Fiona Imbali's post

New job, new culture, new world: making the home office work

By Fiona Imbali

The last time I held a full-time office job the world was a very different place. The covid-19 pandemic had not struck; working from home was unthinkable; and work-life balance was a far-away aspiration. A month after I left that job to take on flexible consulting assignments, the pandemic struck and everything changed.

For a year, I slogged away in my home office, doing online meetings, talking to demanding clients, and playing with my little daughter. It had become monotonous, and I felt a little rusty. I missed the workplace. I put in a few job applications, and thankfully, on my birthday month in May, I got a job as an Associate at Well Made Strategy. It was a great birthday present.

If I needed to know anything about the new job, the recruitment process should have sent the signals. I had more than four interviews with different people. I did several written texts, simulations of the actual work that I was signing up for. It was intense and took a long time. I almost gave up. I’m so glad I didn’t. I joined the organisation in a new working environment, a completely new office culture, to which two weeks in, I am gradually acclimatising.

Because of the covid-19 pandemic and the public health rules, everyone at Well Made Strategy works from home. But there is a strict discipline about meetings, commitments, and the use of technology and online apps to collaborate and keep the office camaraderie going. It has all made my re-entry into the workplace smoother. As a new mum, working from home gives me peace of mind, knowing that I can close my laptop and breastfeed the little one whenever I have to.

What I get from the new work environment is the flexibility and productivity that comes with the knowledge that whichever way you plan your day, you have to remember that you have a deadline, with strict deliverables, that have to be met. Well Made Strategy prides itself on never missing a deadline and that is the standard I must maintain. My colleagues and I collaborate across projects, and as the newest employee, I feel an openness in the engagement and get helpful responses to my many questions. I have felt like everyone is genuinely offering support as they want me to succeed as part of one team with one agenda – effective strategic communications for social change.

This new way of working, thankfully looks like it will be here with us for a while and we have to find a way to embrace it. I say so, because the covid-19 pandemic is not going anywhere given the dismal vaccination figures across the world. Less than 20% of the world’s population has been vaccinated, according to the latest numbers. In Kenya, a population of about 50 million, only a million vaccine doses were received, and now there’s concern that it will be months before more come.

Many organisations are strategising about how to align themselves with the new way of working effectively. The people in these organisations have spoken, with some surveys showing a preference for people to work from home, others for hybrid arrangements but all agree that flexibility will be essential. Therefore, there’s no doubt that organisations require innovation in social business tools and platforms for collaboration and high-yielding results.

A new McKinsey report specifically ties this new flexibility with an increased emphasis on mission – the key thing that attracted me to Well Made Strategy. One of Kenya’s corporate titans, Bob Collymore, who died in 2019, wrote a great piece about humanising the workplace. He noted the importance of checking up on each other every morning; to find and maintain the elusive delicate balance between the personal and professional, as well as engaging in climate activities. That discussion, especially in a country like Kenya, with its majority young population, is very timely. The distance that technology brings in social interactions is something that we must think about, and it was interesting and exciting when I found out that at Well Made Strategy, the workplace culture involved many aspects mentioned in both pieces.

Well Made Strategy is an environment where planning well and excellent execution are key. Everyone appears focused, organised and goal-oriented. It has put me on my toes about keeping time. The daily morning catch-ups start on time, not a minute late. My colleagues have been immensely helpful in the induction, showing me the systems and ensuring that I understand the standard operating procedures.

The point is, for anyone who left employment prior to March 2020, getting back to the job market will require one to unlearn some deeply engrained workplace routines, and to learn new skills about collaborative yet remote workspaces. We will also need to get familiar with online tools to ensure we remain productive while working from home.

To avoid working longer hours, you have to develop a daily routine, a planner that shows when to take breaks and when to log out. These breaks are important: eat something, play with your child, take a walk, throw a frisbee or massage a tennis ball. You also need to invest in a good office desk and an ergonomic chair and make the space welcoming as you will be spending a lot of time there.

As I begin to engage our partner organisations, it is fascinating to know that these organisations seek our support to better our planet through their work. They engage in work that speaks to many different aspects – linked by communications that seek to enhance a sustainable planet and encourage social change. It’s good to be back ‘in the office’.

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