It’s easier to relate to your boss when they’re being nuzzled by their dog. There’s something humanising about the appearance of pets during work video calls – and it can bring teams closer together in spite of the physical distance.
“Nearly all of us have been in virtual meetings where kids or pets have popped up … You connect more with the people behind the corporate roles when you know a bit more about their home life and families,” says Katharine King, global research director at GVC Group, the gaming business.
With the pandemic expected to continue well into next year, it’s understandable for remote-work fatigue to set in. But focusing on the many upsides of working from home can help. The time and money saved by avoiding long commutes, and not having to maintain an expensive work wardrobe immediately come to mind.
Other upsides stem from operational changes. Making time for a quick “mini-meeting” every morning to check in and chat has boosted morale for many scattered across the country. “Unexpectedly it’s brought our team closer,” says Jill Kidson, head of consumer marketing at the children’s publisher Walker Books.
Using technology to chat throughout the day also has its benefits. First thing every morning, Katie Jansons, part of the IT operations team for the AA, opens her online chat and keeps it running all day so her team, which includes five people in Bangalore, can chime in whenever they need to share something. “All the niceties are now virtual. Maybe [this shift] has humanised us because we’ve all needed that extra personal connection.”
One unexpected benefit of remote work was having the time to really get to know a new starter on her team. “If we were in the office, I’d be in meetings, but [at home] having video calls and constant conversations with them has been more rewarding.”
A Friday wrap-up call brings each week to a close for Jansons’s eight-strong team – with the help of a music playlist. “We refer to it as #deskdisco,” she says. In early summer, all the UK-based IT service portfolio managers shared a virtual cream tea, eaten at individual addresses across the country, in a bid to have a team experience after other planned awaydays had been cancelled.
Then there are the bigger operational upsides. For some this simply means more people turning up for meetings, as dialling in from home affords fewer excuses not to show your face. When Deborah Mack, the new interim director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, held her first meeting, it had to be via a video call. She had 100% attendance, a first for an all-staff meeting.
For some firms, the pivot to remote work has proved the ideal opportunity to reboot how they run their businesses, including transforming their digital operations. This may mean adopting new digital processes and initiatives or even switching digital workflow platforms entirely.
The AA is a client of ServiceNow, a leader in digital workflow solutions. As the AA’s continuous improvement and tooling solutions manager, Jansons manages the IT service management solution for all IT interactions. Everyone who works for the AA, from frontline patrols to contact centre staff, has instant access to the AA’s IT support department if they need technical assistance.
During the pandemic, the need to keep things running despite staff being geographically distanced prompted the AA to roll out chatbot virtual agents, powered by ServiceNow. “Individual home broadband speed suddenly became part of our infrastructure in a way we hadn’t envisioned before,” says Jansons. “It became a high priority. We configured our virtual agent to be able to talk users through how to check home broadband, ensure it was plugged in correctly etc, and to [send] that information in a ticket to our IT support team.”
Another big benefit came from rolling out ServiceNow’s Agent Workspace for the AA’s service desk, which reduced the amount of time it took to log details of an IT incident. “A new dynamic user interface sped up our ticket handling, reducing the time it takes to raise an average [IT issue] by a minute. We saved the equivalent of approximately eight hours a week for the service desk team, which is about one working day,” says Jansons. Her team has also launched the ServiceNow mobile app, which she says is like a virtual version of the AA’s office-based tech hub, where staff could previously get IT assistance.
At GVC Group, King has found that getting more out of technology has been a big unexpected benefit. “Now everyone is comfortable doing things virtually, we can mix teams up and do activities like training and development or business updates with people who we don’t usually work with in different offices or countries.” Zero travel time means she can join in meetings with colleagues in other time zones, and persuade those geographically distant to adapt their working day. “[Colleagues in the US] don’t mind rolling out of bed and straight into meetings and then taking back the time at the other end of their day,” she adds.
Annie Auerbach, who wrote a book about the benefits of a more flexible approach to working life – Flex: Reinventing Work for a Smarter, Happier Life – agrees. “We are gaining freedom to listen to our circadian rhythms and mould our days accordingly. If you are a night owl, embrace the evenings and let the morning be slow. If you are a lark – and are waking even earlier with angst – work while the kids sleep.”
Auerbach adds that the benefits work both ways. “There are significant benefits to business, including accessing the best talent, who might have been excluded from macho working cultures of long hours and presenteeism.”
Other intangible upsides include the new kind of creativity that can be fostered by working from home – thanks, for instance, to the ability to think more obliquely while going for a stroll, or finding inspiration while just flicking through a magazine.
ServiceNow gives you the power to make work, work better – no matter the circumstances. Learn more at servicenow.co.uk