Recommendations from the front line of WFH agency management

Beacon has always been a strong supporter of the Work From Home principle with the vast majority of our employees doing so.

In this time of upheaval, many more people are finding they’re having to switch from their daily office commute and set up a workspace within their home environment.

We’ve spoken to colleagues and other experts who are big proponents of the WFH movement to see how the current stay at home situation is affecting them and their business.

They offer up advice on what they’ve done to make working from home easier and give some insights which may help people meeting the challenges facing them now their office space might be a corner of the front room or the dining table.

Stewart Boutcher - Technology Director
Stewart Boutcher, Technology Director, Beacon.

Stewart Boutcher, is Beacon’s own Technology Director and Chair of the DMA North Council Leeds Hub. For him, the principles of working from home aren’t new but there have been interesting discoveries in his pattern of working now he’s unable to travel.

“I’ve been working from home for years and I’m set up for it, as is the company. However the biggest challenge I’m facing now is not being able to leave home. Tech, structure, the process of working from home, we’re fine, but I’m used to going out and meeting people, travelling to London, Manchester, Birmingham, so I was actually out a lot more at meetings than working at home.”

While Beacon hasn’t been seriously affected by the present shut down, some of the company’s clients have been. 

“We’re fairly lucky in that we’re well funded and have good investors, but for some of our clients it’s had a much bigger impact and it just depends on the type of work or business they’re doing. We’re helping our clients curate work as much as we can,” he added.

One benefit from the current stay home situation has been that he’s found people have more time to talk. “It feels more collaborative, people aren’t rushing off to meetings, travelling and heading into the office, so they seem to be able to take time and have a good conversation.”

He hopes that one positive from this unprecedented situation will be that people come to realise they don’t need to travel to an office to work 9-5. 

“I hope that what we’re learning is that we just don’t need to travel as much. My suspicion is that a lot of big business, and the public sector in particular, were just not remotely set up for this kind of working as they’ve always thought it was too difficult to do.

“Now that it’s been forced on them, the people who work for them are saying ‘hang on, this isn’t that hard, why do we all have to drive into the middle of the city to be at work so we’re all commuting at 7am or 8am?’”

He adds: “Perhaps this will make offices more of a connection hub, somewhere where people can drop in and out as they need, instead of having to commute daily. People don’t want to be locked down at home permanently, but if they could do 60 to 80% without needing to commute, that could make a big difference to the world.

“Obviously not everyone could do it, but a lot of people can and I hope that does change,” he concludes.

Noel Penrose at Juniper2

Noel Penrose, Juniper2 image
Noel Penrose, Juniper2

As a leadership and mentoring expert, Noel Penrose, of Juniper2, broadly offers three very different elements of support to clients; as a  board non-executive, a leadership coach and mentor, and as a deal adviser.

This latter part of his work is largely desk-based and much of it can be done working remotely at home, reading reports, analysing information etc.

However, two elements are more difficult – board meetings, where Zoom can work as an option, but the one-to-one leadership coaching and mentoring which has been made more of a challenge.

“That’s because it tends to be ‘in the room’ so I can observe non-verbal signals and read body language along with using emotional intelligence to connect on a more personal level with my clients, who are sharing their challenges, doubts and uncertainties in a very confidential manner.    Video sessions are possible, but they aren’t really a substitute for physical meetings that require trust and empathy,” he says.

For Noel’s clients, the situation is similar. 

“My clients (in all three areas) are working from home also, and their business is affected in much the same way as mine.  For content and process type activities, much can still work, but this is a time for inspirational leadership, helping teams identify with new goals and motivating them to overcome different challenges to achieve these goals, so the disintermediation of not being able to physically engage with team members does have a limiting impact on effectiveness, of course,” he adds.

As a result of the current situation, Noel has found himself in a similar situation to some of our other experts – reaching out and speaking to people more often.

He says: I’ve probably reached out to people more than I usually would, making connections and establishing contact, instead of reacting to requests for advice, support or help.

“Dropping someone a note, by email, text, WhatsApp or phone lets them know they are still important to you, that you are thinking of them – and asking if there is anything you can do for them is the best way to remind them of your availability and good intentions.” 

When it comes to moving forward as things start to return to normal, he believes some clients will have become more used to remote working.

“I’m looking forward to being able to spend time physically with my mentoring and coaching clients, but I suspect some of my clients will become comfortable with a more remote way of working and I’ll need to adapt to that.  The client’s need always takes priority, naturally.”

Shoo Social Media’s Chris Morris

Chris Morris, Shoo Social Media Image
Chris Morris, Shoo Social Media.

Shoo Social Media’s Chris Morris had some great advice for those people who find themselves having to work from home for the first time. “Get a good accountant.”

His reasoning is that having sound financial advice, and being able to track and lay your hands on all your receipts, as well as profit and loss statements and other outgoings, means one less thing to worry about.

“Review what apps and tools you’ve got. We’re lucky, as we’re landlords, residents and business owners in the same building, and our business being digital, means we can continue to work. Our team works remotely too.

“The biggest challenge we’ve had is that lack of face to face contact, social contact with the team; the office jokes and fun we have. One of the other biggest impacts is the cash coming into the business as the majority of our clients have put work on hold because their clients, and their clients’ clients have paused and so on.”

He adds: “It’s important that our staff are looked after, and that we ensure we go beyond the ‘add value’ for those clients still investing in their social media marketing and social advertising with us.”

Shoo are advocates of Google and its business products. “We use Google apps, Cloud, Drive, MeetUp/Hangouts etc, “says Chris.

“It’s been a help since day one of the business and has let us work remotely, you can’t get more remote than on a friend’s balcony in Barbados, I’ve been able to do that in the past.”

He’s also a fan of the Covey Matrix

the Covey Matrix.

IMAGE: https://facilethings.com/blog/en/time-management-matrix

“I make sure I set up all my tasks, I have a Daily Checklist, a Must Do list, and I allocate time slices so I know what I need to do,” says Chris.

“The first thing we did when this whole crisis kicked in was to have a team meeting and discuss ways to adapt and thrive through this period. We put together a 90 day action plan to, essentially, set Shoo up to thrive after the uncertainty passes, through having a consistent weekly set of actions. For example, calling, email or making contact with our connections to set up online meetings as a way of keeping in touch and offering them support.”

He believes the biggest change as a result of the pandemic will be a realisation that digital is a game changer. “Those people who have been ‘why do I need digital for advertising etc’ are going to have been forced to use digital tools and apps and I think we’ll see a rise in appreciation and respect for digital media as a platform.

“The rise of Zoom and Google Meet/Hangouts has been amazing to see and I anticipate that once the dust settles, this will mean a better, more efficient way of doing business – no more one hour travelling to a meeting, one hour meeting and one hour travelling back or somewhere else. Imagine the time that will be saved.”

Gareth Healey at Beyond Noise

Gareth Healey,  Beyond Noise, image
Gareth Healey, Beyond Noise

For Beyond Noise’s Gareth Healey, the biggest challenge he’s faced has been having other people at home and having to get used to there being more distractions in what’s normally his quiet office space.

“Even seasoned working from homers like myself are finding it difficult, we’re having to adapt to some degree, there’s more pull to break the work routine that, even at home, I like to keep. My wife and my two kids are at home, there’s more distractions and more noise.”

One of the biggest things he’s noticed with his business and that of his clients, is that everyone is affected, but they’re all affected in different ways. Some are seeing a reduction in work maybe down to 10% but others have witnessed between 60 and 70% of their work disappear almost overnight.

“This has affected everyone though, there’s no sector of the country that hasn’t had to do things differently. I’ve always used video and other technology, but I’m noticing that people who’ve been sceptical in the past about that type of digital tool are realising how useful it is.

“I think for those businesses who can survive the initial ‘shock and awe’ stage of the impact of this stay-at-home situation will be able to re-assess their position, look at how to weather the storm and see where they can make changes,”  he adds.

Gareth’s also found new ways of working. “I’ve been running conferences, workshops etc as a key part of my business and I’ve done those via video in the past. But I’ve had to look at how I can adapt the way I run the physical workshops where I might split people up into teams and see how I can do that via a video platform.

“I think we’ll see a lot of innovation and new technology come out of this situation, where companies like Zoom will look at extending their services to include integrated transcription services similar to Otter.ai.”

He’s also been fascinated by the different ways people have responded to the present pandemic. “I’m interested in the extrovert/introvert dynamic and I’ve found that a lot of the people who fall more on the latter end are being more involved in offering opinions and suggestions that they might not have done before.

“Whereas in a room full of people, they might not always have felt as confident speaking up, from the comfort of their own space, they’re offering ideas and giving knowledge which perhaps might have got missed before. I think that’s one of the real benefits we’ll hopefully take forward.”

He adds: “I think there’s definitely been an environmental impact and you’d have to hope that will continue. People who might have a WeWork space in London aren’t likely to want to go back once they’ve realised they can work successfully from home via video or Google HangOuts or MSTeams.

“People do need a human interaction, but might that be done once a week in a cafe or other communal space that they can rent for a few hours instead of paying to have an ‘office’ they need to commute to?”

For Gareth, the potential for long-term changes in the way people work is a good thing. “I think we’ll see faster business, people doing a video call there and then instead of having to try and set up a meeting with multiple people some time in the future.

“I think there’ll be less skepticism about digital platforms for business communication, I think we’ll learn from the gaming world, using technology they’ve already developed to cope with mass connections. I was surprised by how well Zoom stood up to all the increased demands the platform must be having.

“People have got to see the benefits of not always commuting,” he adds.

Chatter’s Jon Davies

Employer branding specialists Chatter took the decision to move to home working the week before the Government’s official Stay at Home announcement.

“We already had flexible working in place, we use Cloud solutions, had Google Hangouts, we’re just using them all a lot more,” says Jon Davies, one of Chatter’s founding partners.

Jon Davies, Chatter, image
Jon Davies, Chatter.

His biggest challenge so far has been putting structure into his day working at home. “I was already used to working two days from home but I’ve had to make sure I’m taking breaks, having a morning coffee, taking a lunch break, getting away from my screen. 

“Otherwise you’d look up and find it’s 8pm and you’ve been working all day without a break. Because I’m not commuting from Manchester, I’ve also got around two hours extra a day, around 10 hours a week, which I’ve been using for things like exercise, taking a walk and cooking.”

For his clients, there’s been a huge variety in how the situation has affected them. Some companies are recruiting more, some  have practically shut down and others are taking advantage of the downtime to drive forward some bigger projects and also evaluate what work life will be like when things return to normal.

He adds: “Our retail clients have been very busy, obviously. We’ve also got clients who still want to do things face to face and so they’re willing to wait until the situation eases to talk about larger scale projects.

“It’s an unprecedented situation to be in where everyone is affected in some way or another no matter what industry or marketplace they’re in.”

Chatter has a daily video call so people can catch up on how projects are going, keep in touch with the office and each other, help out if one person’s got a lighter workload and someone else is really busy. But it’s important not to let technology be a substitute. 

“I’ve been using the phone more as well. If I’ve not spoken to someone for a couple of days, I’ll give them a call and have a chat and a catch up, making sure I’m still having the human and social contact,” he says.

Going forward he hopes there will be positive changes. “I think a lot of larger companies will be wondering whether they really need so much office space. The ones that have been resistant to home working now see that it can work and people can be treated as adults to manage their own work time and assessed on the quality of the work they produce not necessarily when or where they’re doing it. 

“As long as the work is getting done when it should be, I think people can be flexible with home working. We’ve always tried to be flexible, we’ve always had people dial in to video meetings or if they need to take off for an appointment or to collect a parcel then there’s no problem.

“I hope the businesses that can, re-evaluate how they work and try to find some positives to come from this,” he adds.

Nigel Bridges at Beacon

Beacon’s Managing Director Nigel Bridges has a similar opinion to Stewart, he’s also found one of the biggest effects to the lockdown has been an increase in productivity but at the expense of healthy variety and meeting people face to face.

Nigel Bridges Head shot
Nigel Bridges, Managing Director, Beacon.

“While travelling to meetings would take time, it did provide meaningful breaks, but there’s a lack of interaction with people. But, bizarrely, I’ve got more time to focus on the business and on customers.

“Providing the diary can be managed in a focused way, the ability to use tools like Zoom means very little interruption in dealing with clients and the rest of the business.”

For Nigel, there’s been three key elements to being able to transition to working from home, the use of Zoom and similar tools, a well ordered home working environment and prayer.

Going forward, he believes many of the new ways of remote working people have been finding to use will continue into the future.

“Even when we are ‘back to normal’ people will have had a taste of working from home and will want to hang onto this to a greater or lesser extent.

“We could become more productive, with less time wasted on travel/commuting.  Zoom/etc meetings are now acceptable, almost mandated, and have proved not to be a barrier to business; and therefore they will be more woven into our everyday business practices than ever before,” he adds.

Your Thoughts

How have you been coping? Are you used to working from home or have you had to adjust to major changes? Let us know on our social media how you’re managing.