How Covid-19 is influencing the way we work

Ann Lakshmanan

Ann is an architect and director at Shepheard Epstein Hunter and her experience includes Woodberry Down Primary School, amongst other school projects. She is the practice champion for social value and is responsible for human resources.

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As the Covid-19 lockdown is easing, we’re asking wider questions about how we work based on our recent experiences.

Nine to five presence in the work place may be a holdover from historic working patterns but it isn’t necessarily essential for many work places now. However like many companies, while we have a flexible working arrangement, we have core working hours where people are expected to be in the office between 10am and 5pm. In part the core working hours were considered to be essential to keep our team cohesive by making communication easy. Another consideration was being able to respond to our clients during their working hours; in the past we have operated a four-day week, with all hours compressed into four days but twenty years ago our clients found this difficult to work with.

Some colleagues start early and finish early while others arrive at 10am and stay later, and there is some flexibility to work from home or make up time for medical appointments and other life matters. While some colleagues work flexibly, including part time hours, working from home and part-time working, we treated each arrangement in an ad-hoc case by case basis. Recognising that this wasn’t ideal, we’ve been developing a policy so that there is a transparent process for asking for flexible arrangements and everyone understands what is available. Formalising the policy was tricky as we worked through how we would effectively manage the team with many different working patterns and whether we would be able to communicate effectively without regular face to face contact.

Events overtook us, and the whole team has switched to working almost exclusively from home for the past ten weeks. Our IT team rolled out secure server access to the whole team amazingly quickly. We’ve all now got used to using Teams, Zoom and even Google Hangouts to meet up virtually. There have been issues of course; not least of which have been the difficulties experienced by those with caring responsibilities not being able to access their usual support systems. Not everyone has had the hardware at home or high speed internet connections. Our Chairman Steven has been driving around London delivering large monitors and office chairs to colleagues without a decent desk set up. Whilst we can provide the kit, we can’t provide space; living in modern London homes often means we don’t have enough space for homeworking. We are missing access to printers and scanners, as well as the ground coffee machine and of course being with our co-workers. But all in all, we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how straightforward the switch has been.

We’ve managed to stay working effectively and stay in contact with colleagues, clients and consultants. Friday evening drinks are a bit different, but still a good way to have some social time with colleagues. Not commuting has given us all extra time to breathe in these stressful times.

So with this experience, we’ve officially launched our flexible working policy and discussed it at this week’s team meeting. It seems like many people, at all levels of the company, are thinking that working from home at least part of the time could be a great way of improving their work life balance longer time, freeing up time to be with family and friends, pursue sports, hobbies or training or just have a break. People are at the heart of all aspects of our practice and we need to use all the tools available to us to make sure our people are well supported, particularly in the current circumstances.