When colleagues Alex Hirst and Lizzie Penny first founded virtual agency Hoxby back in 2015, neither of them imagined the relevancy it would hold in early 2020 when coronavirus hit. Currently, as the nation wrestles with the global pandemic, traditional office goers are taking refuge in their homes and carrying out their 9-5 duties via a laptop in the quietest place they can escape to. Understandably, this transition is a difficult one, with many people struggling to re-wire their brain to associate “home” as a place of productivity and work.
For this entrepreneurial duo, working remotely is not a struggle, instead, it was an integral part of their business plan. In fact, their agency allows its community of freelancers to work at any time of day and from any geographical location. Free of any offices, Hoxby uses technology to connect more than 1,000 freelancers to projects across 43 different countries.
It’s clear that “office free” working is their forte, and by creating the #RemoteAgainstCoronavirus they plan to help Britain’s workforce work just as well from home as they do. Real Business reached out to the team to hear more… Real Business (RB) When did you start the campaign and why? Lizzie Penny (LP): We founded #RemoteAgainstCoronavirus when we saw how quickly the virus was spreading. We knew that remote working would be key to every country’s ability to implement a social distancing strategy and we wanted to help. Having worked entirely remotely for five years, and having co-founded Hoxby, a community of people who do the same, we felt compelled to support as many people as possible in quickly moving to this way of working. We decided that the best way to do that was to unite the broader remote working community behind sharing advice, strategies, tools and experiences to aid the swift adoption of remote working by everyone, as well as sharing publicly everything about the way that we work. RB: Currently, all employees who can are working from home. What do you think their biggest challenges are? Alex Hirst (AH): There are two key challenges to address. The first is the delivery of work in a remote setting, and the second is the challenge of supporting employees’ mental health and wellbeing in doing so. Delivering work in a remote setting is not a simple switch – we have spent the last 200+ years working in industrial age behaviours, underpinned by an 8 hour day, usually in an office or place of work, and in instant whole countries are now moving to remote working. Thankfully there are many tools and strategies available to help streamline and project manage the delivery of work, as well as many tools for communicating as an entirely online ‘office’ or community which we have shared in our recommended 4-step approach Isolation is challenging, especially when office working has been many people’s norm for a long time. We urge people and organisations to abandon their normal ways of working in favour of swift adoption of tried and tested remote working practices. In particular, it is important that people understand the difference between working from home, and remote working – the two are very different things (read more HERE). RB: How will your #RemoteAgainstCoronavirus campaign help employees work well and safely? LP: In addition to the resources we have produced and blogs on our website, we have launched remoteworkmates.com in response to the demand for not just information but a place to go for human interaction. It’s a free Slack community that brings experienced-remote and newly-remote workers together in one place to trade experiences, share insights and join in collective wellbeing sessions such as yoga, mindfulness, exercise and training. We also have a shared exercise challenge to circumnavigate the globe (twice!) as we know exercising – whether it’s inside or outside the house – is not only good for physical health but mental health too. RB: Do you have any predictions for how coronavirus will affect office life once employees finally return to the office? AH: We are hopeful that the one good thing to come from this awful pandemic is a recognition that we are in the digital age, not the industrial one, and that people and organisations see clearly the need and benefit of adopting digitally-led working practices. Those who do, stand to gain competitive advantage, both from an astute, swift response to the pandemic and also in how they make permanent changes to the way they work in order to learn from the current crisis. RB: Any final tips for employers managing remote workers?
AH: Recognise that this is not just for the short term, but is likely to stay for quite some time, so it’s worth investing time, energy and resources in getting set up properly now with not only the right technology but also the best workstyles for individuals, properly trained leaders in virtual leadership, and work to create a cohesive, resilient and empathetic culture.
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