WillisPalmer’s managing director Sarah Stowe on working in an empty office, missing banter and making friends with the local ducks during lockdown restrictions.
We recently bought you our experiences of working from home with pets and children, but for WillisPalmer’s managing director Sarah Stowe, it was a whole different ball game of eerie silence, a lack of banter and bats..
It was decided at the beginning of lockdown measures that Sarah and our senior case manager Tracy would work in the office as other members of the team had small children who were not in school or childcare, some were in ‘at risk’ groups or were already regularly work from home. WillisPalmer has a number of contracts which require a lot of printing and sending documents via a courier service, so it was essential to have the office staffed and to keep the office operational for referrals and contacts.
Fortunately, the WillisPalmer office which is based on the campus of Essex university and is set in Wivenhoe Park, is blessed with space over two floors and as such, Sarah and Tracy could adhere to social distancing rules as outlined in government guidance.
“At first, it was like a ghost town,” said Sarah. “You would see the same four cars in the car park with so many people working from home here and in the other businesses located here. The office is set on a university campus and we are used to having students from all over the world here, there is a square which is usually bustling with students and there is so much diversity there and it’s really vibrant but it was so quiet and I really missed seeing the students and hearing their laughter.”
In fact, Sarah had agreed with the university that she would provide mentoring for a student as well as sitting in on mock interview panels with students to help prepare them for interviews in the working world. However, unfortunately these plans are on hold with the campus deserted.
While Sarah and Tracy were both in the office and convened each morning to discuss actions for the day, Sarah said they could easily go for the rest of the day without seeing each other given they were working on different floors.
For Sarah, it was particularly strange as she has worked closely with Chloe Bach, our business administrator, and senior business consultant Steve Hoyle for over 10 years. It is now 13 weeks since Sarah has seen Chloe – the longest period they have been apart in the 11 years they have worked together having only spent a fortnight holiday away from each other previously. With Chloe expecting a baby girl in July, Sarah has missed out on much of Chloe’s pregnancy. “I’ve really missed Chloe, she’s such a massive support to me in my role, and it’s been difficult to plan her handover during lockdown. We’ve not even been able to have her baby shower.”
Having worked together for such a lengthy period, Sarah says Steve, Chloe and her often know what the other is thinking and so to suddenly be ‘forced apart’ due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a strange experience and she’s missed her ‘work family’.
“In the office, Chloe and I could be multi-tasking on two or three issues at the same time, whereas now we have ‘set’ catch ups so you don’t get a run at tasks, it becomes disjointed and I’m looking forward to us all being together as a team and working together on jobs efficiently,” said Sarah
“I’ve certainly missed the camaraderie and banter in the office. I find it really helps bounce ideas off each other when you are in an office environment,” she added.
However, one unusual by product of the quieter environment on campus combined with a heightened sense of what’s around us without the usual hustle and bustle means that during lockdown the nature in the park has come to the fore. Sarah has seen two muntjac deer, a stoat, a partridge, woodpeckers, a pheasant and squirrels. Furthermore, a family of ducks with their babies have been right up to the office door and the office location is actually in a ‘bat corridor’.
So, while Sarah’s team mates have, for now, been replaced by animals and birds for the moment, she is looking forward to the real deal coming back as restrictions ease. Case manager Fay has returned to the office and Holly is now back one day a week, which will rise to two days. Social distancing is still being adhered to and each desk has a kit with gloves, a mask, hand sanitiser and cleaning products.
One of the main benefits of working in the office is that Sarah has maintained a sense of routine, something many may struggle with when returning to the ‘new normal’.
Technology has also been utilised to enable the team to maintain contact with all of us learning how to use Zoom.
“I think the period has been a real opportunity for us to use technology and get to grips with the benefits it offers. Undertaking a meeting via video conferencing is so much more cost-effective in terms of the time spent travelling and the costs incurred said Sarah.”
“I think most workplaces will be adopting a more flexible approach when we return to some kind of ‘new normal’ and for me, I think this will include a combination of working from home, particularly when compiling reports or where you need a period of time for sustained concentration, using technology where it can be utilised and working in the office to brainstorm, share ideas, work together on projects and benefit from the support system that the office environment and colleagues provide,” concluded Sarah.