The Fifty Five and Five guide to remote working

As we go through our fourth week of self-isolation, we talk about the key challenges we’re facing when remote working and how to overcome them.

Pranita Tamang
5 MIN|April 17, 2020

Not too long ago, we published a blog about how we go about overcoming the challenges of remote working as a company. As a cloud native business, and having had several remote employees, we considered ourselves something of an authority on the subject. But today, the circumstances when that blog was written feel like another world entirely. Little did we know exactly how important those skills would turn out to be.

As I write this blog, we now reach the end of the fourth week in which the whole company, and much of the world, has been confined to bedrooms, lounges and makeshift offices. And it doesn’t look likely to change any time soon. We’ve discovered that running an entire company remotely for a sustained period is a slightly different kettle of fish. Here are some of the key things we’ve noticed and how we’re dealing with them.

Processes and structures

In our previous blog, we spoke about some of the ways we ensure smooth remote working in our company. Much of it centres around technology. We’re cloud native; we’ve been on Office 365 as long as we’ve existed, and Microsoft Teams is integral to how we work. All our files are saved into the cloud automatically, available from anywhere, and having remote employees really got us into the habit of sharing and recording information as standard.

In terms of the practical mechanics of working remotely, our processes are virtually unchanged. Meetings run smoothly since we’ve all had years of practice communicating with global clients and employees via Teams. We simply picked up our monitors and laptops one Monday afternoon, and logged on via Teams for our daily morning catch up the next day.

Perhaps the best visual description of this in action is this graph that shows how the volume of private messaging via Teams changes over time across the company. The eagle-eyed among you will see that the change in the last two weeks has been virtually non-existent. For most of us, the only technological difficulty has been battling with our partners, relatives and housemates for internet bandwidth.

remote working

The challenge of remote working

But a company isn’t just about processes, documents and meetings. One of the trickiest things to replace are those small visual cues you get from being in the office together. When you’re all in the same room, it’s easy to see if someone is on their lunch break, has signed off for the day, is in a meeting, or is simply trying to get some focused work done in one of the quieter corners of the office. These are a lot harder to replicate remotely, because they’re too subtle to have technology and processes built around them.

Personally, I’m finding that using statuses and ‘do not disturb’ buttons on Teams are helping me go for a lunch break or daily run without worrying about missing an urgent message. At times like this, communication is key.

Staying in the rhythm

The disruption to the company in terms of meetings, structures and processes has been probably more minimal than any of us would have anticipated. With a positive attitude, and taking that extra step to update and communicate, remote working is surprisingly sustainable for us. But on an individual level, and I’m sure many people around the world are discovering this, the shift is pretty big. We’re all accustomed to our working days being governed by certain structures and routines: getting up at a certain time, getting dressed and commuting. Without thus structure, it’s easy to fall into bad habits.

To stay productive and sane during this period, it’s important to work that extra bit harder to maintain your rhythm. That means getting up at a regular time, getting dressed, putting your makeup on and generally maintaining your morning routine even if there’s no direct need to. For us, having our daily morning catch up is really great for this, because it gives us that structure each day; a deadline by which we should be up, fed, showered and camera ready.

A space of one’s own

One of the great benefits of having an office is it creates a workspace; a place where we can go to feel productive, surrounded by the people and things you associate with doing work. Maintaining that rhythm in a place where you’re used to lying about, drinking wine and binge-watching Netflix is more of a challenge. But it’s really important to go to that extra effort to recreate that work environment that’s separate from the rest of your living space.

For me, that means working from the kitchen rather than the lounge and working with the same two-screen setup I’m used to in the office. It also helps that I sit at the same desk where most of my university studying was done–heroically still standing after some four house moves. If you’re looking for some inspiration here, the message is search around your flat for a place you can build positive, productive associations.

Hint: It’s probably not your bed or your sofa.

Keeping the culture alive

Of course, there’s more to a company than simply the work we produce but the way we do it. Our culture at Fifty Five and Five has always been very strong. But it’s difficult to quantify our culture in terms of meetings, technologies and processes – which means there’s a real risk of us losing that magic sauce that makes us so unique. The Fifty Five and Five culture is as much about 11 am coffee chats, long running jokes and the atmosphere you get in a company meeting as it is about blogs and social media.

So, working remotely, we’ve taken a few extra steps to make sure we catch up as a company in these trying times. We’ve implemented a weekly social hour via Microsoft Teams and a Friday quiz, so we can drop in, have a laugh and exchange stories of how our respective partners and relatives are driving us stir crazy. The moral of the story, if there is one, is that the whole company working remotely is hardly an ideal situation. But we’re doing a pretty good job of making the best of it. Perhaps better even than some of us might have anticipated. We’ll even be welcoming a new employee from the hospitality of Microsoft Teams in just a few short weeks and have another who enjoyed precisely one day in the office before we went remote.

That being said, we’re all looking forward to going back to moaning about our commutes over morning coffee as soon as we possibly can.

The Fifty Five and Five offices might be closed, but the company is as open as it ever has been. And if you want to talk about your marketing, we’d be delighted to hear from you. Get in touch with our team today to find out more.