21 March 2020

Guest article by Paul Galesloot, CEO of Holmes & Marchant Shanghai.

It’s hard (and incorrect) to write anything about the Coronavirus without first making clear that we’re in the midst of a very difficult time, where the health and wellbeing of everyone is really the only priority.

But as the UK prepares for the mass disruption caused by the Coronavirus, I thought it might be helpful to provide some insight from us out in China, now that the country is getting back on track having lived and worked with the situation for the best part of eight weeks.

Making remote working work for your business

You’ll find a new normal

The phrase used in that previous paragraph was deliberate. China is ‘getting back on track’. Revenues are lower than they would have been if the country spent the past few months in the office, and we’ve all experienced inefficiencies of varying nature, but things are rebounding. There’s a definite sense that ‘this will pass’. Starbucks and Apple have reopened. Luxury sales are on the rise. Our studio is at full capacity. So lesson number one is the most important one by far. Stay smart, but don’t panic. Your work life may feel more complicated and less consistent for a while, but you’ll get through it.

Stick to your principles

Every good business is built on a set of principles. And this is a time to make sure you have some that you can base decisions around. We continuously returned to the four guiding principles we set: ‘people first’, ‘existing clients second’, ‘cost control’ and ‘prepare for rebound’. Having these in place allowed us to make swift, clear decisions based on values, rather than unpredictable scenario planning. We didn’t get it right from day one, but this approach meant we didn’t ‘force’ the situation and were able to fine tune over the first few weeks.

Remember, we’re in this together

This is a new situation and new territories for everyone. Even if you’ve worked from home before, it’ll be a new experience for lots of people (colleagues, clients, suppliers etc). So be mindful of that. It’s important to stay united. To work hard for each other, not just yourself. Share personal stories, communicate well, and be prepared to accept some process changes – some things you don’t like being formal will have to be formalised, some things you usually like to have control over may have to be more fluid. This is a team sport, and we clearly operated best when everyone played their part.

Don’t forget to plan ahead too

It’s not something to say with such flippancy, but this will end. And when things become more under control, you need to be prepared for the rebound. Leverage any spare capacity you have to bounce back. Learn from the period of isolation as you go. Which processes that have been removed aren’t being missed? Which new ways of working and what new tools are stepping up? What new ideas can you take forward?

But more importantly, making remote working work for you

Empathy is the most important characteristic you can have

Firstly, take care of your physical wellbeing. That should go without saying, and there are many things you can do – from understanding Covid-19 to hygiene and safety tips – that are covered elsewhere by people far more knowledgeable than me. So this advice is around mental health. And one way you can really help others here goes back to that earlier point around ‘teamwork’. Please accept that this is a challenging time for many people. You need to show that you trust them, believe in them and recognise that they’re doing their best. If they need something to change, try to understand why and be accommodating.

Set some boundaries

The lack of ‘physical acts’ that we experience in the working day don’t exist with remote working, so it’s really important you set some boundaries yourself. Our teams reported early on how easy it was to blur those lines – to let the negative side of being ‘always-on’ slip through. Make sure you have lunch. Make sure that ‘one last email’ really is your last for the day. And don’t feel guilty about it. Get into a stable routine and be resolute in sticking to it.

It’s ok to be not ok

This is essential advice at the best of times, so in times of difficulty, be aware that it’s natural for levels of anxiety to rise further. That lack of personal connection, trying to balance personal and professional demands and deal with previously unexperienced levels of responsibility is hard. Our teams spoke regularly about missing the vibe of the office and having a laugh with colleagues. That’s to be expected. It’s ok to experience anxiety.

Look for the silver linings

Again, we’re in unprecedented, uncertain times. And priority number one is making sure people maintain their health and wellbeing. But if you can focus on the bright side, then there are silver linings. Our staff have spoken of revelling in the lack of daily interruptions that allowed them to focus on their design – often resulting in work they were prouder of. Others spoke about spending more time with their family, or the joys of working in their pyjamas (though maybe change for a Skype call). This is a unique experience that punctuates a very definitive moment in history. Try to stay positive.

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