As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention and since those of us lucky enough to keep our jobs vacated our offices abruptly back in March, Irish employees and businesses have embraced working from home in whatever way they can.

An Irish Times article back in 2006 stated that 8.4% of employees worked from home. They reported on the benefits and drawbacks of a policy that was very much in its infancy. Fourteen years later and as we face an unknown future, a remote work policy is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but an absolute necessity for non-essential workers to keep their business afloat and their jobs intact since the global outbreak of Covid-19.

Remote working has been part of the commercial world’s conversation for a very long time. Some businesses have been successfully implementing it for years. Some entertained the concept but may not have actively encouraged it. Other businesses simply never considered it as an effective way to operate.

For Johnson Hana, our entire business model is built on a remote work policy as a legitimate option in order to fully service our clients who work with us and provide an attractive option for consultants who sign up with us. It ties in nicely with our mission to introduce more flexibility within the legal industry.

Our clients are given the choice to engage with us in a way that supports their business – either through outsourcing the project to us completely or availing of our on-demand lawyer model where a legal consultant can work with them onsite or remotely. As a result, we have built robust systems that support communication to ensure everyone is connected despite the absence of proximity to each other.

Technology plays a big part and our professional project managers are a core enabler to ensure that our teams of expert legal consultants are at their most effective. The dedicated PM will monitor performance using the key metrics which are agreed at the start of the project. Weekly and monthly reporting and tracking provide insight into how the project is progressing, identifies risks or issues and provides us the ability to continuously improve or refine the strategy. Daily/weekly calls and check-ins are implemented with our consultants to make sure everyone is happy in their work.

We know that anything can change at any time and it is our job to keep ahead of what may affect our consultants and clients. Of course, no one could have anticipated what has unfolded globally over the last few months and the effect it has had on both our personal and professional lives.

For those WFH, numerous articles in recent weeks have informed us how everyone is coping with their new way of working. We are told that 40% of employees are struggling with remote working (study conducted by Behaviours & Attitudes, reported by the Irish Times 28/04/2020). The main influences here are inappropriate work spaces, poor internet connectivity, constant distractions and a blurred line between work and leisure hours.

However, it has been reported that 80% of workers will want to have the option of remote working when this is all over (Irish Times article 1/5/2020). The positive aspects can be attributed mainly to a non-existent commute, more flexibility over your work day, comfy clothes and more time for ourselves and our families. In fact, it has been found in a recent study published by NUI Galway that 30% of those surveyed actually claimed their productivity has increased (25% felt it has declined).

Furthermore, it has been reported that 60% of Irish Companies will be looking to implement remote working as the restrictions begin to ease. The same can be said for global companies. On Tuesday of this week, the CEO of Twitter shared a company-wide email which stated that they will allow their employees to work from home “forever”!

So it is clear, remote working is here to stay.

The question is, how will we navigate this in a more permanent way? Whether you are a team leader, team member, CEO or secretary, how will you take control of your team, your career and your working day?

There are articles upon articles which offer many tips and suggestions to help us answer this question. We know them all by now.

For employees; everyone from industry leaders and government officials, celebrities and entrepreneurs are encouraging us to stick to a normal routine as much as possible. Get enough sleep. Switch off your emails after your work day is done. Don’t watch the news too much. Go for a walk. Go for a run. Get some fresh air. Take breaks. Eat well. Relax. Set intentions, make to-do lists and practice good video conference call etiquette!

We have also been reminded to take this ‘down time’ to reflect. Do yoga, meditate, learn a new skill. Bake. Use this time wisely and creatively while the world is put on hold. The Earth is healing and maybe we are too.

For employers and leaders, the advice on what to do is during this unpreceded and devastating time is less straightforward. Not only have business owners had to face the fear of losing their business completely and laying off staff, they are also required to lead and inspire the team they still have.

When I think of what leaders and managers can do I think of the one think we all don’t have. Simple and basic human interaction.

Simon Boucher, CEO of the Irish Management Institute put it nicely stating that because so much leadership is based on unconscious social cues, we don’t realise how much day-to-day leadership is done in a very intuitive and implicit way.

Right now, we are missing these informal, social and consistent interactions which we avail of so easily when we are sharing the same four walls of an office. No longer are we running into each other grabbing a coffee, or passing each other in the street. Our communication has become restricted to scheduled calls complete with a time, date and zoom link.

In an article I read in, I liked the concept that leaders could focus on their ‘little voice’ – the words they offer daily, in small ways which talk about the what, why and how rather than their ‘big voice’ – which is the overriding voice of reason which only offers, as the article stated, “bland comfort and obvious perspective”.

Little forms of communication; a quick call or email, text message or voice note – anything small to suggest that you will be maintaining basic levels of human interaction could be the big thing that makes a difference.