Remote Working: Are We Working In Isolation or at an Advantage?

Due to recent global events, remote working has been placed at the forefront of conversation and decision making for business leaders and employees across all sectors and industries.  Once considered a luxury, an opportunity to work in your pajamas, or an unsupervised paid period to ‘skive’ and watch TV, many are now realizing and understanding the true value of remote working, and the mutual benefits it can bring to both employer and employee. 

The global Coronavirus emergency has caused many to re-evaluate how and where work can be carried out. As a result of medical advice to self-isolate relating to Coronavirus, businesses and employees are adapting their usual office-based workday to ensure work tasks are completed, businesses are remaining profitable and productive, whilst minimizing health risks.  For many businesses, this unprecedented change in work practice has outlined that offering flexibility to employees CAN and DOES ensure productivity is maintained and it will hopefully be the start of a wider conversation about the future of how and where we work.

The Office for National Statistics suggested that in 2020, 50% of UK employees will be working remotely, with this figure set to rise as more business leaders understand and experience the benefits.  Perhaps Coronavirus will be the catalyst for a percentage increase?

The traditional daily commute to the office for many conjures up images of traffic jams, packed public transport, long delays, expensive travel/parking options. A study by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that on average, UK workers spent 59 minutes commuting each day. Almost an hour commuting!!  Removing, or significantly reducing the need for a daily commute surely can only be of benefit? Alongside the reduction in travel expenditure and frustrations associated with traveling to work, the reduction in environmental impact is equally as important if you consider the current climate crisis too.

Teamwork and collaboration are not to be disregarded or diminished in any way when considering the benefits of remote working. They can instead complement each other in creating a flexible and person-centered approach to employment. Isolation and loneliness can impact workers who solely work alone, and employers must be mindful of this when factoring in time working remotely, and time spent together as a team. Social interaction, supervision, feedback are essential elements of a successful team, in terms of both professional and individual wellbeing.  

Remote working should not be a means to ISOLATE, it should be an opportunity to INCORPORATE a great work/life balance. If working remotely cannot be offered as a full-time option, due to the nature of work or necessity for team/group work and meetings, the option for it to be offered flexibly is still a major step in the right direction for considering business productivity, alongside employee wellbeing.  The benefits of remote working as well as increased output due to lack of ‘office distraction’, with trust and accountability given by the employer are again to be championed and will surely lead to increased morale, output, and overall profitability. It’s a win-win for all!

5 Tips To Improve Your Productivity

Due to the COVID-19 lockdown, many employees have found themselves trying to navigate the unfamiliar territory of working from home. Initially a crisis management strategy, remote working is fast becoming the new norm.

Benefits such as cutting your commute, increased flexibility in the working day, and access to a wider talent pool are causing organizations to question if this may become the workplace of the future, something we would positively advocate. As such, we thought now would be an excellent time to share our expertise and support the positive shift of permanent working from home.

We have been working remotely for quite some time and know that despite the many advantages, it can present a few challenges. Below are five simple tips for creating and sustaining a healthy, productive working environment from the comfort of your own home, we hope they help!

  1. Establish a routine
    Without a clear change of scenery indicating the end of the working day it is far harder to switch off, causing the line between your personal and working lives to become blurred. Establishing a daily routine provides the structure of a traditional working day. Productivity levels often decrease when we are confronted by the prospect of an open-ended working day. To combat this, plan to start and end your working day at the same time. The NHS also suggests scheduling regular breaks throughout the day, avoid eating your lunch in front of your laptop and consider a mid-morning coffee break to increase productivity.
  2. Structure your environment
    Remote working comes with an abundance of possible distractions. If you can, try to set up a designated workspace and encourage other people in the house to respect your boundaries whilst during working hours. Pick a calm corner of your home to work in, keep it organized and turn unnecessary notifications off.
  3. Utilize technology
    Developments in technology mean there are now digital tools to assist with nearly all aspects of remote working, take advantage of them! Video conferencing apps and content collaboration platforms simplify the processes of remote working whilst companies such as Microsoft are providing free software to companies in need. Organizing or participating in virtual social activities with your team will also help to facilitate interaction, boost morale, and curb feelings of isolation.
  4. Maintain communication
    The success of remote teams is largely dependent upon communication. Without clear lines of communication and access to necessary information productivity levels can easily drop. Creating consistent, open communication channels works to keep everyone in the loop and creates a space for collaborative action.
  5. Focus on your wellbeing
    When working remotely it is easy to feel isolated and overworked which in turn can take a toll on your mood and productivity. Make sure to prioritize your own mental wellbeing; forge out time throughout your day to look after yourself, get some fresh air and make time to catch up with family and friends. Even five minutes of meditation or stretching can help to refocus your mind.

Embracing change: Tech in hospitality and retail

As lockdown restrictions in the UK begin to ease, we are all wondering what a post-covid landscape may look like. Nearly all industries have been impacted by the pandemic and many have been forced to rapidly embrace change, devising innovative solutions to unprecedented challenges. Two of the most impacted customer-facing areas, retail, and hospitality, have found themselves struggling to meet customer requirements safely and efficiently.

Research by Deloitte indicates that the pandemic has accelerated the rollout of technology within organizations. Tech previously viewed as a bonus is now considered a serious source of competitive advantage. As non-essential
shops and services begin to open their doors, we thought it would be interesting to look at the key emerging technology trends.

Unsurprisingly, data from the Office of National Statistics show that online shopping has risen 33% throughout the pandemic. As shops reopen, high street retailers are creating innovative apps to reduce face-to-face interaction hopeful that this will boost footfall. Ikea’s smartphone app utilizes virtual reality technology, allowing customers to view furniture in their own homes before they visit the store. Similarly, Sainsbury’s is trialing a ‘virtual queuing system’, allowing customers to queue via a smartphone app from a remote location.

In a bid to meet customer requirements and comply with government guidelines many shops are integrating innovative checkout experiences. Research by GlobalData found 35% of consumers view in-store contactless services as a necessity and 48% want to order food in a restaurant using
their phone. This has lead to a surge in technology advancements, supermarkets are rapidly growing their Scan as you Go services and Amazon is about to launch a trial run of contactless high street stores.

Another key trend is the use of AI-powered chatbots. Chatbots can interact with consumers in real-time and provide 24/7 customer service, reducing the need for human interaction at times where dialogue is more important than ever. Research by GlobalData also shows that one-third of customers are comfortable interacting with robots. This highlights the potential of technology to minimize human interaction throughout the retail and hospitality sectors.

Reactions to the pandemic have demonstrated that adaptability and agility are crucial for businesses to survive. Technology has already played a vital role in allowing businesses to adapt to the new normal and this looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.

Why You Should Support Local Businesses

Monday the 11th August 2020 marked the start of the UK government’s Shop Local Week. As part of their Enjoy Summer Safely campaign they have launched this incentive to give the high street a much needed boost.

Often it is far easier for us to pop to our nearest supermarket or order online than it is to visit an independent retailer. Yet now more than ever local businesses are relying on our support.

Promisingly, a recent survey by YouGov found that 38% of Brits have started to shop locally during the COVID-19 pandemic and 70% expect to continue once lockdown eases. In case you need some convincing here are a few reasons you should support your local independent retailers.

  1. It supports your local economy
    Shopping locally is an excellent way to directly support your economy. Research from the Centre for Local Economic Strategies found that for every £1 spent at a local business 63p ends up back in the local economy compared to the only 5p spent at a larger retailer.
  2. It is more sustainable
    Your local butcher or greengrocer is far are more likely to have locally sourced, in-season produce. This will not only mean higher quality food but also reduces the carbon footprint of your shopping list as there are less travel and packaging involved.
  3. You can find unique items
    Independent retailers usually offer a diversity of products you wouldn’t be able to find at a large chain retailer. People are often surprised by the range of items available at local shops but if you’re unsure it’s always worth checking their website or giving them a call to ask a few questions beforehand.
  4. It bolsters the local job market
    The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that SMEs account for 60% of employment in the UK. Supporting local businesses also enables them to hire more local staff which then helps your surrounding community to grow.
  5. Personalized experience
    Smaller shops frequently have the time and freedom to provide higher levels of customer service. Staff are also knowledgeable, it is far more likely that the staff in your local butchers will be able to give expert advice you wouldn’t be able to find in a supermarket aisle. Some places even create loyalty schemes for returning customers, something to remember the next time you want a takeout coffee.

Remember, if you’re pressed for time check to see if any of your local businesses offer online delivery or click and collect options. And if you do shop locally consider tagging them on social media or leaving them a review. Helping to boost their online presence can often be as beneficial as the purchase itself.

5 Tips To a COVID-19 Career Change

The unprecedented global impact of COVID-19 has left many people wondering what the long term impact on the job market may be. Switching careers may seem daunting in the current climate, however, many companies are still hiring and the technology sector is predicted to be one of the strongest industries post-covid.

If you are considering a career change and wondering how to appropriately adjust your job search to the current situation keep reading.

  1. Define your needs
    While the current job market may seem overwhelming the application and interview process is easier from the comfort of your own home. The job market slowing down also makes this a great time to reflect on your career and reassess your long term goals. Where do you want to be in five years? What type of organization would you like to work for? Identify what you are most passionate about and use this as an opportunity to make a long term plan for the future.
  2. Networking
    Be proactive! One of the best tips is to grow your online network. Try to reach out to figures in relevant industries, or check-in with old bosses and colleagues who may have potential leads for you. Find relevant online groups and professional networks, not only will you find industry-specific advice but often there are jobs and events advertised. Better yet, optimize your online profile, make sure that all your information is up to date, and actively participate in the groups. This gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your expertise and helps you become more visible to recruiters.
  3. Diversify your skillset
    If you have found yourself with extra time on your hands try to develop your skills. There are plenty of online platforms and resources out there to improve or learn new skills, take advantage of them. Identify if there are any industry-specific requirements that may have changed due to the pandemic.
  4. Do your research
    In this changing job market research is vital! Investigate where the opportunities may be. Are there any industries actively hiring or looking for remote workers? Taking part in virtual events or following companies you admire on social media is also an excellent way to gain updated industry information and insight. Structure your job search and seek out specialist recruitment agencies that can assist you and help to navigate these emerging issues.
  5. Focus on yourself
    It is easy to feel overwhelmed when searching for a job and the pandemic has only exasperated feelings of anxiety. Make sure you are taking the time to focus on your mental well-being, don’t set yourself unachievable targets, and focus on the quality rather than the quantity of your applications. Prioritizing yourself will help you stay motivated during this period and help the process run smoothly. No one knows how long this uncertainty will last so try to focus on the things you can control when trying to reach your long-term goals.

Summer Is Over, It’s Time To Get Back To Work.

The past couple of months have given us lighter evenings, warmer days, and an all-important dose of vitamin D. 

However, September is here with a bang, and the nights are starting to draw in. Our next respite may not be until Christmas but it seems awfully early to be thinking about December already. September gives us a great opportunity to think about your team’s wellbeing and to ensure they are all managing their stress levels so that they are working effectively; able to cope with the demanding hours; meet tight deadlines, heavy workloads and ultimately achieve the results required.

A study conducted by the British Interactive Media Association (BIMA), found that 66% of those working within the technology community were ‘stressed by their work’; and ‘52% have suffered from anxiety or depression at some point’. Alarmingly, those working within the technology sector are ‘five times more depressed than the UK general population’.

Mental health problems cost the UK a staggering £70 billion with 91 million workdays lost each year, (Forbes). 

The technology industry has a culture of long hours. Gone is the traditional nine to five working pattern, clients expect their technology consultants to always be online regardless of location or time of day. This can make it increasingly hard for employees to switch off from work.

So, if you think your team is feeling the post-summer slump, the most important thing you can do is to get the conversation started. Barclays launched a ‘This Is Me’ campaign which is designed to ‘break the cultural silence that surrounds the subject of mental health’. Employees who have suffered from mental health issues share their stories and these are housed on an online platform. The portal has received over 60K visits since its launch. 

In addition, the Shaw Mind Foundation has set out some simple low-cost ways to reduce the impact of mental health in the workplace:

  • Limit working hours and out-of-hours email access.
  • If a person works from home, ensure regular check-ins with them to reduce prolonged isolated working.
  • Set attainable deadlines and spread the workload across team members.
  • Provide support services and staff members who are trained to deal with stress.
  • Promote healthy eating and regular exercise. Offer employees an opportunity to get some exercise during the working day.

Whilst it may not be possible to achieve all of the above immediately, they are a great starting point. Consultants need to set expectations with clients, set out the hours they will be available and the deadlines they are working to. Once more organizations start to adopt these steps, clients will begin to accept this as the new normal. 

At Barlow Search we are big advocates of promoting a healthy work-life balance often taking part in challenges (either individually or as a team), Claire completed the London Marathon this year and as a team we supported her training with lunchtime runs, we even swapped the office biscuits for healthier options! Our next team challenge is to take part in the St Rocco’s Colour run at the end of September, we are making this one a family affair and will be bringing the kids along too!