By Margaret Totten
I am a control freak.
Anyone who has ever worked with me, for me or alongside me will tell you this openly. I am obsessive about having to know and understand everything. I double check everything and make multiple changes, driving my colleagues mad. I go in moods when my husband tries to cook me dinner (is he saying my cooking skills have slipped?). I read three books at any one time. I never switch off and my phone is as much a part of me as my eyes or hands. I do not stop, and always feel like I must be in full control of myself, my environment and my work, so you can imagine how well I coped with Covid 19 when it hit.
Sending #TeamAkari home and moving to remote working was the first big challenge for me. I have been preaching we can work from anywhere for years! That did not mean I wanted to do it.
I like being in the middle of noise, of bustle. I like being able to dip in and out of everything. Brainstorming at the drop of a hat, coming up with new ideas and implementing them quickly. I like travelling and catching up with friends and partners across the UK, always on the move, every day different.
Now catch up meetings were video calls on Microsoft Teams, client delivery was virtual, team meetings virtual. Communication and collaboration changed in such a fundamental way and I will admit I struggled to keep up. So, I stopped trying and started to look at ways to control and live with this new environment.
First challenge was managing home schooling with my new workspace. In the beginning I had this wonderful idea we would all work from the kitchen table, we would spend our days together, chat between breaks and gain a new understanding of each other as a family. That lasted a week and ended with a complaint from my sons school over my distracting calls, a meeting where I had to pretend my video and microphone had failed as I hung up to rescue the cat who had jumped on my son’s head after being chased by a fellow feline, the kids barely speaking to me and my permanent banishment to the spare room, the furthest room away from the kitchen table there was.
Next it was adapting to a new way of working and keeping in touch. So many good things started to happen, the company continued to grow, we started working with some amazing customers including those worst hit by Covid – being able to help organisations like the NHS, Public Sector and Third sector orgs helped me feel like we were contributing and giving something back. We won Global Microsoft Partner of the Year! (not sure if I’ve mentioned that enough). As we changed how we deliver for our customers through necessity, we created new processes, procedures. Being away from each other and having to rely on new ways of communicating helped us become tighter, leaner, and more productive than any Lean/Six Sigma course had ever done.
Of course, there is always the bad habits that creep in too. Your morning commute starts to become work time and the hours can bleed so easily when you are sitting yourself at a desk with no breaks. Work/home life balance should be easy when you are always at home, but I found that was definitely not the case – the more hours I worked, the more needed done and the more hours I worked and so the merry go round goes. It’s not easy, so many people’s roles have changed beyond recognition and it’s a challenge to manage the many new things we have to contend with and still get the job done. So, I thought I would share my top ten tips that helped me keep calm and carry on.
1. Embrace your own way of organisation – I write lists, long and usually detailed lists on an ever-growing collection of Paperchase notebooks. I have access to lots of great tools, (planner, To do etc) but writing everything down first thing in the morning calms my mind and helps me focus and regroup. It jogs my memory and reminds me of the key tasks and anything important I really want to accomplish that day and keeps me on track before I get lost in a sea of online messages
2. Find your Hub! –Microsoft Teams has saved me over the last six months, it’s my point of contact for everyone I want to reach, it’s my way of expressing good and bad emotions in gif form, its where my daily catch up and weekly meetings takes place and it’s my hub for everything that I need. You need that, a hub. It may not be teams for you but choose your own hub. One place where you can organise everything you need, where you can access information, documents, reach people.
3. Take time to celebrate the successes – I focus way too much on the things I do wrong, the perceived failures. Beating myself up for the things that were not working and not focusing on the things that were. We used our weekly catch ups to celebrate what was going right. To praise the exam successes, new client wins and of course our win at Global Microsoft Partner of the Year. Celebrating those successes together helped us keep communication positive which was vital when we were all so far removed.
4. Make time for focus time – In the beginning I was drowning in meetings. In an effort to remain connected, I was too connected. My diary was overflowing, and I struggled to keep up with everything I had to do out with those catch ups. So, I started booking in focus time and more importantly respecting that block of focus time for what it was. Time I needed to regroup and get things done.
5. Take a break, your way – I ditched my giant water bottle and started going downstairs for a glass of water when it was needed. That break away let me stretch my legs, catch up with my son or husband. It is a privilege to be working at home with our family and sometimes we ignore it. So, embrace it, have a water cooler chat with the coolest people ever – your people.
6. Shut off the electronics at least once a day – I started listening to audiobooks. For thirty minutes every day my phone would be connected to my Alexa, left on the desk while I curled up and listened to a good book. Being away from everything allowed me to take some time out and I always came back with a clearer head.
7. Turn off your notifications – Notifications are not a to-do list – turn them off, they are NOT needed. You aren’t travelling, you aren’t going to miss them, you are in front of your computer nearly all of the time so you will catch what you need to catch and you don’t need your phone going off like an overactive Duracell bunny and stressing you out every time it catches your eye.
8. Set yourself a feet to the fire task – I was massively lucky that thanks to the AI for Good cohort I started getting some business sessions with the lovely James Bianco from 16 Degrees Coaching; These sessions really helped ground me and taught me my new favourite phrase, ‘feet to the fire task’. We now set one of these for ourselves in every LT meeting each week and hold ourselves accountable to getting it done. Getting one small, but important thing done per day always made me feel a lot better before closing off the computer.
9. Reach out, and not just for work – Call your favourite people, partners, and friends. When lockdown happened, everyone became isolated in their homes and we started arranging time with family etc over video but carry that into your work too. If I see one of my favourite people set to green in Teams now, I will start a chat, or quickly give them a call for a five-minute chat. We need that social aspect in work as much as we do in our personal life – and as an added bonus I have gotten to know so many great people better over the last few months and have seen many colleagues and partners turn into friends.
10. Ask for Help when you need it and take the help when it is offered – Relinquish control where needed and let other people help. This was my hardest one to learn. To me ‘relinquish’ was just a fancy word for losing, something else I’m not overly fond of. But I learned quickly that I needed to rely on and trust those around me. I’m surrounded by some amazing people in the Akari team and watching how much stronger we have all grown during the last six months has been one of my favourite things.
So in summary, I can say that this new way of working changed things a lot, many of those changes were for the better, even if they were hard to adapt to. One of the biggest takeaways that this left me with was how we can now be far more open to the different ways people want to work. We do a lot of work around inclusion and at present there are tens of thousands of people across the UK who were previously locked out of the world of work. Working from home, in hours that suits opens up a whole new world of options for them. Giving access to new employment, training and education to large groups of people who previously due to hidden or situational disabilities were ignored. This is something that we should all embrace.
So as a final tip (I know I said there was ten, but I fibbed!) I would highly recommend anyone reading this goes and signs up to be a Disability Confident organisation and starts looking at how you can embrace a workforce that might not have been feasible to you before. Changing just a few habits in how we hire, embracing changes and changing policies can allow us to see some real good come out of the last few months and the challenges it has brought.