WFH has given me a window into my team’s lives

Before COVID-19, Jules Hall hadn't had to consider how parents with kids work at home, versus those who live alone, or those in share houses. Here, he explains why understanding how his team live (and therefore, how they now work) has made him more sensitive and flexible.

Last week, I shared what I learnt from week one of running a business during the COVID-19 crisis. It wasn’t week one of the crisis, of course. But it was the week we started working from home. So it was the week things changed. Big time.

Two weeks in and the world has shifted dramatically. So much so, there is more to share. And it looks like that will continue for the foreseeable future.

From WFH to SFH

A fortnight ago, ‘WFH’ was starting to penetrate the popular vernacular. As of last week, it’s firmly entrenched. And then we got ‘SFH’ (as in ‘schooling from home’ – not the Urban Dictionary version).

One of The Hallway team members has a new colleague

Didn’t that change things for parents?

I was just starting to get a little more comfortable with the virtual working model… then the kids turned up.

Don’t get me wrong, I love them dearly. But at eight and 10-years-old, they’ve got some energy. Tuesday trumpet practice was a serious test of our WFH/SFH model (thank goodness for noise cancelling headphones).

Last week, we really became aware of the different domestic contexts across our team.

Parents with kids is the obvious example. But what about people who live on their own? Pretty lonely right now. Or living in a shared house? Or expats who now can’t get to their family should they become sick?

This isn’t something I’ve had to think about that much in the past. But now it really matters. We have to be sensitive to each other’s contexts and flexible in a way we never even considered with the old model.

Tish, our senior art director and a mother of two, made a great suggestion last Wednesday – use diaries to block out time to do kid stuff. That would have been heresy for someone WFH two months ago. Today, it’s reality. Kids can’t be scheduled. So we’re leaning in and working with each other to make it work.

Manage the message

Another big lesson has been the importance of managing the message in virtual comms. Or, more specifically, the tone. There’s a lot of very busy people right now. And when you’ve got Hangouts, SMS, email and your phone pinging all at once, it can get hectic. Which is when tone matters most.

This came at one of our end-of-day all staff Hangout. With everyone working in different places, others won’t be able to see how busy you are. A curt reply may be understandable. But it’s not right. It can easily be misconstrued as aggressive. A quick explanation will do the trick: “Sorry I’m coming off as blunt, I have a deadline of X, happy to chat later.”

I failed on this during a couple of lunchtime chats. So I reached out to those people to explain, and arrange a time to talk.

This is something a few of us will have to work on over the coming weeks.

Living in a video world

I also realised something rather special last week. The COVID-19 crisis has made our team more connected than we’ve ever been. With twice-daily all-staff Hangouts, we have the whole team together for 30 minutes everyday. Already, I can’t imagine life without these meetings.

But we’re still learning the best way to run video calls. It’s far too easy for the loudest person in the room to take over. Or the most senior. That’s not cool.

In our six pillars of values, the first pillar is ‘We listen profoundly’. The second is ‘We speak our minds’. They are in that order for a reason.

We’re experimenting on this front. And we have some work to do. Agendas are definitely important. As is a designated meeting host. But it mustn’t become sterile or overly functional – personality is important.

To help with this, our ECD Simon and I have started taking turns to host the all staff Hangouts. You learn a lot when you’re observing. Simon raised the bar with a poetry reading, coupled with a lovely story about the author. It was a nice moment of humanity.

I’m still stuck in the fancy dress space. Time to move on, I reckon.

I hope you are all going okay out there. The craziness continues. But even more surprising is how quickly we adapt and the new becomes normal.

Jules Hall is CEO of The Hallway


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