Going remote: moving to remote working in just five days (and two years)!

By mid-March, it was becoming clear that the UK government was going to introduce a ‘lockdown’ to combat the threat from Coronavirus. As a business we had two major concerns; the safety and health of staff and continuing to provide a business-critical software platform for our customers.

A national lockdown meant that our team were no longer able to work from our head office in Leeds, requiring the business to move all employees to remote working from Monday 23rd March. The week prior everyone worked hard over the five days to ensure we had in place the technical, management and administrative requirements for business continuity. We succeeded, but in reality, it didn’t take us five days – it’s taken two years of preparation.

In December 2017, we adopted Microsoft Teams as the start of our project to increase collaboration and remote working options, as well as put in place measures to ensure business continuity should distribution strike. By January 2019, we had already created a working environment built on cloud services. Many staff were already choosing to work from home one or two days a week and there are team members based in Cambridge, Norwich and Berlin. Furthermore, we have a fantastic network of freelancers, such as designers, developers and writers who are part integrated into our systems.

Transitioning the entire company to working remotely, without any major disruption was technically possible and so far, successful.

Remote working culture challenges

So, the challenge of a sudden, enforced move to a fully remote working is not really technical, it’s the rapid cultural change needed that will test us as individuals.

How can we ensure that all team members (including senior managers) remain task-focused and motivated and not distracted by their domestic circumstances? Many team members are anxious about the Coronavirus situation and worried about being stuck at home for many days. The lockdown situation has added an extra dimension to homeworking for some team members, in particular – parents caring or educating their children and those living, and now working on their own.

Our first response has been to introduce twice-daily informal ‘huddles’ which help the team to react quickly to daily changes and keep up morale through friendly banter.

“As a business, we are feeling our way day-by-day. And, although its only week one, the transition has been fairly smooth with all team members trying their hardest to be positive and professional”, said managing director Mitali Mookerjee. “Our company values of positive​, open​, wellbeing​, innovation​ and empathy​ – POWIE for short – are certainly being tested”, she observed.

“We all have to show support and understanding to each other as we are all in this experience together,” commented the founder Daniel Lord. “Let’s hope for a quick end to this crisis and a brighter future”, he added.

Five tips for our enforced remote working are:

  • Run a daily ‘social’ video call with all team members where the team can chat about our day, make jokes and ‘shoot the breeze’.
  • Block out time in diaries for morning breaks, lunches, walks etc.
  • Abide by a clear start and finish time so team members can separate home and work lives.
  • Use of ‘Set status message’ in collaborative software to communicate your activities (i.e. I’m having lunch).
  • Encourage all team members to be open about any problems they are having.