In the second of a series on flexible teams, workingmums.co.uk talks to Christina Folkard at global learning company Pearson about working in a hybrid way.
Covid-19 had an overnight impact on many employers, forcing them to switch to remote working immediately. However. some employers have worked in flexible ways for years. In the second of a series focusing on flexible stories we talk to Christina Folkard from global learning company Pearson about how hybrid working has evolved in her team over the last few years and how Covid has accelerated this process.
Christina Folkard’s team at Pearson had been dabbling in hybrid working before the pandemic, but there has been a big change since and she thinks it is likely that that change is here to stay. Christina is Head of Content and Content Innovation at global learning company Pearson and works within the BTEC & Apprenticeships division. There are 21 people in her team and 130 in her division.
Before Covid, some members of the team worked from home on occasion, for instance, if they had a doctor’s appointment. Some people would work from home regularly, but that was usually limited to one or two days a week. Most people seemed to like working in the office.
Around three years ago, conversations began about making all external meetings remote so individuals didn’t need to travel to London or stay in hotels overnight. The aim was to become more accessible as a business to those for whom face to face meetings might be a challenge. There was some resistance, but Covid has accelerated acceptance. Internal meetings also started to be recorded so people who couldn’t attend could catch up at their convenience. There were discussions about how to work securely from home and the need for team laptops and there would be a regular scrum meeting every Monday to know everyone’s rota in the week. Training was also done virtually.
When the lockdown started, everyone in the division moved to homeworking and all meetings have been conducted virtually. Parents with children at home were able to flex their hours around childcare. In fact, that flexibility suited the team well as they work with a lot of freelancers who might not always be available during normal office hours. Senior leaders supported that flexibility, encouraging people to do the best they can. “There was no judgment,” says Christina, adding that children appeared regularly on calls and that that brought teams closer together. For instance, on World Book Day, team members posted pictures of their children in their costumes. Christina says her own line manager has young children and “more than leads by example”. “The message was we are all in this and so do what you need to do,” she says.
Further into the pandemic, there were the usual concerns about online fatigue, isolation [due to the pandemic as much as to working from home] and resilience. Christina talked about the need to set boundaries between work and family life, the need to put your working hours, the need not to tag people into messages when they weren’t working and so forth. “We used the technology in Teams to create boundaries as, working remotely, you can’t see if someone is on a call or not at their computer. It was important that people could show in some way when they were available,” says Christina.
The majority of her team have loved working from home. Some have moved out of London with the idea of commuting less. “People’s lifestyles have changed a lot,” says Christina. People have found comfortable spaces to work in on the whole and their productivity has gone up. What’s more the amount of sickness absence has fallen significantly, despite Covid. The stress of getting to nursery pick-ups on time for commuting parents has disappeared.
But, of course, different people in the team have had different requirements and some have needed to go into the office so a hybrid model has been operating in the last months. The reasons some have returned to the office are varied, including some who have had siblings at home being homeschooled. One person had temporary internet problems after moving house and needed to be in the office for a short time. The flexibility of a hybrid model tailored to individual needs made sense. Another person was abroad when lockdown happened and had to be supported to work from where they were and with emergency healthcare until they could get home.
Christina says people are unlikely to return to the office in large numbers before July, but when they do it won’t look like it used to and there will be no expectation for people to be in every day. Instead her team will continue with a hybrid model. Christina doesn’t envisage any major challenges with increasing the amount of days people work remotely. She herself is used to this way of working as she works globally with people in the US and Australia as well as with third party suppliers and other offices.
Throughout the pandemic her team have continued regular meetings including scrum meetings on Mondays, quarterly divisional meetings, monthly divisional stand-up meetings, workshops and other more social meetings. They have their own channel on Teams where they can check in with colleagues every morning. Through Teams they can do break-out sessions and to make meetings more collaborative.
Christina says that greater remote working makes people more time efficient and says that she personally has really benefited both mentally and physically from being at home over the last months. She has three children – a four year old and 18 month old twins. “I love being with people and leading teams, but not commuting so often has had significant benefits. Greater flexibility opens up choice and opportunity,” she says.