I graduated with my master’s degree fresh-faced and full of ambition. I had no idea that in just a few months after graduation, the world would be reeling from a new unknown virus and impending lockdowns. While at first glance, this looked like the worst possible scenario for jumping into the marketing industry, the pandemic has opened up a whole new world of flexible working opportunities I could never have imagined.
Working across time zones
When I first joined Aurora, we were still playing around with the idea of me moving to Liverpool to join our core team and help build out the agency. Subsequent lockdowns, countries closing their borders and international travel grinding to a complete halt fast put the kibosh on that idea. At first, this distance presented as a hurdle we as an agency had to cross, but quickly we realized that working in different time zones wasn’t a hassle at all – it was an advantage.
Aurora is a hybrid native agency with two office bases, one in Liverpool (the creative centre of the universe according to Allen Ginsberg) and the other in Toronto, where I currently work. The pandemic has, in fact, allowed us to cater to both sides of the Atlantic, sharing insights and knowledge geared towards both the UK and European audience as well as a North American one. Where physical offices often tie and agencies’ hands as to who they can access to work on different briefs, Aurora can lean on the best of the best of the best throughout Europe and North America. Aside from the other more obvious advantages of having two offices on other sides of the globe, the time difference has actually benefited us. While the regular working hours of an agency would be within the standard 9 to 5 that Dolly Parton so famously sang about, Aurora is able to operate from 9 am GMT to 8 pm GMT schedule. Rather than covering eight hours of the working day, Aurora covers eleven hours, offering our clients more coverage of their campaigns, social media and projects. The increased working hours only makes sense in a connected, global world that never stops moving.
For myself, this has meant working slightly unconventional hours, which isn’t for everyone. Depending on the side of the world you’re working from, it may mean starting earlier and finishing earlier or starting later and working later. The reality is a 7 am to 3 pm working day is better for me. I get some of my best thinking time between 7 am, and 9 am. I’ve always been an early riser and in bed quite early. Here as well, the pandemic hasn’t only knocked down the barrier of location but the barrier of time as well.
Remote working hacks
After working remotely for the past year and a half, I’ve picked up a few hacks to make remote working beneficial for both myself and my team. For my team, embracing a-synchronous forms of communication almost exclusively was challenging at first, but when you get into the mindset – you gain time and productivity in spades.
What is a-synchronous communication? Glad you asked! In its simplest form, a-synchronous communication is any form of contact that isn’t sent or received instantaneously. An email is a good example of this style of communication. We live in a world where constant communication is the norm, but it isn’t necessarily good. We waste hours of our days replying to time-sensitive communications, on phone calls and zoom meetings. There are benefits to these kinds of instant communications, mainly for the purposes of team building and company-wide huddles. When it comes to work that requires deep thinking and concentration, these forms of communication can actually be quite detrimental to productivity.
For the Aurora team, putting the emphasis on this form of communication has made us really pause and think out what we’re trying to say before sending an email. We encourage our team to be super clear about what they’re asking for, pre-answer any potential follow-up questions and include any attachments that the recipient might need. Doing this upfront work means that we often send one email instead of ten.
On a personal level, I’ve debunked a few myths about remote working. One of the big pieces of advice I heard coming from people as we went into our first lockdown was the necessity of keeping a regular schedule and having hard finishes. The intention behind this piece of advice was to create some consistency in your world and maintain a work-life balance – all noble intentions. The issue becomes that, in a way, you’re tying yourself down to the same routine that you had in your company office, negating one of the primary benefits of working from home, flexibility. I track my time throughout the day, this is really important to retain a modicum of work-life balance, but I don’t hold myself back from taking a walk to clear my head, running an errand that I need to and making up the work hours later in the day.
The new normal?
The question everyone is asking is, are we going to go back to the way things were? I think a better question is, do we really want to? The pre-pandemic world was tied to a desk, filled with meetings that weren’t actually productive and limiting for those who wanted to live elsewhere or work non-traditional hours.
The short answer is no; we’re not going back. For employers, a move back doesn’t make sense. Many have figured out during the pandemic that paying for permanent office space is an overhead cost they can do without and is actually often a barrier in terms of talent procurement and retention. Employees are learning they can get the job done from wherever they want and within the hours that suit them best. Our very own Digital Marketing Executive will be moving to Mexico and working remotely for just over a month – because she can. In a recent study by Prudential, 87% of American workers said they would prefer to continue working remotely at least one day a week. 42% of those surveyed said they would be looking for another job if their employer wouldn’t continue to offer remote working options long-term. Making this shift possible is the technology that has caught up with new video conferencing tools, collaboration tools, and scheduling tools readily available to help make hybrid working environments thrive.
The work from home tool-kit:
Struggling to make the hybrid working environment thrive for you and your team? Here are a few helpful tools that we use every day to make things work:
Toggl is a tool made for freelancers and remote working professionals. With both free and paid versions, this is by far the best tool out there to track your hours, tasks and projects. Pro-tip, organize your projects by clients to track where you may be over or under servicing.
You’ve probably already been bombarded with numerous ads for the likes of Asana, Monday.com, and Wrike. Having consulted with numerous colleagues, Asana has consistently come out on top in terms of team/project management. Use the calendar view to see where your team’s time is being spent and schedule your resource accordingly.
Trello’s kanban boards are an excellent tool for agile projects, but I’ve found it to be a handy tool for my own to-do lists. Creating columns for each day of the week, you can plan ahead your tasks and get the satisfaction of archiving tickets upon completion.
One of the biggest knocks against remote working from employers is the dilution of collaboration that can only come from an in-person meeting. You know the ones where someone whips out a pad of sticky notes and draws on a whiteboard. Not to worry, technology has caught up and given us Miro and Mural. Miro is exceptionally easy as a tool to collaborate remotely, drag and drop sticky notes, draw and interact. Mural is a paid service but has some added functionality allowing users to vote on topics.
While a-synchronous communication is the holy grail of any remote team, at times, you need direct instant communication to work through a specific problem. I’ve found slack to be an incredibly powerful tool for agile projects. Use channels to organize your projects, easily store and search for documents and even message yourself reminders.