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Work Your Way with Sonya Barlow, Founder of LMF Network

Work Your Way is our new blog series in which individuals give their honest answers about how they like to work when working remotely. From how to create and maintain a work culture when working remotely, to how they best like to work remotely, they share their insights and top tips.

Sonya Barlow, founder of LMF Network shares with us her thoughts on how we all need to put mental health first and how owning your calendar can be empowering. LMF Network is a not-for-profit social enterprise bridging the skills gap and changing the narrative of inclusion.

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What is the biggest advantage to the company of working remotely?

Managing your own calendar/schedule: owning your own calendar is empowering and makes you feel that you are more than just an "employee" but an avid stakeholder, interested in the bettering the company and your own progression.

Allowing for flexibility: with parents, carers and young people (the most impacted by the pandemic), flexible working enables them to balance all their worlds, enabling better results.

Hiring and working with diverse candidates globally: we already know the stats around diversity and inclusion, with womxn making up only 13% and 15% of senior positions in FTSE 100 and tech companies respectively. Remote working allows for organisations to find candidates from anywhere in the world, rather than from just commutable locations, which I tend to call "privilege locations". A great example being consultancy, where many womxn don't want to travel or stay overnight and so tend to avoid such roles. With remote working, when travel isn't required, then the pool of candidates is much larger. For LMF, it means that we can bring in great talent from all over the world, which we can see through our volunteers and mentoring programme.

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Remote-Friendly or Remote-First?

Remote friendly. Not everyone enjoys working from home or remotely, and so I believe it's fundamental that business is friendly in-person and remotely. What I mean by this is that businesses should ensure that they are set up for success in the office or at home. Simple things, like inclusive employee onboarding, having all materials in a cloud drive for all to access, supporting team meetings and bonding through online events (during work hours, not after) and encouraging flexible working top-down. During these times, people need to stay humane and emotionally empathetic.

How do you keep remote work visible?

Weekly stand-ups: encourage colleagues to share what they have been working on, what has worked and what hasn't. As an extension, this also brings an element of community which supports visibility and sharing.

Regular 121s: build strong relationships with your managers/subordinates by coordinating regular 121s to learn what tasks they have, where they need support and which tasks they have completed. Micromanaging is a thing of the past and managers who choose to still do this should be wary of the negative impact it has on relationships and trust.

Shared drive: ensure there is one shared drive where information can be saved and shared. This is a good way of keeping remote work visible and collective.

Email updates: don't be afraid to send an update email at the end of the week, even if it's just a few bullet points next to the tasks set.

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How do you maintain and create a company culture when working remotely?

Regular 121s: to openly communicate and share learnings/tasks/next steps.

(PAID) Monthly lunches or coffee meets or socials during working hours: to keep spirits high and create a community. We had an absolutely great Christmas/end of year meal where I sent Uber credits to the team globally (Toronto/Mexico/UK) and it was very well received! Doing things after work or before isn't fair, because people have lives and tend to have to manage their home life around work.

Skill alignment and conversations on progression: inclusion and equity means knowing what your people want and making it accessible. I have regular conversations with my team to understand their goals and skills, in order to align tasks and projects. This ensures trust - that they're listened to whilst increasing productivity and morale. This small simple act can be implemented in all companies, as many times colleagues know they may be doing something they don't enjoy but are happy to if they know someone is listening to what they really want.

Putting mental health first: reminding colleagues to take a break, stop working weekends and pinging them a message if something comes through very late when they should be chilling. Company culture is about putting people first - if you do, the other Ps will come.

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Where is your favourite place to work from when working remotely?

I have to admit I was late to set up a "working office" due to my prior accommodation, but now it's the bedroom which has a desk, screen and a comfortable seat. I would say that people need to be mindful and considerate that others may not have the space or means, and not to disadvantage them for it but support them. For example, at the start of the pandemic I was living with eight people in a four-bed house and so finding a "space" wasn't always possible... I had people make stupid remarks as to why my zoom background was virtual or why I was sitting on my bed. As long as the work is done - no one should have an opinion unless they are sending some office furniture my way (I saw a post on Linkedin from a senior manager saying that he doesn't speak to his team if he can see their bed headboard in the background and thought that was such a rude thing to do/say ... that isn't the type of person I'd like to work for).

A big thank you to Sonya for her honest answers and insights into LMF Network. Make sure you check out LMF Network.

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