Homeworking during a pandemic


Following the outbreak of Coronavirus and the growing changes to our lives the team at Concept4 quickly switched to a homeworking status. Our MD Jane Cleaver re-assured customers that we would be maintaining the delivery of our services and that it was very much business as usual. Except she was only half right – sure the team would continue to deliver marketing solutions like fantastic new websites, apps and related technical support – but not in the usual way. Working from home in this new and changing environment would re-write the script on homeworking, on business and maybe test us like never before. 


The importance of modern technology has never been more heightened. The capabilities we have now mean that homeworking is realistic in a way it would not have been fifteen years ago for many. As such technology is fantastic. It can also be fun. Anyone who witnessed our eleven-person team meeting last week (some in fancy dress) cannot argue with that. However, it can be very frustrating. Patchy mobile to mobile conversations, conference call nightmares, login problems, VPN connectivity issues, server crashes etc. All these things become more of a problem when they are already the backup plan. In the absence of a printer I have even realised why so many of my colleagues use multiple screens. My main IT desire though would be that we could reboot 2020 and start all over again. 


Things have changed almost overnight. Business is very different. Meetings held from home via conference technology are now dominated by new terminology. The classic game of business bingo has been updated. Forget out of the loop, client focused or touching base. The new kids on the block are here. We now have unprecedented use of the word unprecedented. This has been joined by pandemic, stay at home, government support, lockdown, stay safe and of course Coronavirus. We are all using the word furloughed, one most of us had never used before. Others thought it was a measure of distance in horseracing. Strangely we now long to return to the annoying overuse of traditional phrases like ball park figures and blue sky thinking.


The work of an accountant is made easier by routine, predictability and statistical patterns. Even so working on the business cashflow is usually something of a challenge. However, throw in a level of unprecedented uncertainty, a mix of IT issues and less well connected key information, then you have what equates to guesswork. I need to know when this situation will end, when our working lives might get back to something more like normal. The business indicators I am using are pretty scary and diverse. I am effectively monitoring the number of deaths here and abroad to get a feel for the timescale on this vicious virus. Surely a turning point is coming, but what happens then. I am keeping a close eye on the betting for the return of the Premier League – surely a strong indication of things returning towards normality – the odds suggest games might recommence in June, but many are backing they will never be played. Even the weather forecast is relevant. Good weather could reduce the impact of our social distancing and extend the lockdown.


The recognised wisdom on homeworking is to ensure you have a good working environment which is distraction free. I am sat at my kitchen table which is a good enough size but I am sharing it with my wife! Surely at least one of us should get paid extra for that! Also I had no idea she drinks around six cups of coffee a day. Generally, distraction is a problem. The ideal situation would be working from home alone. Whilst even writing this paragraph I have ironically been asked by one of my children to deal with a strange beetle like creature in our hall. Even the kids next door playing out in their back garden is far from ideal. I have also realised the flaw in my location over the last couple of weeks. Working in the kitchen is not ideal, unless you are hungry. I am only one metre from the toaster and I have become re-acquainted with my old friend - jam on toast.


Two weeks in to the lockdown I needed to spend the morning at our empty office and realised how much I miss the contact with the team. I want to see them in person. I want to hear them without a digitised echo. Yes, I even want to smell them. Just to be clear though I don’t want to touch or taste them! I miss Alex and his ability to whistle along to any type of music. I miss Mandy and her tendency to exaggerate. I miss Danny who should have his own TV show. I miss Jennifer’s friendly smile and willingness to learn. I miss Mo’s positivity and habit of saying “really!” I miss Jane’s questions which assume you knew what she was thinking about. I miss Jenna’s wonderful Scottish accent. I miss Luke and his reliability (bacon butty at 8.45am every Friday). I miss Andrew and Patrick, awesome individuals who come as a team. I miss Jody who keeps this homeworking show on the road. I miss Emma, Andy, Geoff and Mark, all less frequent visitors to the office, but still key members of the Concept4 family. I like to think they might miss me too. 

In truth working from home and spending most of my time here is no great hardship really. My only complaint has been an upsurge in back trouble. Working on a laptop is not great for your posture. Already in this strange pocket of time you can see shoots of positives growing around us amidst the horrendous death toll. Importantly, a significant growth in community and kindness. Also the notion that maybe commuting to work is now an option not an everyday necessity. The sense that in our previous busy lives we have forgotten the importance of family, our health and the environment. The growing value we will put on the social aspects of our lives we have now put on hold. For me the key difference has been the change of pace and the additional contact with family. I will try to make the best of it while it lasts and look forward to hopefully getting back to a slightly better version of normal in the months ahead. Stay safe everyone.