We’ve got to take the positives where we can during a lockdown (or, as we're now in where I'm based, a 'local restriction tier system').
If, like me, you’re fortunate enough for your office to be wherever you can set up your laptop or phone, that has to be a good thing.
However, even with the ability to work remotely, there’s no denying it’s a challenge - especially when you’re head of a company with more than 150 people across the whole of the UK.
Together with my HR and IT colleagues, we’ve been working across the country to make sure everyone has what they need in what are very trying circumstances.
The world outside Wi-Fi
Technology has certainly been a key factor in managing this crisis - but as I lean back from yet another Teams call, the world outside Wi-Fi suddenly comes into sharper focus.
During the first outbreak, I hunkered down at the desk in my bedroom, two floors above the street outside, which is only yards from the entrance to my local tube station.
Consequently, even though the tube was quieter than normal I still found I was peering down on a steady flow of passengers of all types, passing my home.
But it’s different now I’ve moved to pavement level.
I’ve escaped from upstairs to ‘set up shop’ in what was, erm, a shop or, more accurately, the café and deli my wife, Liz, established and ran successfully for a number of years, before pausing the business pre-Covid to see what comes next.
From my new perch in front of the shop counter, I’m level with the commuters who bustle past en route to the tube. Regularly, some see me and stick their head round the door.
There are times when I’m glad for the chance for a socially distanced chat, even if I can’t make them a coffee or rustle up freshly made pasta to take home for dinner.
Typical exchanges are: “You not open, then”? “Any chance of a croissant”? “Can you tell me the way to Kew Gardens”? (through the tunnel into the station, keep walking straight, hit the main road (South Circular) and there you are – 20 minutes).
Adapting to change
These conversations make me reflect on how much has changed for those of us who have found themselves working remotely. This time last year, I would never have expected to be joining virtual meetings from my seat at a shop counter, in between dishing out directions and chats about croissants.
My colleagues have found themselves adapting too, and repurposing existing spaces into remote offices. At least one workmate has kitted out his garden shed, and another has turned a static caravan into a spacious office for two.
Countless others have repurposed various nooks and crannies into workstations. Connect these points together and we have a smoothly functioning, connected company whose staff have been able to adapt.
Finding a flexible fit
So far, ‘so what’, you might think…we’re not exactly alone in this approach!
But it does point to something I have been evangelising for some time.
The need to re-think how we work, where we work and how flexibly we work – not only in terms of hours and geographic location, but also taking age, experience and motivation into consideration.
I’ve written two books on how the UK’s shifting demographics are changing the face of our workforce, and how we need to embrace this shift - both for the benefit of employees themselves, and for the commercial and cultural prospects of employers and wider society.
My most recent work, The Mid-Life Review, asked employers and employees to work together to think about what the next steps might be for a mid-life employee, so they can enjoy a meaningful and fulfilling second phase of their career. Carry on working? Step back from five days a week? Shift to a more flexible working pattern? Or plan for retirement?
In asking these questions, it unlocks a much broader conversation about the possibilities in front of you if you’re over 50 (or one of the “Forgotten 55s” my colleague Pete Selby recently wrote about, which is a theme to which I’ll return).
And as the last few months have shown us, embracing flexibility has been critical to adapting in the face of this emergency. Initiatives like the Mid-Life Review can help guide employers and employees in how they implement flexible working, so it is beneficial to all demographics.
Think of it as stepping off the train in an unfamiliar part of town and asking directions for the next stage of your journey…
…sometimes, you just need to knock on a window to help you get where you want to be!