At Barnes & Scott, we are no strangers to working remotely. We have always been an office-free business and worked mostly remotely long before the pandemic. During lockdown, my work desk in the dining room has been relocated to a desk in the corner of a bedroom. I guess you could call that flexible working..
I'm 24 and according to Gen-Z stereotypes I supposedly prefer screen-based communication to the real thing ...but I miss the office banter (emojis and Gifs come close but don’t quite cut it) and face-to-face work brainstorming (my usual schedule used to involve going into the office at least once a fortnight as well as using a co-working space and meeting clients ad hoc). I just miss the days of getting out of the house and socialising within a 2-metre distance of people. My aftershave bottles are just gathering dust!
Anyway, with no choice now but to stay at home all the time I try to demarcate work and leisure by getting dressed for work (not suit and tie but, you know, clothes), sticking to regular work hours and not working evenings/ weekends. On the plus side, Barnes & Scott is flexible about working hours (you can start or finish your working day early or late, within reason, as long as you get the work done). So, I’ve scheduled in plenty of long walks and bike rides.
It's an approach taken by many of our tech start-up clients. It’s a very different work culture to the public sector where I began my career which was totally office-based and nine-to-five, yawn.
Like many other businesses during the lockdown Barnes & Scott have embraced Zoom and use Slack for most informal work communication.
Good communication is essential to efficiency and maintaining strong internal working relationships, especially when WFH. The days of simply turning your head for your colleague’s attention and asking a question are over. At least for now. But there are some simple and effective solutions that we have implemented at B&S to overcome this.
With modern technology, there are plenty more options available to communicate with staff and customers besides phone and email.
We regularly use Zoom for staff and customer meetings. I’m responsible for training our new clients on Xero and Receipt Bank (systems we use to help implement our Bookkeeping Zen service), using a Zoom gives us and our clients that extra bit of flexibility (no travel time to worry about!). Video calling on Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google hangouts etc. enable you to share your screen and demonstrate. It’s just as effective as being there, better in fact because you can record a meeting and revisit what you forgot!
At B&S we also use Slack, a cloud-based messaging platform that provides app integrations. As far as internal communication goes Slack beats emailing by a mile – it’s like a smart WhatsApp. It’s far more efficient and far less distracting than email can be. An email might sit in an in-box for hours, possibly days… (I would never) but with slack it’s instant and you know when the person you are messaging is “available”.
The importance of using something like Slack to communicate in remote based workplaces is crucial. I don’t know how we ever coped without it. It allows you to categorise messages and documents in "channels". These channels (think like a WhatsApp group chats) come in handy as they can be small-team or topic-specific and keeps everyone in the loop on those team/ project specifics.
It’s also a great way to break the silence and act as a “digital water cooler”. It’s not rocket science to assume that people communicate less with other staff members working from home, a study from the BI Norwegian Business School found that without peer employees staff members are “often left feeling helpless about their work”, “unsure about their tasks or how to coordinate with other team members. A sense of ambiguity sets in, leaving employees feeling unmotivated and disconnected”. Slack has enabled the team at Barnes & Scott to view each other’s availability and engage with other staff members with ease.
We have one channel meticulously named “random” in which it’s my duty to fill with motivational GIFs of people falling asleep at their desks.
We have recently started using Slack with some of our enterprise-grade clients, as Slack has recently opened up the possibility to create a channel across different companies. It’s early days but we’re starting to see the benefits already, dealing with those little queries which would be trivial to devote a whole email too, inefficient for a phone call, but you need a quick answer nonetheless.
Overall it’s fair to say we and our clients have adapted well to remote working. Some of my friends that work for larger and more traditional finance companies have only just learnt that laptops exist. What has become clear to me over these past months is that remote working and its technologies are here to stay. Some of it has changed work for the better but I'll still be glad to get back to the office and work socials when things go back to normal.