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Our experiences of remote working during lockdown

Blog by Gemma Connell, SFHA .

Posted In

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the government lockdown, SFHA and many housing association and co-operative staff began working from home. This meant they had to change their working practices and how they deliver services. Two SFHA members and one member of SFHA staff share their experiences.  

Siobhan Harvey, Business Improvement Manager, Cairn Group  

Cairn Group adapted quite seamlessly to the changes caused by the coronavirus lockdown. Cairn had already introduced home working about 18 months ago and replaced all PCs with mobile working devices to suit job requirements. The normal practice is 50% home working as standard.    

The frontline staff at Cairn have at least a laptop and mobile or a combination of mobile, laptop and tablet. Cairn Group is 96% cloud-hosted and uses Gamma Horizon technology on devices. Fortunately, in this current climate, our Contact Centre is also cloud-hosted which gives staff the ability to work anywhere.    

In addition, Microsoft Office 365 has been implemented for several years, and our digital working includes the use of apps such as Skype and Microsoft Teams. This created benefits such as reduced travel costs for face to face meetings as Cairn is spread across Scotland, from the Borders to Sutherland.   

The transformation to get to our current position involved hard work, but, in, the current climate, it has proved valuable and worth the budget spend and resources.  

Fin Smith, Customer Service Director, Clyde Valley Housing Association  

All Clyde Valley staff, around 60 people, are working from home.   

Rent officers have found the change in their working environment “stressful and mentally draining” due to the high call volume and nature of the calls – tenants have lost their jobs and staff are working with them to provide support.    

Some other staff have found the transition easy, however, there are also staff who do not have the facilities for a proper workstation.      

We know that for staff members at home with a family, it is difficult to concentrate on a working day with children in the home. Some staff members staff said they have found not working in the office environment, surrounded by the team, difficult.   

Tenants of Clyde Valley are still able to call the main office number to report maintenance issues and make rental payments. Housing officers’ work contact numbers have been provided on our communications platforms, such as our website, allowing tenants to get in touch with staff directly.     

Our frontline Housing Team has reported that customers are very understanding of the restrictions on services.   

We are running a campaign that is focused on older and more vulnerable customers to ensure they are well and have the support they need. Customers have said they are grateful for staff contacting them and providing extra advice and support.   

The team has been able to connect remotely to our network through Citrix. We have provided additional laptops and mobile phones to allow staff the resources they need to continue providing services at home.   

We are also using the Facebook platform, Workplace, to communicate with colleagues, which allows teams to chat, share documents, and have voice and video calls – it is very similar to Microsoft Teams.   

Sarah Hill, Design Co-ordinator, SFHA   

I have been impressed by the speed and agility with which organisations in my professional and personal network have adapted to their new parameters. With uncertainty and frustration comes creativity and sparks of genius.   

As a designer, I am looking on this time as a process of experimentation and iteration. Though things may not work perfectly first time, I hope that the quick decisions and workarounds we are forced to make, in a much less than perfect situation, can lead to positive changes in our working practices, personal lives and wider society going forward. 

At SFHA, the move from office to home was relatively simple (apart from carrying a desktop computer and a yoga mat home in a taxi!) as we had most of the digital communication channels we would need already set up on Microsoft Office 365. These were underutilised in the office, so it is great that our team has quickly embraced sharing files on SharePoint, discussing projects on Teams and keeping in touch through video calls.  

I think many of us have been overwhelmed at points by the number of communications across different platforms, but I think this is already settling down as we get used to each one and its functions. There is no doubt we will take these ways of working, and the opportunities they provide, forward when we return. 

In a world where we can’t go out like we used to, living and working in the same space blurs the lines between free time and work time, and I find it hard to switch on in the morning and switch off in the evening. My best tip for getting in the right frame of mind is wearing ‘shoes for work’ and slippers for ‘home’ – I cannot get too comfy with my shoes on! I am adapting by using my time more flexibly and planning things at my pace.   

SFHA is just one of hundreds of organisations moving events, training and resources online, and I have been taking advantage of webinars, online tutorials and digital meetups which are benefitting my work and my wellbeing. Activities I would rarely have done at the office are now regularly available to me in the digital-only world. 

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