Monday, 23rd March, 2020. An entire nation gathered round their televisions to watch an announcement by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom that would change the lives of every one of us from that moment on. “From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.”
At Wave, we had already been working from home for a week, following the advice from Matt Hancock on 16th March that people should work from home if they can. At that point, it was a two-week trial to see how successfully we could operate as a fully remote team. We didn’t know that it would become mandatory just a week later and certainly couldn’t have predicted that we would still be doing it an entire year down the line. Even Boris Johnson was talking about “turning the tide of this disease” in twelve weeks.
It has been a year full of challenges, from setting up a remote office and managing a remote team, to the day to day reality of working away from colleagues and creative co-spaces. For some of us it has meant balancing homeschooling or looking after young children with work, for others it has meant dealing with the loneliness of working is isolation, and for some, the difficulties of working alongside partners in houses that weren’t set up for one person to work, let alone two. Our homes became our offices, our classrooms and our nurseries, as well as still having to function as spaces to relax. It has been a year of adjustment in every area of our lives.
When our CEO, Dave Jenkins, first made the decision that Wave would be operating remotely there were a number of considerations to work through. We needed to ensure that all team members could access everything necessary to work effectively and we had to communicate to clients that nothing had changed in a practical sense, i.e. that we would still be providing the same level of support as we always had. Like everyone, we were learning how to work in this new, strange world as we went. Fortunately for us, we already had a flexible working policy so many of us were used to working from home and we had the technology and the procedures in place. We hadn’t planned for the entire company to be working from home for an unspecified period of time but we are a ‘can do’ company and – like businesses the length and breadth of the UK – we just got on with it.
From a client point of view, we emailed and posted notices on our websites to explain how things would and wouldn’t change, we reassured and checked in and just had chats. Strong communication has always been key but it suddenly became more important than ever. Internally we held regular meetings to confer updates but also just to check-in. Without those chats in the kitchen whilst we made tea or impromptu discussions across our desks, we had to make the time to catch up with colleagues, to check everyone was ok and to take breaks from work. This became especially important as the pandemic wore on and we all realised this wasn’t going to end in a month or two. The negative impact on mental health across the world from the pandemic has been immense and will be a legacy of the virus long after it is over. As a company, we have been extremely mindful of this, as have businesses across the UK. Hopefully, a greater emphasis on the importance of employee wellbeing will also be a legacy, something good to come from the pandemic. Ensuring that mental health in the workplace is ingrained into company culture should become the norm.
So what have we learnt from a year of remote working?
Everyone has different ways of working and until choices are taken away from you, it can be difficult to know what set-up works best for you. For some, it’s been a case of ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone’, whilst for others, it’s been a revelation. When restrictions ease and we are allowed back into the office we won’t all be going back permanently. Those that thrive in an office environment will be happily returning, others will adopt a hybrid approach and some will continue to work from home for the majority of the time. And that’s fine. We have all had time now to figure out how we work best and that will play a big part in how we operate in the future. What has become clear is that working from home is entirely doable and can be more productive.
We have learnt the vital importance of strong and consistent communication both internally and externally, of maintaining connections even if those connections are virtual. We have all at some point complained about Zoom or Teams but that technology has allowed us not just to work remotely but to stay connected during a time that we all needed meaningful human interactions. We have learnt that mental health in the workplace needs to be an integral part of company culture and that we should all look out for each other. We have learnt to be flexible and agile, to never become too complacent, to be ready for change at all times.
We asked the Wave team what they have learnt over the past year and there was a common thread in all the responses – time is precious, the ability to adapt is vital, and, when all is stripped away, we don’t really need much to be happy.
“Lockdown, and this past year, has changed the way that some of us will work forever. From what was supposed to be a couple of weeks and turned out to be – at the time of writing – a year, we’ve all experienced the good, the bad and the ugly in this period. Personally, I’ve learnt so much about how little we need to be happy. All the things that were deemed as must-haves are not so important when push comes to shove. What is important is friends, family and doing something that you love. Time is precious and how we use it wisely is all-important.”Dave Jenkins, CEO
“I always knew we were a good team but this past year has shown just how well we work together. Despite being thrown into remote working overnight, we adapted with lightning speed and our output, support and client relationships haven’t suffered at all. It’s testament to how well all of us work together as a team that even though we haven’t all been physically together in the office for a year now, we can still come together and produce great results.”Polly Payne, Client Success Manager
“What I learnt from the past year is to enjoy the little things and not let the things you can’t control distract you from where you want to be. Plans change and it is important to focus on the positives instead of the negatives. One of those positives, for me, comes from working remotely during the pandemic as it has given me the opportunity to finally make savings towards a house and to spend more time at home making memories.”Courtney Dyer, Designer
“With this pandemic, I found out how hard it is to be away from the ones you love for large periods of time. One of the lessons I took from this confinement was that whatever happens you need to adapt to the new realities that will come, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution always applies.”Rui Boas, Developer
Ultimately, I think we can be massively proud of the way we, as a company, have managed amidst a pandemic that changed the world overnight. There have been some incredibly tough times and the recruitment industry has undoubtedly taken a battering but this awful virus has led to a period of reassessment on every level. As a team, we have been learning every day of this pandemic and that is no bad thing. I am reminded of a quote from Pablo Picasso: “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Being forced out of our comfort zones and having to learn, innovate and provide solutions can often drive positive change. And that is something we should all embrace.