A year of working from home

Grace French
Written by Grace French

Tags: communications culture PR wellbeing WFH

How we’ve adapted, what we’ve learnt, and what will change

Like so many others, I remember the surreal afternoon of 16th March 2020 very clearly. At Stand HQ, we were gathered around our TV watching Boris Johnson urge the nation to start working from home immediately.

At the time, it was assumed we’d be a ‘WFH nation’ for a few weeks. But fast-forward a year and our dining tables are still our desks, our lounges are our offices, and our pets make regular guest appearances on video calls.

In a year where time has (almost) lost all meaning, we’ve been reflecting on what a full year of working from home has meant to us, not only as colleagues, but also as a nation.

It’s been a year of fundamental change that’s prompted governments, industries, businesses and individuals to evolve out of necessity, but also to reflect on what really matters. It’s been a reset button that we never could have planned for, but that we have to act on.

So, as lockdown restrictions gradually lift (third time lucky) and offices begin to re-open, we’ll be enthusiastically returning to a “new different” rather than a “new normal.”

Here are our key learnings and reflections from a year like no other:

Adapt quickly, stay flexible

We work on laptops so could adapt immediately to WFH. But of course, there were teething problems to overcome, with WFH environments varying greatly. Our serviced office has remained open and Covid-compliant, but recognising that everyone has individual personal and commuting circumstances, we couldn’t rely on this as a solution for all.

A quickfire investment in screens, office chairs, keyboards and headsets ensured we could all work from home effectively. Looking forward, we’re now set up for greater flexibility, and productive working, both at the office and from home.

Quality, not quantity communication

The transition to WFH is a major one at the best of times. But during a time of significant confusion, emotion, and concern, it had to be managed sensitively. Keeping colleagues connected and avoiding isolation, without overwhelming our diaries with meetings and socials, was a delicate balance to strike. Over time we found the perfect balance: a weekly company meeting, wellness-focused session, 1-2-1 coffee catch up, and a fun activity (needle-felting, pub quizzes, jazzercize, laughter yoga – you name it, we’ve done it!).

We’ll be adapting this model as we head back into the office, and continuing to dedicate time to celebrating success, alongside prioritising wellbeing and creativity. 

A people-first culture is the only option

Our culture has always focused on championing our people. We knew that, when lockdown hit, people could easily feel isolated and forgotten. To avoid this, we let our colleagues lead the way when it comes to their work and have encouraged flexible working practices (including earlier/later starts/finishes and longer lunch breaks).

We were also mindful to not let existing initiatives fall by the wayside. In a pre-lockdown world, our colleagues chose to use their annual wellness bounty for activities such as gym memberships, yoga retreats, museum passes. In lockdown, this has pivoted to bikes, digital wellness subscriptions and at-home workout equipment – proving just as valuable.

Meaningful mental wellbeing programmes must be colleague-led

Mental wellbeing has rightfully been thrust to the forefront of the nation’s priorities during the pandemic. With national isolation, imposter syndrome, anxiety and demotivation all on the increase, WFH presented a suite of risks.

We adapted our wellbeing programme to work remotely. Most crucially, our programme is run by a group of colleagues – our Mental Health Champions – who ensure we’re addressing people’s needs, concerns and priorities. Weekly wellness and drop-in sessions aim to provide a safe space to talk alongside tips on how to manage mental wellbeing. Everyone has a tailored Wellness Action Plan, detailing individual working styles, how they can maintain positive mental health at work, and how we can support. We have also enrolled in an Employee Assistance Programme which provides a 24/7 helpline for personal or professional challenges and free, confidential counselling.

Recognising that the return to the office is another environmental shift, we’ll continue to adapt the measures we’ve introduced, to ensure they’re fit for purpose in all environments.

Find the funny side

When your home becomes your office, things will inevitably go wrong. “You’re on mute”, “I think they’ve just dropped off the call, maybe their Wi-Fi cut out” and “Sorry, there’s someone at the door” have become commonplace in businesses across the country. The best way forward is to laugh about it, let it go, and move on.

Have something to look forward to

A strong theme across the past year has been the need to have something to look forward to – however big or small – to help us through lockdown after lockdown. We naturally cling to normality, and whilst we’ve made the best of a very surreal situation, we’re all excited to get back to the office more permanently.

Determined to not let the past year get in the way of staying connected, we’re organising a celebratory reunion for those who’ve joined us and left us in the past year, as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Embrace the “Great Reset”

There’s no doubt this year has accelerated change at both an institutional and personal level. And there’s no going back to the way things were before – it’s crucial that we reflect on, and learn from, the challenges and opportunities that this year has thrust upon us, in order to create a better, more equal, and hopeful society.

As a nation, we’ve evolved. And so has Stand.


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