The Office is dead, long live the V-Office.
Last year I posted a short video discussing skills shortages in rural areas and how businesses might address this. The current situation of social distancing and home working throws a new perspective on this.
My other half is a Chartered Mechanical Engineer and works for a company which designs bespoke bits of kit for the offshore industry (my knowledge ends there). We live in a rural area, and recruitment of specialist skills is a challenge for the business. In the past, there has always been an expectation that new recruits will live locally enough to work from the office each day.
The past few weeks have been a challenging time for us all, but have also provided great learning in remote working practices. My husband and his colleagues were initially concerned that internet connections would not cope with transfer of CAD data, and that access to data management systems would be too slow. This hasn’t been the case, and the company has continued to work productively over the past few weeks, adapting what would normally be face to face team meetings into regular video calls, which people have become confident in using. With an international customer base, there is already a culture of video conferencing – it has just taken a readjustment to be using it for team members in Lancaster as well as clients in the USA.
My world has adapted to virtual networking, which can feel odd, but when managed well can be very productive. Where I would have been delivering face to face training, I’m now developing and learning new e-training methods.
These differences in working practices have led to some interesting conversations and developments. I’m about to advertise for a Research Project Manager through UCLAN’s Unite+ Programme, which would normally have required supervision in person. We’ve adapted this as a distance project, which means that I can recruit and supervise an assistant based anywhere in the world.
My husband has commented several times that home working is so effective that members of staff could be based remotely long term – which raises an interesting potential solution to the recruitment challenge his company faces. There is now an evidence base which proves that an employee could work from anywhere with good digital connectivity and online management structures.
Everyone talks of the New Normal. Let’s embrace the opportunities that this provides us and use them to address business challenges in rural locations.