We’re at home now - but does it really work?

20 March 2020

In recent years, we’ve seen a shift in attitudes around remote working. In working hours, coffee shops are packed full of people tapping away. But it’s not the strength of those flat whites that brought them to this diuretic dance. Nope, it’s the strength of the Wifi.

OK, it’s also the flat whites.

But it’s not just cafes that are doing well; coworking spaces are also thriving. This points towards a trend where workers are choosing community-based locations over traditional office spaces. And this level of community collaboration can only be a good thing, right? 

Ordinarily, yes.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works. Offices are now being forced to look for alternatives and with the imminent threat of schools closing, home is suddenly the only option. 

Working from home is already familiar to many. That is if you’re lucky enough to work in a sector that allows this luxury. But what about the effect on staff who haven’t done it before? Many might not have experienced those lonely hours of freelancing - it’s isolating. Is it possible to keep in touch at the same level as you would do inside your office? And what about clients? Can you truly offer the same level of service?

We think so. But there’s a lot to consider...

Safety first (then communications)

Firstly, think about the safety of your team and customers. Sounds obvious but you need to make sure you’re connected to official advisory services - specifically around coronavirus. Gov.uk is a good starting place for businesses

Next, keep your lines of communication open to employees. It’s a terrifying and uncertain time for everybody and it’s even more unnerving outside of the office. With that in mind, make sure you’re regularly communicating official information and advice on keeping safe. We use Slack to keep in touch; it’s free and quick to set-up. It works on PC and Mac but, crucially, also has a mobile and desktop app. This makes it perfect for working from home. Set your status to remind people what you’re doing, e.g. “in a meeting” or “having lunch”. That way no one will worry if you haven’t responded instantly. 

“Meeting” over video

OK, so we’re not breaking any records for innovation here. Google Hangouts and Skype for Business have been helping companies communicate remotely for a while now. But we recommended another video conferencing tool. Often forgotten or overlooked, Zoom’s audio and visuals are crystal clear (ideal for client meetings). What’s more, it’s likely to be familiar to most users. We recommend the Pro account for businesses under 100 people. The 1GB of MP4 cloud recording is really handy. 

Slack also has a voice and video call facility on its standard paid plan - as does Google Hangouts. Hangouts is free with a Google Account which is ideal for start-ups and small businesses.

The basics

Obviously, all staff members are going to need a decent laptop or desktop computer. Ideally, the business should provide the equipment and have it properly PAT tested. Many employees might prefer to use their own equipment - and this shouldn’t be a problem. You can speak to your insurer about putting in a clause to cover this scenario. 

But if employees are using their own equipment, it’s a good idea to keep work and home life separate. Important for your mental health - and to avoid any accidents. You can do this using a separate user account; here’s how to do this on a Mac and Windows. Alternatively, you can use a second browser for logging into cloud accounts (just don’t forget to sign out when you’re finished).

So, communications are pretty easy - but what tools? Well, they have their challenges.

Those tricky tools

The challenge comes with production software. Our designers use SketchInVision and Adobe Creative Cloud amongst other apps. And most of these tools need to be downloaded locally (aside from some of InVision and Adobe’s presentation features). The good news is that all of them have cloud-based updates. What’s more, given that the actual files are stored remotely, you can always access the latest version. Essentially, designers are never left stuck. 

And for marketers? Well, they’re basically cloud-based already. They can use tools like Google AnalyticsFacebook Business ManagerHotjarSEMRush, and Buzzstream from anywhere.

We don’t even need to talk about copywriters. These simple creatures don’t ask for much. 

But developers present another problem. When they’re not working on live sites, they need to access development versions from one central location: our servers. They use OpenVPN to get around this. It allows them to get to that server securely, whilst transferring anything they need to their computers. From that point, it’s a personal choice. Some work directly with the server; others set-up their own environment through Docker.

Distractions and loneliness

You can’t avoid this. And as we mentioned earlier, there are some mental hurdles you need to overcome when working from home. Throughout the day, you can find yourself walking a precarious tightrope between loneliness and distraction. 

So just keep in touch, yeah?

Slack and Whatsapp make it so easy to stay connected with colleagues. I mean, you could even create an entire channel for sharing cat memes (for morale obviously). Seriously, without all of the face-to-face meetings, you might actually find you’re more productive than before. 

Obviously, you do still need to “meet”. But there are more agile ways to do this. Try having a remote stand-up. GoTo Meeting has a post that explains how this effectively.

Some pre-planning helps too. Try ploughing through your emails in the morning then get into those serious tasks in the afternoon (or vice versa). The beauty of working from home is you can be more flexible. So do what works for you. 

And if you’ve got any little “coworkers” around the house, you’ll be used to going with the flow.

The future

Without a doubt, coronavirus has sent shockwaves throughout the world. And as we’ve insinuated before, we’re so lucky to be able to continue working in light of the situation. Unfortunately, other sectors are not so fortunate. 

But for those that are set up to do so, there are plenty of ways to provide a stable environment for employees and a great service to clients. And we can support one another with technology to make it work. Because if there was ever a time to help each other and collaborate - this is it.

Fancy a chat? Get in touch and we can arrange something remotely.

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