How did you initially respond to remote working?
My initial thought on SMLWRLD employees having the option to work remotely was that it was a great way to retain staff. For some employees, being able to work from home is the difference between being able to take a job or not.
Going office-optional has opened us up to being able to employ talented people who would otherwise be unable to work full-time in London.
Why did you continue to work in-office?
I knew straight away that I’d keep working from the office, so from my perspective it was `business as usual'. Some people are great at focusing, but occasionally I struggle. The focus for me comes with being in a work-first environment.
If I'm at home, there are too many other things that would distract me and knock me off balance, and I find that the only way for me to work really effectively is to work from the office.
I really value getting out of the house, and because I cycle to work, I don't have to face the commuting nightmare many people do. I don't need to worry about late trains, bad weather or being on crowded buses with people who may have coughs and colds.
Living nearby means that I don't have the same barriers to face as those who travel from further. My bike ride only takes me around half an hour, and it’s something I enjoy doing in the morning to clear my head and stay fit.
Where I live there are no local cafes or places to work remotely, so when I do work from home, I find that I don't leave the house. I like being forced out into the world.
What do you find challenging about working in-office as part of a remote team?
Now that the majority of the team are remote-first, there are days when I’m in the office by myself. It's not ideal, as I value being able to call someone over and say `can you take a look at what's happening on my screen', but to be honest, because of Microsoft Teams and screen-sharing, it’s not an issue. There's very little that can't be done over a call or screen-share.
The office is far quieter now, which means I can have much more personal conversations with people when they’re here, that I might not have had working from home. However, there are people in our team who’ve always worked remotely, and I do feel like we know less about each other, and that there’s less that we can support each other with.
What are the benefits of being in the office?
I have a real interest in ensuring that people aren't overworking, as its not sustainable, and can be harmful to mental, emotional and physical health. People’s lives can be complicated, and sometimes work has to take a back seat.
Being face to face with colleagues brings humanity into the office, and makes it easy to support people if they’re going through a difficult time. In contrast, we might not have the knowledge and understanding of what is going on with people working remotely, and therefore wouldn't be able to pick up the slack or adjust their workload accordingly.
Sometimes, it's not until you see someone in person that you realise they’re not feeling well, physically and/or emotionally. And with a dedicated team like ours, people do try to trudge on.
Just the other day, Reena, who was preparing for a meeting in Amsterdam, was feeling unwell. Over our meeting in Teams, we could hear that she was not well enough to attend, and insisted she took time to rest.
I think it's essential, regardless of whether we’re in or out of office, that we’re vigilant in catching things before they become real issues, and ensure that we are supporting people.
Teams is a great tool in closing the gap between those of us working from home, but I think it’s vital that we continue to get together and build human connections.
What would you change to ensure those connections thrive?
Apart from using Microsoft Teams and the SMLWRLD intranet to communicate, we have monthly meetups where everybody comes together. We go out for lunch or dinner, and everyone can sit at a table with a colleague and have conversations outside of the workday realm, which is fantastic.
We also currently have annual reviews and reviews with new staff members in their first months, but I’d like to set up more informal, monthly check-ins with older colleagues as well as new ones, so that we can ask how their workload is, and what we can do to support them.
After all, we don't have chance meetings in the corridor any more. Those moments together are essential in making the remote model work.