Whilst all of our members have remained very active over the last year, for many the pandemic has meant adjusting to working from home. In April, President Sharon led a discussion in which members shared their experiences of working from home during a pandemic.
Everyone agreed that the pandemic has had a major impact on the way in which we undertook our business roles and at the start of the lockdown in March 2020, there was a very sudden change from the usual face-to-face operation to a mix of telephone and online meetings.
This brought with it a number of challenges, primarily around the technology – this included having to get to grips with new software and programmes very quickly and often manage multiple screens simultaneously. There was also the concern over having a reliable and adequate internet connection. On the whole, our members were fortunate to have a home office or dedicated workspace and most enjoyed the experience of working from home. There was, however, great sympathy for those who were not so lucky in this respect and who have had to struggle with family, children and pets, often working from a kitchen table.
There have also been quite a number of positives from this ‘new’ way of working too. Time and cost savings were highlighted by some as key benefits – for example from less travelling and fewer requirements to book meeting venues. President Sharon had particularly enjoyed and welcomed the fact that she was no longer constantly racing around the UK but rather spending that time with clients.
It was felt that many workplaces will look very different in the future as the needs have changed with more people working from home more often. There is likely to be greater flexibility in workplace spaces perhaps with smaller personal offices, more ‘hot-desk’ facilities and more meeting rooms.
The downsides of interacting on the screen rather than face-to-face were also mentioned. Often those who were delivering training found themselves in front of dark screens as their trainees switched both sound and video off and used the Chat facility to communicate. This made the experience for the trainer much more intense and could be extremely wearing for all concerned. Members also commented on the impact of lack of eye contact, body language and facial clues as being particularly hard to deal with in certain circumstances.
The lack of personal contact with colleagues and the potential to spend long periods in front of the screen were also highlighted as challenges. This has led to many members developing conscious strategies to mitigate these situations. The structure of meetings and training sessions is carefully considered beforehand. Comfort breaks are built into sessions, and the necessity to take a lunchbreak and refresher breaks, as well as take regular movement or walks was emphasised by everyone with experience of working in a virtual environment. It can also be useful to have a colleague alongside (remotely) to manage the technology during intense sessions.
Although the situation was not of our choosing, most members have found virtual working and working from home a positive experience, although we have all certainly missed the face-to-face contact. The opportunity to upskill and learn more about how technology can be used in a positive way was also welcomed, even though the learning curve was often steep and challenging.
There was a general consensus that many of our working practices have now changed for good and the future will be a mix of virtual and face-to-face interactions, with much less “going to work” and more working from home. There was also agreement that the phrase of the year is most certainly “You’re on mute”!
A very big thank you to our speakers and all members for sharing their experiences over this past year and for giving us a great insight into the world of online working.