2020 the year we learnt to work remotely

March 23rd, 2020 was a date that had a significant effect on all of our lives.  When the Prime Minister announced a national lockdown and asked us all to work from home if we possibly could, it created an immediate challenge for any business where teamwork was an important aspect of their day to day operation. How would asking everyone to work from home affect team culture? How would regular and fluent communication between team members be maintained? How indeed would we continue to communicate with customers and potential clients?  These were some of the questions flying through the minds of the leadership team here at Hazel 4D.

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Just 2 weeks before, we had researched the concept of Microsoft Teams in anticipation of a potential lockdown and, whilst we could see that it was a neat tool, it was difficult to see how it could be used effectively across a multi-million pound company with over 40 staff. It’s funny to look back and see how years of traditional office-based working had left us struggling to imagine the concept of remote working.  Nevertheless, being a free service (we are based in Yorkshire after all!), we made the decision to roll MST out across all of our team, including running some simple training sessions.  We managed to complete this at around mid-day on March 23rd.

The next few weeks are a bit of a blur. All our staff started to work from home on the morning of 24th March, and the leadership team got together (on a Microsoft teams meeting) to work on a business survival strategy.  Of course there were a hundred and one things to think about, but one of the key ones was this – Hazel 4D has an enviable team culture and work ethic, how were we going to preserve and nurture these when everyone was working from home, when effectively you couldn’t see colleagues or have a friendly word with them as we walked past their desk? This was a big worry indeed.

But it needn’t have been – here’s what we did.

We established a cadence of meetings across the company – with individual departments setting up regular touch bases for their teams.  In many cases these started off as twice a day, a call at the beginning and end of each day on Microsoft Teams with videos turned on, a quick touch base to see how things were going, address any concerns and agree the next steps.  The power of these meetings cannot be underestimated and as a company we credit them with holding us together, maintaining morale and creating impetus and energy across the organisation.

Alongside this we set up a regular schedule of fortnightly all-staff meetings – where the whole team came together, and the business owners gave honest, transparent updates and feedback on how the business was doing.  Yes we had furloughed some staff and, yes, there were concerns about job security across the company, but these frank updates from the CEO on the performance of the business removed the fear of the unknown and created a sense of loyalty.

Finally, we created a program of sales activities that were closely measured – a friendly competition where the team could see if they were winning or losing and providing a single point for us all to rally to during difficult days.

As we look back, we can honestly say that these 3 things combined with strong leadership from the Directors resulted in the team culture improving throughout 2020 and resulted in an outstanding year’s results.

As we move into 2021, remote working has become the norm, we use Microsoft Teams and other VC platforms as easily as we use our mobile phones, we chat over them, we message on them, and we have ‘face to face’ meetings with customers and suppliers on them. In fact, we can hardly remember what life was like without them but it’s taken 2020 and all that the year has thrown at us to teach us how that there’s more than one way to run a business, and with the fantastic communication tools that we have available today, remote working is a very viable way

As Winston Churchill is credited with saying – ‘never waste a good crisis’.

Written by Lee Armstrong