“It was surreal wasn’t it? The morning it happened I went to the office, picked up everyone’s computers and delivered them to their homes, so they could get themselves set up. That was quite a strange morning for me,” recalls Adam Russell, our Cargo and Hedging Manager.
The Geos Group team started working from home over a year ago, just as the pandemic clenched its jaws and tightened its grip, ready to give us all a mauling. Everybody was shocked and worried in those early days. But we have overcome the initial challenges and found new ways of doing business – and now, working from home feels almost normal.
We had to make some quick decisions in the beginning, as we abruptly moved our working lives from the office to our spare bedrooms and kitchen tables. What files should we take home? Who was going to open the post? We ordered a few home desks and chairs, made sure our screen cameras were working, and switched the lights off on our way out.
Most conversations and transactions with clients and suppliers were already being done online or on the phone anyway, so we continued to trade and manage our operations without too much disruption. But the way we communicate amongst ourselves has changed considerably. We now run our day-to-day business mostly on MS Teams, using all its great features like daily video meetings, instant messaging for quick decisions from colleagues, and screen sharing. Everything has moved online and very little paperwork is printed nowadays.
“We decided that we would have a Teams work meeting of the finance department every day at 11 o’clock, even if it was just to talk about the weather or being stuck alone in a room,” said Lindsay Ganson, our Financial Controller. “You don’t want to be talking to a screen, you want to see people’s faces. That’s made quite a difference, and for us it’s really important to have that video call every day.”
The new arrangements have inevitably had an impact on our personal lives too, and keeping a healthy separation between work and home has become more of a challenge. Some of us have had to deal with home-schooling, for others lockdown has meant social isolation. We do have more time available now, without the usual commute into the office, although often the hours we don’t spend in the car or on the train are spent working instead. This means that in some ways our productivity has increased – but it’s easy to unwittingly let work drift on into the evening, so we’ve had to try a little harder to remember to shut down and switch off at the end of the day.
“The work-life balance has definitely changed,” continued Lindsay. “I get up early and take the dogs out, and then my husband and I do an exercise class on Zoom at 7.30 every morning. My colleague Claire also does the class – it’s great, it sets you up for the day. And to not have all the travel has been good for me, that’s been a definite positive.”
With the UK’s lockdown restrictions slowly easing, it is likely that there will be some return to the office in Henley – although no firm plans are in place yet. Now that our home-office systems are working effectively, we can adapt and take a flexible approach, whatever the future brings. Not having to commute twice a day is more relaxing for everybody, and saves time. But, on the other hand, there are many advantages to meeting and working together face-to-face, and we all miss that personal connection. The most important thing for us is to keep everyone safe, so we are keeping a close watch on the ongoing Covid situation and government guidelines.
Adam became a Dad for the first time a few months ago, so working at home with a new baby around has been especially interesting for him. “I’ve got my home office, so I can go in there and work,” he said. “And it’s nice that I’ve not got the commute at the moment – it means I can spend more time with little Alex, which is precious time I wouldn’t otherwise have had.”