It has been an interesting 3 weeks. On 17th March I was sitting in a hotel in Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil. I had been out of contact on an amazing trip to Galapagos since the beginning of March and now, I was trying to get home as the normal world started to unfold around me. I didn’t appreciate the full impact of what was to come. As it transpired, I caught the last scheduled international flight out of Ecuador before everything closed and the tragedy of coronavirus in Ecuador started to hit the news the following day.
I was lucky. I made it back to the UK relatively easily. There are still thousands of travellers trying to get home and I wish them well.
Once home it was back to the office and a return to work – or so I thought! The following day, all restaurants, pubs, clubs, and indoor sport and leisure facilities across the UK were ordered to close, and then on 23 March, the lockdown was imposed.
It'll be OK. I can work from home. It wouldn't be the first time.
When I have worked from home in the past, it has never been for any length of time; the odd half-day or day here and there. We are fortunate that we have good internet connections and VPNs allowing full access to our work systems and data. With our growing use of cloud-based technologies (I talked about our move to Xero accounts a while ago) and our switch to a VOIP telephone system in January, BSA is technically well placed for remote working. It is the emotional and mental challenges in this surreal environment that are having a significant impact.
Am I on holiday?
Having just returned from an actual holiday, my first feeling was that I was still on holiday! I always find it a challenge to get back into the work routine after being away. Now there was no routine to return to! No office to visit, no working day at the office. Am I still on holiday?
Yet there is work to do! Marketing and staying engaged with your customers and contacts is important, particularly in these strange times. We have clients who are very busy, actively involved in the fight against the pandemic and other clients who are seeing their e-commerce sites which, to date had been a minor supplement to bricks and mortar retail businesses, suddenly becoming the heart of plans to sustain business during the lockdown.
There was clearly no time for holidays! BSA’s experience and practical support are in demand.
Two years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to make more use of remote meetings technology – I really don’t like driving to meetings if I can avoid it! 3 months later, after numerous unsuccessful trials with Skype, I gave up. The technology wasn’t up to the job. I don’t know whether it was the software, the bandwidth, the internet connections, or what, but it got in the way of the meeting. Remote meetings were on the back burner.
Although I had heard of Zoom, up to 3 weeks ago I had never used it. I was still disenchanted about the whole remote meeting thing. But with the lockdown, travelling became virtually impossible and so if I was going to meet with people, it would have to be on-line. Remote meetings were back on the agenda. I tried 4 or 5 different tools and by some margin, the best is Zoom. What a revelation, it just works. I have been involved in meeting with up to a dozen people for up to 2 hours. OK, there has been the odd occasion when the line quality wasn’t brilliant but overall, it looks like remote meeting has come of age – and just in the nick of time!
I am sure that even when the coronavirus lockdown of 2020 slips into history, online meetings are here to stay as a feature of the modern business world.
The new normal
While lockdown persists, I am seeing a sense of common purpose, a new normal. Sure, we are all still in business and it is vital that the economy is not allowed to stall. It remains appropriate to charge for products and services but this is a time for support, not profiteering. Some businesses are booming while others are struggling. A bit of flexibility, support and give & take can hopefully level things out for everyone while we try and make sense of our circumstances.
In fact, perhaps this the basis for good, sustainable business at any time?
Personally, one of the biggest challenges I am finding is to know what day it is! I have always tried to work Monday to Friday then have the weekend off. But do we still have weekends? I am starting to wonder! Does this matter? don’t get me wrong, having time off from work is essential (IMHO!) but does it need to be a working week followed by a weekend?
Working from home makes it easier to be flexible. I am trying to take time every day to get out and explore my local footpaths. this is time I would previously be stuck at my desk but it feels good to swap this for an hour or 2 work on a Saturday or Sunday, if necessary. I am seeing a new flexibility – I can work by hours not days.
This approach may be more challenging for employees – though flexitime has been a ‘thing’ – particularly in larger companies – for many years. Maybe our lockdown experience is showing the way for more flexibility in smaller businesses too.
I am sure that none of the things I am talking about here are new. People work in many different ways but alongside the challenges of lockdown, I am seeing some real positives and opportunities to do things different – and better. I am looking forward to exploring the new future.
I’d be interested to hear your experiences of the lockdown. Feel free to drop me a line – or why not join me on zoom for a chat.