want to step up and do their bit to help the national effort. There have been unsung local heroes in all walks of life who have set up food banks or delivery services, galvanised their neighbourhoods into WhatsApp groups and organised volunteers to support those shielding, and many other examples of selfless generosity.
Whilst responding to the operational challenges of lockdown, facing loss of business and other threats to the survival of the company, it can be hard for leaders to see the positive in the experience. When employees step forward voluntarily to help the wider cause, as our colleagues did to produce PPE on our suite of 3D printers, or producing hand sanitiser in our labs and donating it to local schools, as our tenant Surfachem did, it swells the hearts and pride of the team and reminds us of a wider purpose in life, of the importance of values within a community of people.
To hear more about our key insights during the Covid-19 lockdown, check out our Lockdown Lessons series here.