Working from home and what it means for productivity, trust, leadership and communication: Interview with Caleb Parker, Founder of Bold

The world has changed overnight. With the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the current lockdown in Europe and in other parts of the world, entire industries require their staff to work from home. The new reality will transform entire industries and post coronavirus, a new business world will emerge. 

Events will not be the same again. The way we work and communicate will evolve and take place increasingly online. Although there are opportunities in such adverse situations, it’s also important to acknowledge the anxiety that people feel about it right now, working from home and being isolated. 

During this challenging time, we continue to host our regular #eventprofstalk Twitter chats and seek additional expert advice via Instagram Live interviews on some of the subjects we cover on the Twitter chat. This time, we want to focus on new work and working from home. We interviewed Caleb Parker, an American London-based entrepreneur who’s the founder of Bold, a small meetings and flexible workspace brand in the UK. Caleb has been heavily involved in the events industry and with the Hotel Booking Agents Association (HBAA), and we’ve also worked on multiple events together over the past five years. 

For some event professionals, working from home is a new environment, whereas others have been doing it already for years. Caleb believes that although there’s a lot of talk about being productive while working from home, it’s also a very stressful time for people; however, it’s also a time when we need to realise that governments around the world are doing all they can do to ensure that from both health and economic perspectives, most of us will survive, and he is highly optimistic about that.

How the trend of new work is impacting the events industry 

Even before the coronavirus began to spread, ‘new work’ became a trending topic and is also regarded as one of the mega trends that is impacting the events industry. According to Caleb, this trend is not specific to the events industry but absolutely has an impact. Working from home provides the ability to be productive anywhere in the world as long as you have a good internet connection. If companies give their employees the option to work from home, that provides people with freedom and empowers them to be productive anywhere they work. Hence, employees don’t need to come into the office anymore in order to be productive. People don’t need to go to an event to learn. ‘I think that new work is significant for many reasons, but it’s not a binary thing, meaning that we go to an office or we don’t, or that we go to an event or we don’t. Those are two options, but the choice should be given to people to do either.’

How can event planners and their stakeholders build trust online with their suppliers when working/coordinating events remotely?

‘It’s not about not going to the office or to an event, it’s about not having to go. In the commercial real estate world, it has been a big question for years, about forcing people to come to the office, to manage them and to make sure they are productive. And there’s also a big trend in the recruitment of talent, to give people a choice about when they work, how they work and that they create a results-based culture.’

Caleb suggested that a question that frequently comes up is, ‘If people don’t have to come up to the office, why should they? And the answer is that they still should, but not necessarily every day. There are various types of work that people do that not require them to be face to face, not require to be in the office if they can get this work done anywhere they are. But when we talk about collaboration and building trust and instilling confidence in people who are working, that does take an element of face to face. But then, we can break it down further—should it be face to face in person or should it be over an online platform. There are times when face to face in person is much better because you can read body language differently.’

Talking about events, Caleb shared that ‘When we meet in person, that is a different feeling, and the feeling we get when we are there and shake hands, hug, see peoples’ smiles and feel the warmth—it’s what’s lacking in online experiences.’ 

How do you compensate on the social aspect of working from the office or attending an event

Caleb thinks that ‘Everyone in the events industry is facing this challenge right now. There’s a new app called “House Party” where you create a virtual room and invite people who you know. When people who are invited by the host are in the room they can socialise with other guests who know the host but don’t know each other. This is just one example, and currently, there are many virtual groups either offering support through the crisis or virtual socialising.’

Caleb continued, ‘If we don’t think about it in a corona time, but generally working from home, you can really get focused on your work and build in breaks. It’s important when working with your team to reach out but not interrupt them throughout the day.’

‘Everybody has their own way to compensate on the social aspect of working from home; there’s no one size fits all, and it’s not binary, to go to the office or not. There are still reasons to go to the office and go to an event. If you don’t go, you won’t be able to keep in touch with people, and not know what the right way people want to be contacted. Some people want WhatsApp messages, some people want voice notes or to connect over a livestream. It’s about having communication with people you want to stay in touch with to understand what works best for them.’ 

Speaking about events, ‘When it comes to events, Twitter is a great tool that allows to connect around hashtags, join conversations and be part of it. Instagram is also good with hashtags and live streaming of video. There has been a big debate about why should people pay for a ticket if they can watch the content online. To me it’s a clear answer—when you go, you get the face to face, which is an extra because you feel more part of it. But if you can’t attend for any other reason, you can still participate and receive that content.’ 

What is the etiquette of working from home? Have you learned something new about it this week that you weren’t aware of before?

Being professional is bringing all the other professional aspects regarding how you conduct yourself in business, all of which sustain how you conduct yourself online and in person. For Caleb, this is not a connotation regarding how you dress but is more about how you conduct yourself. Punctuality is something that we should be very mindful of. You don’t have an excuse to be late when you’re online. Asking what the preference of communication is (audio or with video) is recommended. Dress code can be an exception, it can be more relaxed if you’re working from home. 

The online audience during the interview on Instagram Live suggested that dressing up puts you psychologically in the mindset—if you need that, do it; if you don’t need it, find other things that do. Dress code also depends on whom you are having the call with because some clients are more formal than others.  

Should #eventprofs working from home stick to office working hours? Yes/no, and why?

It goes back to what works for different people. Caleb thinks that if you work a certain schedule in the office, try to stick to it if you are just starting to shift to a home office. Caleb has been working remotely for a long time, so for him, it really depends on what he has on his schedule. Caleb shared that ‘In the past, I was that person who would work around the clock. Now, I try to be more mindful and call it a work/life blend. If I work more in the morning, I might compensate in the evening and vice versa. If I had international calls late into the night, I might not start the next day as early.’ 

What are the challenges of working from home? 

The working hours that were previously discussed is one of them. Diet is another one. Often when working from home, if you don’t set your time for lunch and work through and not eat, you’ll snack on unhealthy food. Caleb recommended, ‘Just as you plan your schedule and your calls, plan your food, and don’t skip your meals.’ Exercising is also important. When you go to work, at least you walk to the train station, but if you move less in your flat, it’s important to exercise. 

Best practice is to have a dedicated workspace somewhere in the house, and when you finish working to break it down because if you feel that your home is your office, you’ll never feel as though you can disconnect. If you break it out, you can feel like it’s a fresh start for the evening. 

Have you experienced the fear factor of not feeling like you’re doing enough when you’re working from home? 

Depending on the work culture you’re in, management might make you feel like, in your mind, if you’re not there, you’re not doing enough. Then, depending on your own work ethic and how you think about things, you might not feel like that. You will be trying to meet all the deadlines, but feel you’re not doing enough just because you’re not there. It’s important to look at what you have to accomplish that day. I think that we need to be results driven in our work ethic, so if we have an outcome we’re trying to achieve, make a list of the tasks you need to accomplish to achieve this. Sometimes on a daily basis, it’s less about the outcome, it’s about the work you put in to achieve the final outcome. Ultimately, it’s about the outcome, so if you did all the things but haven’t achieved, the outcome is bad. So, it’s important to put a plan in place to achieve it.

What skills and learning about remote work and working from home can we bring back to the business when the pandemic is over? 

Caleb concluded, ‘I’ll be very curious to see whether companies realise that they’ve been able to stay productive. With the people who were able to work from home and the jobs that were still able to be done, companies will see how much percent of productivity they were able to accomplish. When that is determined, the question is, “Will they be required to get back to the office?” That’s the big lesson we’ll all learn.’

In terms of skills, the value of communication is going to increase massively. Leadership skills will be required as well. Because when working remotely, managers won’t be able to watch over their shoulder what other employees are doing—they must be able to trust their team. You will need to be good at delivering your strategy.