Flexible stories: working in a remote team

Esther Jubb heads a remote team at learning company Pearson. She talks to workingmums.co.uk about why it works for her and her colleagues and how the team was able to adapt easily to the operational challenges that Covid presented for many others.

woman at laptop working at desk


Covid-19 forced many employers to switch rapidly to remote working, but some have been working this way for years. Hybrid working, much spoken about in the last months, is not a new phenomenon for many either. What’s more, in many cases the focus of flexible working has been on individuals when, for most jobs, it is how individuals work together as a team that matters. So we asked three teams at global learning company Pearson to talk about how they work. One is working in a remote team, another has been working in a hybrid way and the other switched to remote working during the pandemic. Here we start by talking to the head of the remote team to see how the pandemic has or hasn’t affected how the team works.

Working in a remote team

Esther Jubb is Head of Academic Services at Pearson and has worked remotely since joining Pearson just over three years ago. Her team has grown to nine [including Esther] and they all work remotely and live across the country, from Cheshire to Newcastle to Folkestone and Chelmsford.

Esther says that when she joined Pearson she was very clear that she was not willing to relocate from her home just outside Liverpool for the role. She had worked remotely before, was very comfortable with it and had no problem with motivation – in fact she says that if you need to go to an office to be motivated you may well be in the wrong job.

She had done a long-distance commute before which entailed having a second home during the week and she was not willing to do that again. “I did not see any reason why a multinational organisation and a role which was mainly based around university campuses would mean I had to relocate to somewhere near London,” she says. At the time she started she was the only member of the senior leadership team who worked remotely and everyone else lived near London or Pearson’s headquarters in Harlow, Essex, apart from the sales team. “It was a bit of an experiment,” says Esther. “My role was a new one and it was a question of whether we could make it work.”

When she started recruiting a team to support her, she was again very clear about the benefits of remote working in terms of getting the best people nationally rather than the best people in a certain area. All her team are specialists and have experience of working in higher education institutions so they understand the culture and values of universities and the way they work.

Cost effective

Esther says that when she says she works remotely from near Liverpool some people ask her how much it costs the company for her to travel to London. She replies that she saves the company more than she costs it – on trips to campuses near Liverpool and on the cost of a central London desk. She believes there are lots of reputational and financial advantages to having a remote team and she says it also benefits her team members. “They get to keep living in the same place while working for a global company. They don’t have to uproot their family,” says Esther, who adds that remote working broadens the talent pool she can draw from. She states, however, that when recruiting she doesn’t have complete carte blanche and does balance people’s location with where the business is.

When it comes to business, Esther, who helps people design online learning, adds that the fact that her team works remotely gives clients confidence that they too can work in different ways.

Covid transition

Having worked remotely before Covid has meant that Esther’s team was able to cope with lockdown conditions with no operational problems. And while Pearson was already geared up to remote working technology-wise, Esther says Covid has accelerated acceptance of it. Now other teams have gone remote, she feels the dynamics have changed. “Remote working has been mainstreamed in our broader higher education division. Before I always felt a bit like a poor relation. Now that everyone is video conferencing, there is a democracy to it,” says Esther. “It was not that I was intentionally disregarded, but the fact of not physically being in the room meant people might forget I was there. It changes the dynamic when everyone is remote and that is very powerful for our team. There’s a sudden realisation of some of the challenges.” Of course, during Covid, there have been additional challenges such as childcare issues and Esther is keen to emphasise that Covid working is not normal remote working and she anticipates that more people in Pearson will work remotely or in a hybrid fashion in the future.

Before the pandemic Esther says the team would come together face to face every eight weeks or so, usually in London, and she agrees this is useful for building relationships. She often combined a trip to London with other visits in the area, such as a meeting in Brighton. She also sees her team when they are visiting university campuses and can meet up with her colleague in Cheshire if she needs to. Since Covid, Pearson has had a no travel policy and the whole team meets up virtually on a regular basis instead of in person as well as having weekly check-ins. And indeed some members used to join meetings online if they couldn’t make the London meetings in the past.

Post Covid

Covid has made Esther more aware of the need to keep meeting up physically. Like everyone, she is missing the social side of seeing people. “I’m now a bit bored of only working in the one environment when I used to have so much variety,” she says.

However, she thinks she will travel less frequently in the future and she will think more carefully about whether a trip is really necessary. “People are hankering for meaningful interactions rather than frequent interactions,” she states. “There will be more of an emphasis on the time you spend physically with clients having a meaningful and tangible point.”

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