Written by our Operations Director, Tim Leighton
There is no doubting that COVID has turned workplace norms upside down! At Artifax, we took an early decision to serve notice on our rented office and become a fully remote business. The genie is now well and truly out of the bottle thanks to COVID, but we frequently hear politicians talk about remote working as somehow inferior to a shared office environment. However, such proclamations miss two fundamental points:
- Remote working is not appropriate in all circumstances, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be a great solution under certain conditions.
- To be effective, businesses need to treat remote working properly – it requires a fundamental mindset change from top to bottom.
Let’s be honest. Having sent everyone home during that memorable week in March 2020, we fully expected to be back in the office a few weeks later! Trouping out with monitors and laptops under our arms was somehow exciting and novel…but temporary. Little did we know at the time that we would not be returning to the office, except to collect more equipment and, eventually, to clear the space.
Handing back our office only became a serious consideration once it was clear that COVID and lockdowns would be here to stay for some time, affecting not only our own business, but also the many hundreds of organisations we support in the arts and cultural sector, in the most unimaginable ways.
We lived in a ‘temporary’ state for a good few months, working with less than perfect desk set ups wherever employees could find space at home. We were patient with the frequent family interruptions. For some employees, it was a really tough period with many craving the direct face-to-face contact of colleagues. Having taken the firm decision to go fully remote, we were clear as a leadership team that this would only work if we threw everything at it. We knew we had practical problems to solve for employees, but just as importantly, we had to discover a new internal company personality.
Here are some top tips we have learnt along the way for making remote working a success:
- Create a new culture of trust There will be interruptions and distractions. Don’t fight them! There are plenty of ways to monitor individual productivity without being obsessed about whether individual employees are sat at their desk every minute of every day. If you offer flexibility to employees, they will respect the trust shown in them.
- Focus on communication How you communicate in a remote working environment is critical to functioning effectively as a team. Don’t assume that old ‘office’ communication methods will still resonate with remote teams. It’s easy for colleagues to feeling isolated, so find new mechanisms to keep teams updated and involved.
- Find ways to continue to still meet face to face as a team This was obviously hard to achieve during the main COVID period, but since lockdowns have eased, we have made it a priority to bring all employees together on a regular basis. We are investing in quarterly meetups for a mix of shared social time and team learning, often using client venues to help support them at the same time.
- Examine every aspect of your business operation We quickly discovered that the way we operate had to change. As well as technical considerations such as phone systems and network access, we found basic processes that work fine in an office environment, but were not fit for purpose.
- Accept that remote working is not for everyone Although we set out with the aim of convincing all employees that remote working was going to be great, we came to accept that for a variety of reason, it just won’t suit everyone. Sadly, some employees moved to different jobs that better reflect their work/life preferences, but a hybrid approach was never going to work for us. As part of our recruitment now, we make a particular point of ensuring all candidates understand we are a remote working business and that this fits with their work preferences.
- Embrace the opportunity to recruit from wider afield One of the positives has been allowing staff an opportunity to stay with us whilst also having the option to move to other parts of the UK. It also enabled us to throw the net far wider for the best new talent and we have been richly rewarded with talented new employees who simply would not have applied if we were still based in Epsom.
As I made clear at the start, home working is not for all businesses. In the case of Artifax, an Employee Engagement Score of 90% in our latest staff survey is proof that with commitment and hard work, remote working can be a great option.