General working practices
As is the case with many technology companies, we were already well on the way to more modern working practices, having already noticed productivity benefits. We had a fairly relaxed but informal policy for ‘office hours’, many of the team would shift their hours from the typical 9-5:30 and some people would work from home for one or two days of the week. This could be for a number of reasons, to allow some distraction free thinking time, to support with childcare or just to cut down on travel time as we have team members coming from 50 miles+ away from the office, travelling on the infamous M62.
Security and recovery
We also have had a long running project to start to remove dependencies to the office, primarily from a disaster recovery perspective. If the operation of the business is dependent on one physical space, then what happens when that isn’t available, when there’s a fire, the internet connection goes down etc? According to Probrand, 1 in 4 UK SMEs do not yet have a disaster recovery plan in place: The Great Disaster Recovery Plan | Probrand
Pre-prep made us more agile in the face of sudden change
Cut to March 2020 and, seeing where things might be headed, we offered everyone the opportunity to work from home a couple of weeks before the official lockdown was announced. We were quite well set up to support this change, and after a bit of a scramble to get hold of a few new webcams and headsets everyone was fully equipped and getting used to the new normal of Teams based communications.
Did WFH work for us?
Looking back over the past 18 months, while working remotely has certainly had its challenges, it has worked really well for us as a business, and the feedback from staff is that they have really appreciated and valued the flexibility it’s offered. We will now be formally operating on a ‘remote first’ basis for all staff, where it’s up to individuals to decide how and where they can work best, whether that’s at home, a café, in the office or anywhere else.
“It has removed the commute and means I can walk my own dogs which gets me out of the house every day, which I’ve now come to not be able to live without!” Sam Holden, Customer Success Manager
Continuing the change in practices
To support our policy change we needed to make a number of adjustments to how we work, one of which has been a project to migrate from desktops to laptops for everyone. The developers in my team who had high spec desktop machines have been the first to trial running laptops. Instead of remoting in to an office desktop we can all run everything we need locally. The transition has been smooth, as most of our tooling and software is now cloud based, and the specs of the latest generation of ‘business’ laptops and evolution in hard disk technology has mean we’re seeing performance improvements over workhorse desktops that were only a couple of years old.
Level playing field
Don’t treat remote workers as second-class citizens. For example, if you’re having a meeting that requires even 1 person that isn’t in the office, don’t have that meeting around a table with the remote worker dialling in using a system that makes it harder for them to hear what’s going on or to participate. If anyone has to dial in, everyone should dial in, even if they are sat next to each other.
There is undoubtedly still value in having some face-to-face time with colleagues, whether it’s the informal conversations that happen around the office, getting to know new starters or building team bonds. Since we have been able to, we have put greater emphasis on our quarterly 1 to 1 reviews and are making sure they happen face to face wherever possible. And on those days, I will aim to get the rest of the team into the office on the same day and make more of an event of it, using the time to prioritise group discussions that flow better in person, and going out for lunch together socially.
Strategic research assistance
As with any sensible approach to change, we made sure the new practices had been successfully researched and implemented elsewhere at the strategic level. I highly recommend this book, if you want to add some structure to your thinking: Remote by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson