In this column, Fluidly’s founder and CEO Caroline Plumb discusses the advantages and pitfalls of working remotely.
She shares three valuable lessons, both in terms of how to work better in the current remote setup – and also what she hopes to do differently once we can all get back into an office.
“When the pandemic first hit the UK, and we were thrown into lockdown, businesses up and down the country were forced to make drastic adjustments, almost overnight.
“Even for us, as a pretty digitally-savvy company, it’s been a learning curve.
“Some things have worked brilliantly, the flexibility of working remotely has certainly been a real benefit to some, and is something that we’ll look to continue once things do get back to a ‘new normal’.
“Other elements have been more challenging. While it’s remarkable how much can now be achieved virtually, there are some things, such as a really good ideas session, or a cup of tea with colleagues in the kitchen, that just don’t translate quite as well online.
“Nevertheless, in lots of ways we’re working more efficiently, being more agile, and we’ve made some really incredible progress with our product.
“And we’ve definitely learnt some valuable lessons, both in terms of how to work better in our current setup – and also what we’ll do differently once we can get back into an office.
Learning to do meetings again
“For the most part, moving to virtual meetings at Fluidly has been fairly seamless. The technical logistics have all been pretty straightforward at least. But what’s interesting is this whole new etiquette that everyone’s had to learn.
“The first thing we’ve really noticed is how timely everyone is. People are rarely more than a minute or two late, which means a lot less wasted time. Aside from the obvious practicality of literally always being at the meeting location (no travelling to contend with), there’s also something about not being physically with someone that makes conversations easier to bring to a close. There’s also a lot less digression.
“But while it’s great to gain back valuable hours in the day, it’s also a shame to lose some of the more conversational chat, as that’s what really helps forge connections.
“One pain point I’m sure everyone can relate to is the mute functionality. While it’s awkward if background noise deafens conversation, the dynamic of talking to silence (not even quiet sounds of agreement) takes some getting used to.
“And this silence is particularly pressing when you’re presenting. Whether it’s leading a meeting, delivering a new strategy, or hosting a webinar, it’s disconcerting to have no oral feedback from your audience.
“As time’s gone on, we’ve got better at getting people to actively participate, whether that’s with the chat functionality, or encouraging people to unmute and give feedback.
The power of collaboration tools
“Collaboration software has clearly been invaluable. As a tech company, we were probably better set up than some for using lots of the key tools already.
“Trello, Slack, Google Docs, were all essential parts of the day to day running of Fluidly anyway, but it’s been impressive to see the ways in which they’ve been optimised even further to try to create that sense of connection.
“Slack has helped immensely with us trying to keep some elements of social interaction. A remote working channel was created almost immediately that sees cute pet pictures, and updates on house plants. We had a virtual easter egg hunt over Slack (yes, really) and we use the Slack donut functionality to facilitate catchups with team members who wouldn’t ordinarily cross paths.
“The downside to feedback that’s predominately written, be that a comment on a google doc or a Slack message, is that it’s hard to get the intonation, and the subtleties that a conversation can bring. This is true even in a virtual conversation, Zoom fatigue has definitely set in as we struggle to create the natural rhythm of face-to-face interactions.
“For some industries, potentially for accounting, I can imagine that adopting new tools has also been an adjustment. We’ve only had to increase the usage of tools we already had, but for some it’s meant getting used to completely new systems and processes – which is always a challenge for employers and employees.
We can move to a more flexible office space
“One thing that seems certain is that remote working will become even more of a staple. We won’t need an office that fits our entire workforce, all of the time. Instead, we’ll probably only need capacity for 50-60% of employees.
“Thanks to both virtual meetings and collaboration tools, the last few months have disproved a lot of the myths surrounding flexible working. Whether that be issues of trust, worries about lack of equipment or a fear of a dip in productivity, qualms have proved largely unfounded.
“But despite a desire to stay lean and keep costs low, that doesn’t mean we want to ditch the office entirely.
“At Fluidly, we ran a poll to get a sense of what people wanted from working life going forwards. And while people definitely would like to do more days from home, noone wanted to work entirely remotely.
“Finding the right balance will be another challenge all businesses will need to face, but if Covid-19 has shown us one thing, it’s how adaptable we can be when we need to be.
“Clearly, the pandemic has fast-tracked digital in a way we could never have imagined just six months ago.
“I’m proud of how well we’ve adapted at Fluidly, but I’m also conscious that part of the reason we’ve adjusted so successfully is because of the culture we’d curated in-person over the past few years.
“We want to maximise the flexibility and efficiency that digital tools can bring, but we’re looking forward to some catch ups in the office kitchen soon too.”