We recently returned to our office building in Middleton after almost six months of working from home.* An appropriate time to reflect, maybe, not only on events of the past months but also on how our team setup pre-COVID equipped us – for better or for worse – to deal with the pandemic and its many and ongoing consequences.
As we return to and restore our routine, we’ll be keeping some of the changes we were forced to introduce during our time away from the office – like many business organisations large and small, we too have made a contribution to the “Zoom boom”. Our weekly team meetings previously took the form of those on site in Middleton gathering in our meeting room, and our home-working employees dialling in to listen on speaker phone. Now, we have everybody calling in via Zoom, something that punctuates the day with a welcome set of friendly faces and has made us wonder why we didn’t take the video route before now! We’re also looking at introducing MS Teams as an end-to-end tool to manage written, verbal and audio-visual communication between and beyond our staff.
You’ve probably seen the many pictures and videos on the news and in social media capturing sights of wildlife returning to places in which human activity had essentially driven them out pre-pandemic. They have been delightful spots of light cutting through the dark cloud of COVID, and have made us all reflect on just how much of an impact we have on the flora and fauna that we are fortunate to have in such abundance in the UK. In this environmental context, being forced to move the entire office off-site has also had a positive effect on our paper consumption: without access to our centralised printing and invoicing procedures, we have had to rethink and move to paperless solutions that we intend to keep as a more permanent feature. The majority of our customers now operate management platforms that make it much easier to keep track of the many jobs we process, and we are hopeful that establishing more integrated communication methods will help us cut down on our quantity of admin (and paper) even further.
Moving our team away from the central Middleton site wasn’t a sweeping change for everyone: at LKT we have some long-established team members who have worked at home for the majority of their time with the business, in destinations as far-flung (!) as Durham and Edinburgh. Because of this, we were already familiar with the steps involved in setting up team members for working at home and the equipment they would need.
What really ties our on-site/off-site model together, however, is our server solution. It provides a virtual working environment that enables everyone in the team to access the same materials and information in the same location, ensures that everything is always up to date, and allows team members to work on jobs simultaneously (if one person is revising another’s translation, for instance). The system required significant financial investment – pretty daunting for a small business – but it has quite simply transformed how we work and life without it is now unimaginable. Back when we installed it, we could never have foreseen the events of 2020 – but that means we could never have imagined the dividends that this kind of solution would ultimately pay. When the time came for our office-based team members to start working from home, they were able to simply take their PCs home, plug in and go. Without this ability, we would have faced a daunting six months of everyone in the team attempting to coordinate all of their files individually with one another, with all the time-consuming file-sharing workarounds this would inevitably have involved. What’s more, we can be sure that our server solution is entirely secure – and that our fantastic IT specialist Pennine IT Services is always on hand if we need some input.
Despite our eyes being opened to new remote solutions, we still believe that maintaining our identity as a team with an in-person presence is a crucial part of how we work. That’s why our on-site team has always been and remains so important to us, and our office space in Middleton keeps us physically connected to the wider Rochdale business community. Another way in which we have upheld the core of our model despite our on-site/off-site split is to hold regular team days, during which our off-site team members travel to the office and everyone gathers for a day of CPD (usually with a break for pizza and/or cake!). These will be a part of our future once things have returned to a point at which it makes sense to reintroduce them, but we can also see a future in which we can be more flexible with our team training. This might mean shorter, more regular sessions in which our off-site employees don’t have to travel and can instead tune in via Zoom, for example. Some of our recent team training opportunities have also included our freelancers, giving us a way of getting to know them better and providing them with more of an insight into how we work. In the future, we could also afford them more convenient opportunities to tune into our training remotely, especially given that they’re in locations all over the country. We’re positive that we can take our training model online and provide a similar experience – even if that does mean sharing screens rather than pizza.
*Postscript: We were able to create a COVID-safe environment in our office, and we’d like to extend our sincere thanks to fellow Rochdale business Engaging Safety Ltd for helping us achieve that. However, following government advice last week we have now switched back to home-working. The ongoing uncertainty continues to be a cause for concern, but we do have the reassurance of knowing that the investments we’ve made to create a flexible working model will enable us to adapt whilst ensuring business continuity.