Harry Potter and the Novel Coronavirus
Working from home isn’t possible for all our staff - we have framing machinery, heat presses, postal and courier collections from the business centre and all sorts of things that can’t be transported easily. That being said, we have taken things home that you wouldn’t normally expect people to. Lisa’s living room is now full of vintage books to be sorted and giftwrapped, and my kids have been labelling and packing subscription parcels into postal bags. Jess framed book page prints at home for a while so that will have taken up a lot of space. You do what you gotta do!
Working from home is great for some people. For me it has meant that I was able to (sort of!) combine homeschooling and work when I needed to. For others in our team it has meant they were able to stay home when leaving the house would have caused anxiety. Some people thrive on being in their own space and managing their own time. But not everyone. Some people find working from home isolating and demotivating. I know that there are members of our team (myself included) that prefer working around others just because it’s more fun that way!
Balancing covid safety and mental health is a challenge. Even now we have returned to work, it’s still not ideal because we are all spaced out. Some days being at work isn't much different from working at home because we're all in different rooms and don't see much of each other anyway. We used to all be in the same space but we’re still social distancing.
There's also practical challenges. Communication between our team members has definitely suffered. We were all in three adjoining rooms (there's 10 of us) but we're now spread between 4 rooms and home. We've never been much for meetings, we've always been more about ad-hoc chats in person. That has obviously declined a lot and WhatsApp has been useful but no substitute. We haven’t really taken to Zoom.
I can’t help feel that it isn’t fair for the staff that just can’t work from home. That level of flexibility isn’t available to my whole team and I’m not happy about that. But also I don’t believe in not allowing something just for that reason. Some of our roles require really particular skills so we don’t swap roles around much.
So what to do about it?
I think it’s worth sharing some of the things we have put in place to overcome some of the challenges. I really want other businesses to see that we share the same challenges but that it’s possible to figure things out! I have spoken to each member of the team about what their concerns and anxieties are about being at work or working from home, and they all have different thoughts. I even made a little anonymous survey so I could get people’s opinions
“WFH suits my work life balance; being able to work around other things makes me feel more productive. I can join in family outings or if I’m having a low energy day due to chronic illness, I can make the time up in the evenings or early mornings.”
“Lack of contact with colleagues has caused a feeling of disjointed working & projects taking longer to complete.”
Those that can work from home, and want to work from home still can. I have no issue with that at all. We’ve created space at work for ‘hotdesking’ so people can come in one or two days easily. Those that want to work at work can, although we still have the issue that sometimes it’s possible to be at work and not really see anyone all day because the desks are all in different rooms. Gemma finds this particularly challenging and one solution we’ve come up with is that on my work from home days, she comes and works at my house!
For those that can’t work from home at all, I hope that the flexibility that they do have helps to make them feel valued. The courier and postal collections are at the same time every day. Certain tasks have to pass multiple desks in order to get to the post in time, so people have got to work as a team to meet the deadline. So we can’t just work literally whatever hours we choose because things have to link up! But we can be flexible within that framework, and my team set their own hours to fit the deadlines. I’m always really open about business decisions so I hope that it’s obvious that I’m aware that there is some disparity between roles and I am happy to take on board any practical suggestions for making life easier for my team.
It’s also worth mentioning that we are all taking lateral flow tests twice a week. That helps those of us that want to be with people but are anxious about it. The whole team takes a test every Sunday and Wednesday and we share it in the WhatsApp group.
The thing we need to get better at is catch-up meetings. We’ve done one in the last month and it was good. I want to make sure we do at least one a month and not worry about whether someone is on holiday or at the dentist that day. Trying to make sure everyone makes every meeting has stopped us from holding them in the past, but I think if we just get on with it and have them frequently enough it won’t matter if we’re not all always there. So here’s my pledge to hold at least one ‘whole team’ meeting and one design meeting every month!
I really hope that the shift to flexible working that has been forced on businesses in the last year sticks. I hope that people can see how much better it is for staff to have a balanced time and even if they can’t work from home, they can have some agency over their time at work. When people care about their job and know what’s needed, they fit it in!