As the coronavirus lockdown continues, the nation is realising that remote working enabled by technology can be not only manageable, but has some distinct benefits
We are all adjusting to the changes in our lifestyles to stem the advance of the Covid-19 pandemic. For many it’s likely to mean working remotely for the first time. I worked in a traditional office for 10 years and it was with some trepidation that I joined a company whose team is remote, based around the UK and Europe.
I thought it useful to share my experience of what works. Digital technology is central but it’s the way in which we embrace and use it that allows such working to be successful. Our core business tools are based on the Google G-Suite which includes Meet, a virtual meeting room which can be added to any new meeting invite.
Our day starts with a company-wide virtual meeting, similar to the daily stand-up meeting advocated by the Scrum method of agile working. In it, each of the 20 team members reports on progress from yesterday and their planned activities for the day ahead. It’s rare for this meeting to last longer than 20 minutes.
This meeting is invaluable for picking up where one team member’s activity may start to affect another’s, and for ensuring a route forward that doesn’t result in abortive work. It’s also vital to the company’s social fabric and is an opportunity to hear what everyone’s doing. Most of us will generally sign into the morning Meet a few minutes early in order to catch up more socially before the working day starts.
Working via video link is surprisingly productive. Meetings tend to be more focused toward the task in hand whereas face to face meetings often have more scope to drift. Collaborating on a cloud-based file such as a spreadsheet or document allows many contributors freedom to input thoughts simultaneously. This can dramatically reduce the time needed to produce outputs such as bids and proposals which can require a fast turnaround.
Many will understand the benefit of cloud-based working with BIM, where information flows around teams much more effectively. Using it with other forms of information has similar advantages. Google’s cloud stores all previous versions of a document, spreadsheet or presentation. This means locating an earlier version is easy and there is no longer the need for protracted file names like ‘rev03_final_absoloute final_for issue’, as is so often the
case with traditional digital filing systems.
A software company I work for, Atamate, has identified diversity benefits that remote working can bring. Home working improves the ability to balance childcare and other caring responsibilities. Statistics show these roles have often fallen to women so flexible working plays a part in addressing gender balance, improving equity and inclusivity. We’ve found too it brings opportunities for those with spectrum disorders such as autism, who can find social interactions in conventional office environments challenging.
The social interaction our working environment provides is clearly an important part of our wellbeing. A study by researchers at Oxford University has noted negligible difference between physical face to face contact and a video call in terms of the effect on subjects’ mood, suggesting that technology can go a long way toward supporting health as we isolate ourselves during this pandemic.
Dan Cash is a building services engineer involved in design, teaching and research. He is director of consulting at Atamate Ltd