In the latest BCS #vITalworkers webinar, Brian Runciman MBCS spoke with guests Yesim Kunter (Futurologist, toy designer and virtual team manager), Dr Robina Chatham (BCS author, specialising in IT management) and Rubi Kaur (Senior Architect at Vodafone) to discuss the many work and social issues involved with long term homeworking. Johanna Hamilton AMBCS reports.

In these unprecedented times, people of all industries are finding new ways of working and keeping the wheels of business and commerce turning - while staying safe in the face of coronavirus. To celebrate both the tech and the IT specialists who are making work during this period of isolation, BCS has launched its new #vITalworker campaign.

Follow BCS on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook where we will be sharing and liking examples of the amazing contributions made by IT professionals using the #vITalworker hashtag.

In the meantime, here are the top 12 takeaways from our webinar: coping with long term homeworking…

1. Changing things forever

‘When we come out of this, things won’t be the same again…’ Says Robina Chatham. ‘I anticipate that a lot more people will continue to want to work from home.’ People have, in the past, been averse to working from home as they felt it would negatively impact their career, however, the current situation will change that mindset.

2. Commuting could be a thing of the past

While a lot of companies can’t work remotely, those that can may decide that they no longer need to plough money into expensive real estate, or fitting out workspace. Indeed, some companies may decide to sell their premises to survive the crisis. There will quite possibly be a new culture of homeworking.

3. Connecting will get easier

This enforced work from home (WFH) period has highlighted a lot of problems with the country’s broadband. Robina observes: ‘I have a really bad internet connection, because I live in the sticks. I think the internet connection across the country will improve in due course, but it could take a while to get there.’

4. Striking a better work/life balance

While some people are not used to working from home and are having problems with the work/life boundary, others are finding surprising benefits to WFH.

Yesim Kunter, who has spent 10 years WFH, says it’s about setting boundaries and timelines. ‘The most important thing is, if you’re working with overseas [contacts], and different kinds of timelines, you always have to remind the other people that you are either behind or ahead of them.’

When working in an office, it’s taken for granted that you will be ‘in’ at certain times. With remote working, this needs to be spelt out. There needs to be structure and more detail.

Don’t be afraid to miss a call. Don’t be afraid to call back. You have to learn to multitask and tell people you’ll get back to them. Despite all of our tech wizardry, Rubi still keeps paper and pen with her to-do list next to her computer.

5. Acting the part

There’s a whole new world of video conferencing that needs to be accepted and adapted to. When you’re new to video conferencing, you don’t always talk into the microphone. You talk when others are talking. You need to learn how to communicate through the new channel, to read people’s reactions and read their expressions. It’s going to take a while before everyone is comfortable in this new environment.

To help, show you are interested in the people you’re meeting. Learn how to interact with who you are talking to. Yesim explains how she gets her point across: ‘How do you make yourself there? It’s like a theatre. You have to do a bit more exaggeration.’

Robina gives her tips for video conferencing: ‘Think about how you use your camera. When you’re using a webinar a lot of people will be using a laptop so there’s a tendency to look down at it, and so others are looking up your nose! Put your computer on a couple of books so it’s at eye-level. Put a post-it note on your computer with a smiley face to remind you to smile. Bring a bit of you into your space. Pictures on the wall. Bits of you. Pets, children. We should try to show our lives. Dress more casually.’

6. Protecting your mental health

We don’t know how long this will last. Some pandemics stretch to years rather than months. Now is the time to set those boundaries. Rubi Kaur says: ‘We really have to get a balance and check in with our mental and physical and social and emotional well-being.

It’s really difficult to have that work-life balance. So, we’re constantly looking at a screen all the time and you often feel as though you have to contribute all the time because you’re online. You’re trying to make up for the fact that you’re not present.’ Rather than have a culture of presenteeism, it’s about making time to work and to communicate.

‘We have Office 365,’ says Rubi, ‘collaboration tools and unified communication tools that let us contribute in some way. So that kind of mindset where we must keep contributing all the time can start to have a payload on us. Our mental wellbeing can start to suffer.’

7. Communicating, not over-communicating

Rubi Kaur says: ‘While we’re trapped inside, we can still be inventive and we can still work with each other and we can still talk to each other. These social media tools mean we’re not in isolation, we can still communicate.’

While there is a school of thought that says we should keep communicating, Robina thinks there is such a thing as over-communicating. Leading on from Rubi’s thoughts, Robina believes that it’s the quality of communications, not the frequency that’s important. She says: ‘We need to make ourselves more available on the phone rather than hiding behind emails.

I’d rather one phone call than ten emails.’ Yesim advocates learning which platforms people like to use. She’s Turkish and says her clients prefer to use Whatsapp. Other people may prefer email or Twitter.

There’s a risk too. We’re all somewhat starved of social interaction at the moment. This means contacts might want to do hangouts all the time, leaving us suffering from always-on fatigue.

8. Making time for you

While working from home can extend our working day, Yesim believes it’s important to find the inner child and enjoy some more playtime. Make time for more hobbies, get outside for a walk, or if you have to work, throw open the windows. If you’re not ready for a meeting, defer. Put yourself in control. Set your boundaries. Permit yourself to be in charge of your time.

Yesim advises: ‘You should keep your playfulness in this situation. It will be your saviour.’

9. Building trust

‘I think it’s very difficult to build trust and to build relationships remotely. If you have a relationship in the first place it’s a lot easier to maintain that remotely but building a remote relationship in the first place is difficult. Further down the road, we will be able to do things face to face, but I think it’s going to be different. We’re going to have to develop new skills. It’s a work in progress.

‘How do you look for new talent when you need people to join your team? It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable.’

10. Blending lives rather than balancing them

We all have a physical persona and an online persona. As time goes on, these are starting to morph. Rubi talks about a ‘work / life blend’. Blending the online and offline, work and life, and that in this time there has to be give and take. Children and older parents will wander into shots.

Robina believes there’s no harm in having a little personality in your communications. She’s noticed that before the pandemic, people were unwilling to turn on their cameras during video calls, because they hadn’t styled their hair, weren’t ‘dressed for work’ and the like. Now people are happier with the ‘warts ‘n’ all’ depiction of their lives.

Blend the social element with work. COVID-19 has accelerated people going online and has made them work in new and interesting ways. If you’d go down the pub after a meeting, still have a glass of wine and a chat - only online.

11. Taking a water cooler moment…

Now we can’t stop and chat by the water cooler, what should we do instead? ‘Always have two or three minutes of small talk at the start’ says Robina. ‘It’s a great icebreaker. If you’re on a video call, even if you’re not the person who is speaking, nod, be engaged.’

12. Learning from others

Reverse mentoring is an interesting concept. Getting your younger team members to help you understand the new tech. They may be interns, but they’ve grown up with this being second nature - this is about younger people teaching older people how to use the tools.

If you know how to use a tool and your colleagues are struggling, make time to take them along for the ride. Have patience and compassion.

There will be many many people out there working and living alone, Robina says: ‘there are a lot of people on their own, so just pick up the phone and have a conversation with them, just to brighten their day.’

If you know of any vITalworkers, who have brightened your day, join our campaign.

More from the BCS #vITal Worker webinar series