The Interchange Approach to Remote Working Amidst the COVID-19 Outbreak
If you don’t know us already, the Interchange team is a pretty social bunch. Each day we come to work, have a laugh and give each other the lowdown on our lives. Courtney tells the tale of how her dog masterfully got into the bin yet again, resulting in a trip to the vet. Melissa chimes in, recounting the story of how her children did something wildly inappropriate, yet undeniably hilarious.
We spend a lot of time together and I would say, we know each other pretty well. In fact, a large portion of our creativity and success can be attributed to our strong bond and ability to collaborate.
When the COVID-19 outbreak first hit our shores, we knew that we would have to start working remotely at some point. We understand that we have a responsibility within our community to help stop the spread in any way we can, and are so grateful that we are able to work from home, unlike many others.
Though, because we are such a close team, naturally we started to feel uneasy about how we would go working in isolation. Not just for the functionality, but for the state of our mental health and wellbeing too.
Our community has somewhat of an ominous cloud hovering above it, the warnings are increasing, the supermarket shelves are sparse, and people are physically fighting over toilet paper (please stop that by the way).
Things are already uncertain. How were we going to feed our social souls, stay connected to our team and keep our collaborative operating rhythm going?
It’s day one of remote working. We opened up our laptops, in our respective homes and prepared for our first day of remote work. The second we logged on, it became gleamingly clear that the Interchange team had been training for this moment since the organisation’s inception, six years ago.
As a company, we are a huge believer in offering flexible working arrangements to all employees. Even though working from home is common within our organisational bubble, we have never experienced everyone working remotely at the same time. Though, surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), we have managed to slip into it seamlessly, culture fully intact, as if nothing has changed.
Here’s how we’ve done it.
Living Our Values
As an organisation, we ensure that our values are at the centre of everything we do. To us, they’re not just words printed on posters, strung up around the office.
The words have weight. They inform behaviours that make up our culture, and drive us to achieve our organisational strategy.
Shits and Giggles (we’ve all got to have a bit of fun sometimes)
The first letter of each of these words come together to form our overarching value (and acronym) C.A.R.E.S.
Now, the reason I’m telling you this is because our remote working success can be widely attributed to the way we approach our values.
No matter where we are, whether it’s at the office, at home or at the local café, if our team is conducting business, we have full confidence that everyone is living our values and delivering outputs that are up to the Interchange standard.
Not once would we even consider that someone may be at home, on the couch watching Netflix. We know that every single one of us believes in what we do and wants to do their part to help us work toward achieving our goals.
Technology, Our Saviour
Having the right technology in place is a huge contributor to seamless remote work. If you can’t physically be in a room with your team, but your diary is still chock-a-block with meetings and deadlines, you can’t just burn the book and check out. No. You’ve got to ensure that you can still perform your usual tasks, with as little interruption as possible.
Interchange uses a variety of tools and platforms to enhance our workflow, even at the best of times. But now that we’re working remotely, we are feeling even more grateful for the tools we often take for granted.
Slack: The centre of our remote worlds
The tools that are really working overtime for us at the moment are Slack and Microsoft Teams. We are a very chatty group, who communicate A LOT. And as you already know, collaboration truly is the key to our success. Without being able to virtually chat and meet with each other, our operating rhythm would be stopped dead in its tracks.
This also goes for Google Drive and Jira. We were in love with these two platforms before, but now, we have a whole new appreciation for them. So much so, that we’ve officially renewed our vows. Please never leave us… please.
Having the team separated for an indefinite amount of time was a huge worry for us due to the amount of collaborating we do.
We provide creative solutions for our clients. That’s our whole bag. To provide our unique deliverables, we rely quite heavily on brainstorming sessions, casual chats across the office (to the dismay of others sometimes… sorry guys) and intensive design workshops.
When we got the news that we would have to work from home, it felt like a dramatic goodbye scene in a movie. Hands outstretched, slowly walking away from each other backwards, with a single tear rolling down our cheeks. Just heartbreaking for anyone to witness.
But alas, as strong, independent people, we dried our tears and got on with it.
Utilising the incredible technology of the 21st century, we’ve been able to conduct all of our meetings via Microsoft Teams. Even though it may feel like we are visiting a friend in prison, touching hands through the Perspex, we’ve still made it work.
In fact, not much has changed. If anything, we’ve actually been able to remain more focused during these meetings.
Still being able to see each other while we collaborate (instead of just over the phone), has really helped us feel grounded and communicate our ideas more effectively. Being able to translate people’s wild hand gestures, facial expressions and body language has really kept our communication on point.
The camera may add 10kgs, but it’s a small price to pay to stay connected.
Feeding Our Social Souls
By now, I’m sure you’ve realised just how much we mean to each other, on a professional level, as well as a personal level.
I think going into this whole situation, the social aspect is what we felt most uneasy about. We kind of suspected that we would be climbing the walls within the first five minutes, desperate for human interaction.
In simpler times, we would arrive at the office, and see Eve sitting at her desk, basking in the calm before the storm. She is always the first one there, taking advantage of the office serenity before everyone else arrives. As more people come in, we chat and laugh before heading off to our local café, reusable cups in hand. It’s our little ritual, setting us up for the day.
Without it, our mornings would feel kind of incomplete. Which is what we realised on our very first day of remote working.
So, what did we do?
We set up a daily video chat for us all to have a cuppa together. We log on, sit down and catch up over a coffee. It doesn’t have to be work chat, it’s just a chance for us to reconnect and feel the warmth of our team along with the comfort of our routine. I mean, how could we possibly focus for the day if we are left wondering about Marlene’s family fun night or the workshop Richie ran the night before?
Anyone for a coffee?
Wellbeing and Being Well
During this sort of pre-apocalyptic time (where toilet paper hoarders reign supreme), anxiety and depression will naturally increase. Our routines are already out of whack, then add social distancing and remote work into the mix and we are really (emphasis on the really) out of sorts.
Luckily, we’ve got a few people in the team who do remote work on occasion, so we’ve been able to get the inside scoop on how we can stop ourselves from diving head-first into a mental and emotional slump.
What we’ve found really helpful is bringing as much of the normalcy from our office life, into our home office life. Every morning, each of us are waking up to our normal alarms, doing our exercise (well… some of us anyway) and getting dressed as if we were coming into the office.
We bask in that delightful coffee aroma and munch on our favourite breakfasts before logging on. Then, as mentioned before, we join our teammates for a virtual cuppa via video chat. We seem to be finding solace in the regular routine, allowing us to get on with our tasks, focused and ready for the day.
Even though it’s tempting, waking up right before work and flicking your laptop open while laying in bed, is not going to do anyone any favours… Trust me.
Though comfortable, this is not recommended.
To every yin, there’s a yang. While some people struggle to focus while working remotely, others feel that it is the closest thing to heaven. To these people, working from home can actually make them more productive and get them ‘in the zone’. Which is fantastic… until they come out of their ultra-focused forcefield and realise that it is 10pm, they’ve missed the latest episode of MAFS, and their dog has been staring at his food bowl for 3 hours. Whoops, sorry buddy.
For this reason, it’s so important to set ‘office hours’ whether you’re in or out of the office. If you usually start at 8:30am and finish at 5:30pm when it’s business as usual, then stick to that. Heck, even set an alarm if you have to. Being able to switch off after a reasonable number of work hours is extremely important for our mental health and wellbeing.
Normally, we start this process during our commute. When we change environments, it allows us to truly leave work at work and look forward to leisure time. However, now that our homes have become our offices, mentally clocking off is a bit more difficult since we aren’t physically leaving the environment.
Now, I don’t mean to overexcite you, but I have another scolding hot tip, plucked directly from the mind of Interchange Creative Director, Chris Gabardi.
The pets are loving this whole situation.
To help us mentally clock off at the end of the workday, Chris advised us to replace our commute times with a nice, long walk. He is the master of remote work, so we took this advice and ran with it. It seems to be working out for us so far.
The most important part for us though, has been to check in with one another and allow time to debrief about how we’re feeling and what challenges have popped up.
We’re one big family, who care about each other immensely. No matter what, we will always make the time to find out how everyone is travelling, what’s going on in their lives, and how we can best support them, professionally or personally.
If someone has run out of pasta and can’t get their hands on any more, someone else will most likely chime in, offering some up as they have extra. Whether it’s assistance with resources or even just a chat, if we can improve the wellbeing of our team members, we absolutely will.
A Nice Surprise
I know, working from home, in isolation, is not for everyone. Believe me, I am the first one from our team that would succumb to the ole’ cabin fever. We were all so nervous about how we would survive, especially in the midst of everything else that’s going on.
Courtney after the first 5 minutes of isolation via GIPHY
But now that we have been doing it for a few days, we have come to realise that there are quite a lot of positives that come with remote working. Our team have had to flex their creative talents, coming up with some new and exciting ways to do things. I would even go as far to say that we have probably bonded even more, really valuing the time we spend together.
You see, just because we are physically isolated, doesn’t mean that we are alone. I hope that our experience during this time can give you even the slightest bit of inspiration and guidance for you to take into your own remote working scenario.
Now, go and wash your hands, and please don’t touch your face.