The news came without warning at 2am on Sunday morning, all of Lombardia in Italy, an area the size of a small country and with a population of many major cities, would be entirely locked down. Movement in the area would be severely restricted with a strong recommendation that anyone who could work at home should do so. The idea is to prevent the spread of coranavirus, COVID-19. But what it will mean to our business, an aerospace optics business based near Milan Italy, would be anyone’s guess.
Effects are being felt already. Our business involves physical manufacturing, and as a result remote working had never really been something we’d embraced. With the lockdown in place, although most people still want to be here, schools are closed and children are at home and so many need an option to work at home in order to manage their family. Whether we want it or not, remote working is about to be a feature of how we do things.
Meetings were already being cancelled due to the effects of the virus. It happened slowly at first, but picked up speed as companies cancelled non-essential travel and instituted policies. Thus we were already instituting video conference calls instead. We quickly had to adopt tools and new ways of working, which while used sparsely in the past, had never really been fully exploited. Now we expect them to be more than temporary measures.
With employees working at home out of sight and everyone far apart, I initially worried about retaining a sense of cohesion and focus. Having the tools is one thing, but they need to be used in earnest and we had yet to establish firm habits with them. Video calls will help with communications. Emails and texts will keep a certain amount of work going. But as we haven’t previously embraced remote working, I was concerned that our sense of common purpose would be lost.
We’re only a couple of days in, but so far I’ve been surprised at how minimal the impact of remote work has been. Of course as a physical manufacturing business, we will always need some staff on site. But in general, being forced to adopt technologies we’ve only talked about previously, whether it’s for meetings with clients or internal conversations, has in many ways been positive.
We have been using DoThings for a few months to give me a clear picture of what work is going on and to keep everyone connected to goals, and this has turned out to work no differently with people spread across the city than it did with people in the office. The other tools we’ve been using have also very quickly felt like natural solutions. Increasing the use of video calls felt strange at first but now they feel normal and every bit as effective as meeting in person. Slack is keeping conversation moving. I don’t feel as disconnected as I worried I might.
How much of this is a permanent change is hard to say now. The restrictions have only just begun here and will only be in place for a limited time. At least that is what is hoped. And while remote working cannot replace all of what our company does, I think this experience will change the way we think about it even after the lockdown ends.
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