18th June 2020
We don’t have a handy catchphrase to describe the way we’ve been working recently. Trying to continue earning a living in the midst of a pandemic that’s forced the world into lockdown cannot be described merely as “working from home”. Employees in lockdown have to share their work environments with families and housemates, cope with the frustration of social isolation and work through the inevitable anxiety associated with this health and financial crisis; many of us are also trying to balance our professional commitments with caring for others and the demands of home-schooling. So, no, we aren’t “working from home”, we’re working in isolation, from lockdown, during a pandemic – which is entirely different.
Having said that, we are actually working from our homes, so there are some commonalities, at least on a practical level. ORM has always supported flexible and remote working, so we were well-equipped to deal with the logistics of the lockdown, but we wanted to gauge how our teams are managing everything else, from setting up an office at home, to comms with co-workers and relationships with our loved ones. This blog is based on ORM staff responses to an online survey and a video chat about our experiences; we think it will resonate with anyone who’s continued working during lockdown.
Productivity vs work-life balance
I wasn’t surprised to hear that over 90% of the ORM team say that they’re either “as productive” or “way more productive” at home than in the office because I genuinely believe that happy people are more motivated to work – and going into an office for ten hours a day doesn’t necessarily make anyone happy. But working and living in one space can also make it difficult to balance our personal and professional lives – especially if you’ve got limited room or if you’re a parent trying to juggle childcare and home-schooling along with your workload.
I’m a big supporter of flexible working and most of us are enjoying the freedom to work at times that we’re most productive (for me that’s 4am!) and to make time in the day for exercise, family and hobbies. With fewer distractions, we’re more focussed and productive during concentrated periods, so we get more done in less time – but only if Slack is switched off and the kids don’t interrupt us! While some of us feel pressured to be constantly available, video meetings are also making us more aware of our colleagues’ time, particularly if they’re working in different time zones.
What happens when all comms are digital?
We’re no strangers to Zoom, but as tech-savvy and accustomed to remote working as we are, adjusting to an entirely digital work environment hasn’t always been easy. The upside is that we’re spending more time talking to teams from different offices but we’re also finding that flexible working can be a double-edged sword as it’s easy to schedule meetings but it can be difficult to get people to turn up. And we’re all starting to suffer from Zoom-fatigue.
Doing client pitches and presentations over video conferencing has also presented some challenges, including connectivity issues, shorter concentration spans and more distractions.
Despite all of this, the ORM team has still managed to win new business from virtual pitches during lockdown and we’ve all been surprised at just how much work can be done, and how effective we can be, without having to be in the same physical space.
Building relationships during social distancing
You would think that social distancing would make it difficult to build and maintain relationships, but we’ve never known more about each other’s lives and personal circumstances. Our private and work life is merging more than it has ever done, giving us a whole new insight into the people behind our business.
We’re also using this time to build connections with co-workers; there is now an “ORM-Kitchen” Slack channel where people can chat about their pets, share recipes and crack jokes – just as we would in a normal office environment. We also have our own ‘never-ending story’ doing the rounds, schedule regular virtual drinks and we’re running a fitness competition on Strava.
Those of us with children are enjoying having breakfast, lunch and dinner with the kids and, while we may be getting a bit bored with only having our spouse for adult company, most of us have found that our relationships have improved because we understand more about each other’s professional lives (even if, like me, you’ve been taking most of your frustrations out on your partner!)
The home office
While ORM’s flexible hours and remote workflows support staff members working from all over the world at times, before we went into lockdown only a third of those surveyed worked from home as regularly as once a week – mostly because they didn’t have a good office setup at home.
Right at the start of lockdown ORM distributed desk assessments to ensure that people had a setup that was suitable for short term use. Where staff weren’t comfortable or weren’t able to work properly, new desks, supportive chairs and other equipment was delivered to their homes to help ease the situation – at least from a physical perspective.
Fortunately, most of us have found it either easy or somewhat easy to adjust to working from a home-office, and an overwhelming majority of those surveyed said we wouldn’t mind working this way indefinitely. Over a third of us will find it difficult to go back to the office. And this is OK, as before COVID hit and turned everything on its head, we were focused on what we thought to be remote and flexible ways of working, when the reality now is that barriers have been broken and we need to design a “flexible new normal” that works for our people.
What does the future hold?
This pandemic has been described as the biggest social and economic experiment in history and it will, undoubtedly, have a massive impact on the way we live and work in the future. I for one don’t want to go back on the tube every day – I don’t know how you do social distancing on the tube – and I think that working from home will be far easier once schools go back and childcare is sorted. No doubt this experience will prompt many of us to re-evaluate our lifestyles and, like me, most of the staff we spoke to intend to work from home more regularly when this is all over. Likewise, for any new employees that may start in the future, we want to encourage this flexibility, even if that means more distributed teams who all work remotely.
As a member of the senior management team, I know that this is something ORM advocates, and people will be encouraged to work in a flexible new normal if it makes their lives easier and is better for their mental wellbeing. We’re a business with people at the heart of it and our values of GRIT – Grow, Respect, Innovate, Trust – are more important now than ever. We want to give people a better work-life balance in the long-term as well, whether that’s fitting in the school pick-ups or taking your dog for a nice long midweek walk, if it’s important to our people, then it’s important to our culture.
Working while in lockdown has been complicated, simple, frustrating, refreshing, difficult and surprisingly easy in more-or-less equal measures, and we’re all just trying to make the best of a far-from-normal situation which is still far from over.
This piece is based on feedback from the ORM team during the early stages of lockdown across Europe, the UK and US.