It’s Wednesday morning and I’m looking out of my office window.
Nothing unusual in that. Our office in Peter House, Manchester, looks over the bustling St Peter’s Square but today the view is that of Dee Valley near Westhill, Aberdeenshire.
Welcome to the reality of home-working.
I’m one of the millions of Brits working remotely because of coronavirus. This is my story and I’m sharing it in the hope I can help the army of remote-workers across the UK in our hour of need.
Although I live in Aberdeen I commute to Manchester on a weekly basis. Door-to-door it only took three hours before the failure of Flybe and Covid-19.
By way of background, I’ve been involved in business transformation projects enabled by technology for more than 20 years. I joined Slalom in London in 2017 before moving to Manchester in 2019. Over the past year the team has grown to 20.
Looking back, I suspect I was one of many people who the coronavirus crept up on. I watched with interest as news came out of China but I had no idea what sort of impact it would have. The big change has been in the last 10 days.
It’s hard to believe that it was only last week that Manchester’s Digital City Festival took place!
Fast forward to Monday March 16 and as a company we switched to “strongly advising for people to work from home”. Even on Monday the office was busy – the team were keen to be there to show their commitment and to play their part. Things are different now.
On Tuesday March 17 only one member of the team was in the office. At least they were self-isolating and social distancing by going to work!
Since Monday we’ve all had to re-calibrate our thinking. At first glance, our choices have become more limited and our options restricted. As a team we’re exploring new ways to be productive, learning how to motivate ourselves, and, in some ways, redefining what we do.
Our primary communication medium for working from home is Microsoft Teams. It’s become absolutely critical to the way we work. We still use WhatsApp and make occasional telephone calls.
I’m fortunate that I work in a team of learners and teachers. We’ve got lots of experience engaging with our clients, and delivering complex projects, remotely. We regularly work on global projects with highly dispersed teams. We know what it takes to do this. So, we’ll teach and learn to redefine the way we collectively work.
On a more social level, we’ve introduced virtual coffee breaks to stay connected as a team. We drop-in to a Teams meeting for a brew and a chat. No set agenda. Just for fun. It’s still early days, but we’re connecting on a whole new level… pets have featured prominently over the past couple of days, and I suspect ‘little people’ will also start to feature as schools and nurseries close.
Like many businesses, we’ve had to change many well-laid plans. Rather than conceding defeat and cancelling events we’re embracing technology: An upcoming innovation event for 150+ people has become virtual. With the current restrictions, the new format may well result in a larger group of participants, and a virtual session will offer different ways to engage with our audience. This is new ground for us, but it’s an exciting step forward.
Despite small wins like this, we’re expecting the business landscape to change dramatically over the coming days, weeks and months. We’ve already seen evidence of projects being delayed as our clients focus on more immediate issues. This means we’ve got more capacity than we were expecting, and skills that we’d love to be able to put to good use.
I recognise that for some businesses, time is quickly running out. People all over the world are making huge, potentially life-changing decisions. It’s tough. Being in this position can make people feel vulnerable and isolated even at the best of times, let alone when their social interaction is restricted. We’re lucky that we’ve got a little breathing space, time to think and adjust, but there are still some big concerns.
Today is Wednesday March 18 and I’m sitting at home looking out of my office window. I’m trying to look at this as an opportunity. Where can we invest in skills and in developing assets? How can we partner with our clients most effectively to help them survive and thrive? How can we work with the community to make life a little more bearable for the most vulnerable?
I think we’ve got a unique opportunity to work smarter and build connections with each other, our clients and our families. How can we make the most of a terrible situation?
The health and welfare is, and always will be, our primary priority. This is non-negotiable. Above all else, we’ll look after our people, and look out for each other. It’s just what we do, and really all that matters.
Personally, I’m already missing live sport, and I’ve started watching The West Wing (again). It’s a welcome break from the much more serious drama we’re currently in the middle of!