A few days ago marked our first anniversary since Mazars in Malta moved to work entirely remotely. Up to March 2020, the common understanding was that work was always and mainly conducted in the office. Admittedly, some members of staff were already accustomed to working elsewhere from time to time on work assignments. However, a good number of us always relied on the office environment to be productive.
From one day to the next, however, all that changed. Thanks to the investment made by the firm, we were all able to continue working from our own homes and to deliver value to our clients. Needless to say, the transition was not seamless.
Afterall, there was no drill, no simulation that could foretell and prepare us for the kind of challenges we were about to face.
An often used and abused word came quickly to the fore … communication. Having a colleague present at the place of work, enabled us to quite quickly deduce whether all was ok, or not! However, now this colleague was located somewhere else, with no way of gauging what was happening in their lives. We quickly realised that the home situation became a huge consideration and nothing could be taken for granted; the needs of children of varying ages, parents and siblings also working from home, all vying for some space or corner in the home from where to conduct their work; home schooling; internet connectivity problems; relatives needing to be cared for. Family life and work-life became intermingled, with most of us moving back and forth from one scenario to another. Clear lines that existed in the past had in a very short period of time disappeared.
There was also living in the hope that this would soon be over and that we could return to what we had before. Preparations in this regard were in hand and rotas drawn out. By early August 2020, however, it became clear that the pandemic was not going to go away anytime soon, and all our well-laid plans were put aside. That realisation, which had to be lived through, created another challenge … grief. We had to accept that we needed to go through the stages of grief and help one another accept the fact that we were in a period of transition, with no clear end in sight, and that we had to manage this experience as best as we could.
New lines of communication had to be opened. These had to be deliberate, measured, and effective. As a result, increased one-to-one and team communication, even short check-ins, became something to look forward to. We could choose to discuss work matters or we could choose to talk about anything not work-related. ‘How are you today?’ was a typical opening line that took a person’s well-being into account, accepting that today is not yesterday or tomorrow. It was an acknowledgment of what was being felt at that point in time. As humans, we yearn for social contact, for the opportunity to see someone in the flesh, even at a distance, rather than on a computer screen. I myself, an introvert, was surprised at the emotional impact of bumping into a colleague during one of my walks. It was like discovering something that had been lost for a very long time
Of course, our next challenge now is to deal with work-from-home fatigue. There is the full realisation that by being cautious, we are taking active steps to protect one another, as well as all our loved ones. Nevertheless, there is a certain amount of frustration creeping in (even a certain level of anger perhaps), a feeling that not everyone beyond the organisation is of the same mind, and perhaps even contributing to the prolonging of the pandemic.
Having said that, we now continue to move on, not looking at any particular goal, no longer hoping for a miracle, accepting the situation we are in, taking care of each other, and above all fulfilling our commitments to clients. A positive mental attitude is what will keep us going from day to day, and sometimes, if necessary, from hour to hour. At some point, another phase in this journey will bring with it some fresh cause for anxiety.
In the meantime, however, we choose to grab the opportunity to move forward, even if it feels that we are sometimes taking baby steps.
Based on the lessons learnt these last twelve months, we aim to seize the chance to create a new and better ‘normal’.
Written by Michael Falzon, Mazars in Malta HR Manager
Publication date: 24/03/2021