On 28 April, our Women in IP community held a series of “virtual coffee mornings” around the country. Here’s a report from Emily Teesdale, a partner at Abel & Imray, about what happened, what we talked about and what we learned from one another. Emily, who heads up the Abel & Imray D&I group, is a member of the Women in IP committee and helped to organise the coffee mornings.
As some of you may know, the Women in IP community holds relatively regular get-togethers in London; either for a coffee before work or, as tried out recently, for lunch. We were hoping to expand these get-togethers outside of London, and were going to have the first one to celebrate World IP Day.
Then, the world changed slightly!
So, instead of actual meet-ups, we had a number of virtual meet-ups. They were still done “locally”, with people signing up to whichever host was nearest to them. We had them taking place in Bath, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, two in London, and an associated one in Dublin. Thank you to all of our hosts for organising the Zoom calls and lightly “chairing” the discussions. We had 70 signed up to the calls, and it was really great to hear everyone’s thoughts in a relaxed environment.
So, what did we talk about?
One thing that clearly came across is that everyone’s situation is different.
Some have proper home set-ups and are used to working from home, others (in particular support staff) have never done it before; some have cobbled together a working space in their home and/or are usually much more paper-based; some have kids to look after, home-school and/or entertain, some have relatives that need help with shopping etc, some are living with their other half or flatmates and some are on their own; some are managers getting to grips with managing a team and their workloads and motivation levels from afar and the time that takes; others are trainees getting used to receiving work and feedback remotely; some are able to get out once a day but others are shielding or self-isolating; some are trying to occupy their time while being furloughed, others are somewhat overwhelmed with things to do; some are still dealing with the emotional fallout of the EQEs being cancelled; some have friends and relatives who have been sick; and some have just joined new teams, who they have not met in person.
One of us summed it up very well when they said everyone probably has “a little bit too much” of whatever it is they have. For example, if you have children, you would probably be happier if you did not have to look after them for quite as long, and if you have lots of free time but are living on your own, you may not wish to be quite so much.
Of course, everyone has different personality traits too, and we have all reacted differently to different aspects of the situation.
Some Tips/Suggestions for Coping, Balancing, Juggling…
Nevertheless, despite all these variations, there were a number of shared thoughts and some tips/suggestions that may help others. Hopefully, there is at least one here you have not already thought of.
Working Set Up
- Set up your keyboard and monitor according to H&S guidelines
- If you are short on space and your work are is very visible in your home, think about covering it up/properly packing away for the weekends/evenings
- If you can, have a physical separation between the “working area” and “home area” – being able to close the door and distance yourself from the working area at the end of the day is a good thing
- If you can, buy a proper office chair
- Use headphones, especially if you need to block out kids’ noise when you are not the one “on duty” at that time (as one of us said: “I am not used to ignoring my children when I can hear them”)
- If you get stiff from sitting for long periods of time, break it up with periods of standing, walking, exercising, or just getting away from the same chair for a bit
- Try and get outside at least once a day
Working with Others in your Home
- If others are working around you, keep letting each other know about phone calls you have coming up, so you can work around each other/take calls in different rooms as much as possible
- Paying for a Wi-Fi extender (about £250) is well worth it to give you flexibility to work in different areas of the home
Communicating with Colleagues
- Check in with colleagues more frequently – everyone is using Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom more often
- Get the “kitchen chat” by ringing someone up and have a coffee together
- Just because you may be on your own and not with your colleagues, doesn’t mean you should just put your head down and work all the time
- Think about how your colleagues may prefer you contacting them. For example, if they have children, maybe drop them an email to ask when a good time to call might be
- Ensure introverts are heard
- We are missing the “osmosis learning/teaching” from having others around us
- Virtual communication is easier within established relationships: establishing relationships is more effective face to face
- Unsurprisingly, many clients have been holding off/delaying matters
- However, others are busier than usual
- We are in support mode for many clients. Much of this involves giving information to assist in their decision-making and not necessarily billable work right now
- It is more about keeping in touch, rather than doing business development, perhaps
- Many have used their time for practice development – activities that they typically don’t have much time for in normal circumstances – writing articles, taking part in webinars
- It was also noted that it is a good time to reach out to foreign contacts/clients
Structure of the Day
- Think about replacing your commuting time with something else to delineate between work and home time – perhaps go for a walk, read a book, do an online exercise class or something else to help clear the mind and get the energy and motivation levels up
- Avoid looking at emails in the evenings and weekends (and keep an eye on those you supervise that they are doing the same)
- Try and finish at your usual time – it is easy to find oneself working much longer hours and can be exhausting – maybe book an exercise class for a certain time so that you have to log off then
- Think about the structure/routine that works best for you
- If you can, have lunch and dinner together
- If it works for your set-up, get ready before starting work
- Get dressed in clothes that make you feel in control (perhaps not tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie every day!)
- Use “to-do” lists to create more structure
- Do not be afraid to change your routine, if it is not working for you
- Try and avoid work and home life “bleeding” into each other during the day – if you are working, try and do that without being distracted, and then when you are with the children, try and do that, without being distracted by work
- Do not beat yourself up for thinking you are not doing enough of either
- Think about adapting your hours and when you do them to make things work in your household
- The experience of juggling work and home schooling varies depending on the age of the children. For the young ones, exercising first thing before settling down to school work seems to work well. Having a dedicated study area is also a good idea
- “Primary maths is complicated – thankfully Google is here to help”
- A helpful mantra: think about today, think about tomorrow, but try not to speculate too much further ahead
- Wine (but not too much!)
- Don’t feel the pressure for self-improvement (eg taking up a new hobby, exercising more etc) if that is not for you
- Make a deliberate effort for self-care
Some Real Positives
Despite the severity of the world situation, some real positives, big and small, have come out of this:
- We are getting to know our work colleagues and clients on a much deeper level – we know the names of their kids, their pets, what their living room looks like, who they live with – these are now normal work questions and it seems much more authentic
- People are more relaxed/informal on calls – interruptions by children or pets are now the norm and there is a feeling that we are “all in this together”. Caring responsibilities do not need to be hidden/covered up and conference calls can still take place when kids are being noisy (one even shared that she had a matter allowed by an examiner who couldn’t take more of her children playing music in the background!)
- The pace of life has slowed down
- There have been some really moving experiences of communities pulling together (eg sharing the new “gold dust” – flour)
- Virtual calls have been good for office integration, especially where firms have overseas offices or even offices in different locations in the UK
- We heard of some foreign firms sending PPE over to their contacts in the UK (eg masks) – who then donated them to front-line workers
- We also heard of one firm’s initiative of supporting businesses which usually service city centre practices (eg sandwich shops) and donating money to local charities
- Many have switched the stress of a commute or nursery/school run for quality time with family/exercising
- Virtual client contact can feel more “local”
- Cross team / office communications can be done virtually very easily; this saves on travel and aids one’s carbon footprint and productivity
What About the Future?
It is now clear that this is at the very least a long-term temporary scenario. But, will the world of work look different in 2 years’ time in a (fingers crossed) post-Covid-19 world – will the legacy of this time still be felt?
I think we all felt life would be different. If nothing else, the use of technology has accelerated the push to more flexible working. It has also been shown that almost every role at every level can be done from home by a willing colleague. (How to bring on new colleagues is perhaps slightly more challenging!)
Even the UK IPO and WIPO are sending out electronic communications now, the EPO is holding more and more video conferences and the UK courts are likely to continue using more video conferencing facilities in the future.
We expect to see more hot-desking, more video calls and more regular working from home days, not just for those with caring needs or in senior positions. Businesses as well as individuals will benefit from a different balance. For example, less might be spent on office space or travel in the future.
It will be important, then, to keep up the social side of flexible working (even if only 30% say are working from home, as opposed to the 100% now). Some of us will want more office time, some will want less. Many felt that having that choice will be key.
At least two factors were identified that might endanger the much-hoped-for change in attitudes to home working. First, it may be difficult to see how efficient working from home can really be when the bottom line of many businesses is being affected right now, too. Second, some decision makers may be finding that working from home seems less efficient to them, since much more time is taken managing people at present. However, we would hope that this would not undermine their opinion of the advantages and efficiencies of others working from home, especially under more normal circumstances. We must keep in mind that current home-working is enforced and crisis-driven, whereas once schools are open, vulnerable relatives no longer need shielding, and cultural and social lives resume, the people side of home working will be simplified.
We hope to organise another similar event soon (we have pencilled in Wednesday 3 June at 8.30 am) and this will be advertised on the IP Inclusive Events and Women in IP pages and on the Women in IP LinkedIn page.
If you have a particular topic you would like to discuss or if you are able to host a zoom call (I promise you, it is very easy – if I can do it, anyone can!), please drop me (email@example.com) and Isobel Barry (firstname.lastname@example.org) an email.
Page published on 30th April 2020
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I have been "working from home" for many years now and for the past 5+ years have been running my own company (just me as Director, Finance manager, paralegal support and so on). I operate my company entirely online and as your article points out, everyone has their own best way of working. Although my routine has changed over time, one thing that doesn't change is that, as I am also disabled and reliant upon someone else to help get me dressed in the mornings & into my office, I try to avoid any meetings etc until after 10 a.m. (although I can make the occasional exception). I would love to join or even host a casual meeting, such as your "coffee mornings", but I cannot ever guarantee to make an 8:30 a.m. call. Is there any chance of expanding your 'virtual get-togethers' to either a lunchtime or after work session i.e. more like midday – 2 p.m. or 5 – 6 p.m.? Location: Swindon