David Taylor caught up with U+I creative director Martyn Evans over Whatsapp to get his thoughts on these times and his top tips for working from home.
DT: How are you, Martyn?
Martyn: Do you know, I’m really well. I am a social person and I will admit to finding it a little difficult working at home on my own. I am not a successful homeworker. I thrive in the office on that human interaction and I think that’s just a function of one’s personality, isn’t it? It’s just how it is. So it is a struggle for me, but I am learning. With patience and forbearance, I am learning technology; I am amazed at how quickly we adapt. I had never had a video conference call before because I am old and do not do those things, but I have had seven a day for the last three or four days.
DT: Exhausting, isn’t it?
Martyn: It is ****ing exhausting! But also, the etiquette! Oh my god! There is, though, something about it that is a bit easier than being in a room, particularly when it’s a load of men, because the body language thing is almost gone from your interaction, so you have to find other ways. And I’ve noticed people realising that they are droning on, and stopping when they see everybody’s faces. Because you can see everybody’s face at the same time, and you can’t in a room. And so, if everybody’s got their head slumped in their hand, looking really bored, shut up!
DT: Are you Zooming, or Teams-ing, or Googling…?
Martyn: We’re on Teams, which I was a bit resistant to because I’d like to see everybody’s face and you can only see four at a time on Teams. But it’s alright, you know, once you get the hang of why there are only four people on – because they’re the last four people that spoke. And the minute someone speaks, their face appears. It’s fine. I’m still yet to know how you know your face isn’t up on the screen – it doesn’t tell you that. So you can’t be picking your nose or anything. But suddenly I feel like I’m an old hand at it and I’m only two days in!
DT: How are you organising your day? Are you taking breaks, and having lunch?
Martyn: I am a late-middle-aged man who will get fat if I look at a chocolate biscuit. So being a cyclist to work every day there’s absolutely no way I’m not getting out on my bike. So, I’m going out on my bike every day. I am going for an hour to the Olympic Park, cycling around the track a few times and coming home.
DT: Wonderful! Do you do that before the day starts, as it were?
Martyn: I do it first thing in the morning, although I did it at lunchtime today because I had a meeting first thing. But the sun is out and so it is a joy to do that. and there’s no traffic, which is joyful.
DT: Do you find that given yesterday’s announcement (Boris’ lockdown) that you’ll be doing that slightly psychologically differently? As your one training exercise of the day?
Martyn: Well I don’t stop and have a chat, as I might otherwise do. But I was in Victoria Park on Sunday and it was rammed. But then I listened to the PM complaining last night about that and I thought that all those people in that park were either on their bikes or they were in couples pushing a pram. I don’t think there were a lot of people talking to each other in groups and coughing over each other. I went out at lunchtime and there were fewer people but can’t imagine there will be fewer people going out in the park because everyone will be going out for their run or their cycle ride.
DT: How has work been? What has been the headache?
Martyn: I’m very interested in whether this remote working is the future. In our company, we have managed to work remotely very easily. We’ve all got laptops, we’ve got good software; there have been very few problems in us just dispersing very quickly and carrying on with our work. But I think immediately the sense of community has just disappeared. And so we are having to crank that up, hard.
Martyn: So: for anybody who manages a large number of people I’m suggesting they talk to them all on a Zoom thing or a Teams thing every day, for at least five minutes, just to check in and wave at each other and say hello, and even just personal check-ins. Teams has been incredibly successful. We’ve only had it since Friday and have taken to it like a duck to water. It’s been incredibly useful. But do you know what it is? It’s about being pro-active. I have got a team of 10 and I pick up the phone to each of them every day and talk to them all in one go on a conference call at lunchtime. You’ve got to make the effort to keep the conversation going. And that’s hard. Because I don’t think I work with a single person who is lazy or is going to take advantage of the fact that nobody’s breathing down their neck. We’re not like that. But that sense of not being a community of people striving together to get things done is gone, and we need to work hard to keep it going, and we will succeed. That’s been the biggest shock to me, I suppose, how much of a problem that was. I’m not interested in this idea that we could all be working remotely efficiently in our company – that’s not going to work. We rely too much on those serendipitous human interaction moments. I think when you’re working remotely in any kind of creative environment particularly, the best ideas come by accident on the hoof. And that’s very difficult when you’re in different places.
DT: What of your construction sites? Presumably, all of the workers have been told to go home?
Martyn: No, not all. Obviously, all of our construction sites are run by companies that are not ours and so they are working to their own rules. But we shut one of our sites in Brighton this morning and the other one stayed open today, but that’s due to complete on Tuesday. So I suspect they want to get it done, but we’re watching government advice very closely and will comply with whatever we’re advised.
DT: Quite a few companies like Galliard Homes today (Tuesday) have taken the decision, against Government recommendations, to stay open and to take all their staff off, if only, in Galliard’s case, to free up public transport for key workers and NHS staff.
Martyn: Yes, sensible. I mean we have very few construction sites at the moment actually.
DT: So, Martyn, our five minutes are almost up. Have you got one tip for working at home that you’ve picked up?
Martyn: Oh, routine, honestly. Routine. And don’t buy any biscuits.
DT: Chocolate ones specifically?
Martyn: No biscuits. Not one. So routine, and exercise. Do exercise. The one good thing about all this: the sun is out. Take advantage of being allowed some exercise and go do it. I’m happy on my bike.