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Agile working in the new ‘abnormal’

It certainly feels strange to be celebrating our 20th year in Birmingham, a city that we love, when we (like so many others) are not able to be physically present in our place of work during this time. At times, maintaining motivation (let alone celebrating) has been difficult, particularly when we are all working remotely, disconnected from the city, and separated from the co-owners and clients we are so used to seeing on a daily basis.

Luckily, we are well practised in adapting and responding to internal and external influences, and our team has adjusted to the “new normal” way of working valiantly. But that is not to say that the changes haven’t come with significant challenges. As the latest position from central Government reconfirms that in order to stay safe, we must stay home where possible, we, like many other companies in the sector, are now preparing ourselves to work from home for the foreseeable future.

As well as deliberating what this means more generally for the industry, we have also been considering what this means for the wellbeing of our co-owners. As part of Mental Health Awareness week, we are reflecting on what the lockdown has meant for us, and the impacts and advantages of working at home versus working at the office.

A home away from home

We first established a physical presence in Birmingham 20 years ago, and we have been based in our current “home” at Colmore Row, for the last 13 years.

In 2016 our office was starting to look dated and lacking in personality. A rethink was needed. We decided to undertake a refurbishment to create a better environment, facilitate smarter ways of working, and enhance facilities for our co-owners and clients.

The results of the refurbishment were far more than just an attractive and more functional space, the refurbishment also had a profound impact on our team, creating a more cohesive and sociable environment, which helped to boost productivity. Our new office quickly became a key component of our team, and a home away from home for co-owners.

At a similar time, we introduced a formal ‘freedoms’ framework, which encouraged co-owners to work flexibly where needed, including working from home, and working flexible hours to fit individual and personal requirements. This was supported by infrastructure improvements to facilitate remote working.

With a new office environment, and a framework of ‘freedoms’ in place for several years now we have been able to work flexibly across the board, to suit individual circumstances and personal preferences. Then eight weeks ago, COVID-19 struck, and we were required to rethink and restructure our ways of working once more.

The new ‘abnormal’

Whilst the measures delivered through our freedoms framework meant we were well placed to quickly respond to the new requirement to work from home, the lockdown still resulted in significant changes, both beneficial and challenging.

Recent discussions across our teams have indeed identified positive impacts associated with being at home, the main being the more efficient and flexible use of time associated with reduced commutes and virtual meetings. However, with this comes challenges. Some of these challenges are more immediately apparent, such as co-owners who are managing childcare and home-schooling in addition to work. But another less obvious, but equally important challenge, is the impact that lockdown and isolation is having on our mental health and wellbeing due to reduced human contact, new pressures, and the difficulties in facilitating collaborative working.

During lockdown, we have implemented many measures in an effort to boost team morale, and maintain cohesive working practices through this difficult time. This has included a weekly team video call and ‘icebreaker’, a virtual catch up and quiz every Friday, ‘Ride on with Turley’ for colleagues and clients, and a continued commitment and encouragement to engage in charitable activities, such as the recent Sifa Fireside sleep-out.

Whilst it is clear that agile working and virtual socialising have taken a leap forward during lockdown, it is important to remember that we are not simply “working from home”, we are “staying home during a pandemic trying to work”. It is therefore ok to admit that we miss old working practices, and that there is no real replacement for the benefits brought about through human contact and face to face team working, which, let’s face it, is largely facilitated by having a shared office space.

Emerging into the ‘new normal’

When we emerge from the lockdown, our ways of working may be irrevocably changed, and there are clearly many benefits associated with working from home: less traffic on the roads leading to improvements to air quality, less time commuting meaning more time spent with family, and more flexible working hours and arrangements, to name a few.

However, as many are now speaking of the “death of the office”, and thinking about how their businesses will respond moving forward, it is important to remember the positives to be gained from physically interacting with those you work with on a day to day basis, in terms of both outputs and mental health and wellbeing.

The key as we move forward will be to ensure that we maintain the positive momentum that has been gained in certain areas through working at home, but balance this with the well-established benefits of conventional working practices. We are certainly looking forward to a time when we can return to the office, and come together with our teams and clients once again.

20 May 2020

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