Working from home - How we’re adapting to the ‘new normal’

All of our lives have changed beyond all recognition in the last week or so. There are new problems and pressures we’ve never had before, and some go down to our most basic needs.

How to work from home and be effective is the least of many people’s problems right now. But it is still a problem. Even those people who were already home-based have never had to work from home in these circumstances. It’s new to all of us.

At Fivium, though many of us do it, we aren’t home working experts. What we do know, though, is change management. As an IT Services company, we help our customers manage fundamental changes to the way they work. Here are some things we’ve learnt and how we’ve applied them in this situation that may help.

1. Change can be instant – but adaptation takes time.

It’s not going to be perfect on day 1, or day 5 for that matter. People need time to adjust. When things change, everyone needs time to find their own way of managing and we all adapt at different rates. Accept this and adjust work expectations accordingly – very few people will be firing on all cylinders instantly.

In our own organisation, despite working in technology we’ve needed to adapt some of our technical set ups and find additional meeting platforms and test them with our customers. All of these things take time.

2. (Re) Build the team

Change affects team dynamics and teams often need to be reshaped in light of change. The structure needs rebuilding; the relationships, the meeting points, everything. Review the old structure, decide what worked and then find a way to preserve that. That way, people’s familiarity will make the new way more comfortable.

At Fivium, we’ve already put a number of things in place to aid that. We looked at our structures and routines and virtualised as much as possible. Our teams have short virtual daily stand up meetings together every morning and we now conduct all our meetings virtually.

We also looked at other areas where we collaborate and how we could recreate them. This includes the social side of ensuring our teams keep connected. It’s important because we know our kitchen is more than a place to make teas and coffees: it a place to socialise, exchange information and an innovation incubator. To keep ideas flowing, our team are encouraged to have a tea/coffee or water breaks virtually with colleagues across the company, not just our ‘usuals’. We’ve added a company radio station where we all compile a playlist, and our Friday night bar is now a Google hangout.

3. Create a common goal or purpose and communicate it

People need purpose. Everyone needs a goal to focus on. Teams need goals to bind them. In the face of large-scale change, some teams’ goals will have stayed the same. For others, they will have changed dramatically. People need to know (or be reminded of) what they are working towards. Continued, gainful employment, though a luxury in these times, is not enough. Everyone needs to unite around a flag, even if that flag, and their unison, is virtual.

For us, our goal has evolved and grown. Our public sector customers need our services as much as ever. We need to keep our operations running smoothly for them, and we also need to work with them and help them adapt.

4. Remove obstacles

With new challenges, there are new obstacles. You need to remove as many as you can as quickly as you can so that you can ramp up performance. Start with the mindset that most obstacles can be overcome, and many are artificial or bound to a previous way of working.

In the last couple of weeks our team have had to address technology and working hours obstacles. We’ve had to find additional virtual meeting technology for our collaborations with customers. Also, following the closure of schools, we’ve helped colleagues change their working patterns to accommodate the needs of their families.

5. Use signals

Signalling is important. Changing the appearance of something (adding or removing) helps remind people of the change that has occurred and their role in it.

Signalling change has proved important for our team. For some, visual signals, such as the clothes we wear remind us, and everyone around us, which ‘mode’ we are in. Some have changed the appearance of the work area for when they are working and when they are doing ‘home school’. For others, keeping to a routine when preparing for a working day is important.

6. Cut it all up into bite-size chunks and find quick wins

A core purpose is essential, but you still need to ensure that this has meaning for every single individual. Everybody needs to know how their contribution plays a part and it needs to be clear how their work fits in. At an individual level, people need to segment their tasks into units of work that they can achieve within a short-ish timescale that give them some kind of fulfilment.

At Fivium, our development work is already divided in this manner. However, this isn’t the case for everyone at Fivium. Some have found reducing the size of each task so there are more, smaller tasks helps productivity. Some have found that grouping similar tasks is most effective.

We’ve also continued to celebrate successes, whether that’s work achievements or welcoming new team members. We share customer compliments with relevant teams as we receive them and have an employee recognition system where the whole company awards points. This has helped share success and reminded us that the work we are doing is important.

7. It ain’t over till it’s over

John Kotter, Harvard Professor and internationally renowned expert on Leadership and Change, in his 8 Step Process for leading change strongly advised against declaring early victory. If things weren’t 100% done, this led to significant dissatisfaction. Instead, he recommends people seek out areas for continual improvement.

For us, we’re determined to continue serving our customers, staying connected and never stopping finding ways to improve. In this case, we have no end date and there will not be a victory to declare. When it comes to the COVID-19 virus we will only be able to say that we didn’t lose, we did everything we could to adapt and help others to adapt too in this difficult time.

We hope everyone stays in and stays safe while we get through this crisis together.

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