For one specialist family violence agency, the remote working scenario made necessary by the Covid-19 epidemic has shed light on the benefits of working remotely.
Like all agencies nationwide, ChangeAbility in Masterton, Wairarapa, had to quickly move their staff to working from home to continue providing their essential services.
Manager Jeremy Logan said the initial rush to adapt a face-to-face workforce to remote working was fraught with technological difficulties.
“In the week running up to the lockdown it was a mad rush to get everyone set up to work from home.”
Finding enough laptops was the biggest challenge as some of their existing ones were outdated and not fit for working at home. Buying new laptops wasn’t an option as the shops had sold out.
“We had to repurpose our laptops and some staff have had to use their family computers initially. Finding a private place to work has also been challenging for some with creative usage of large wardrobes and hallways ”
A flurry of training sessions – “on using Zoom through to connecting to our server remotely took place over the phone” – eventually eased into a relatively easy transition of working via conferencing and social media platforms, and mobile phones.
A relaxed approach to work in a state of emergency has helped keep staff morale up.
“We’ve already developed a workplace with a lot of trust and encouragement to self-manage and that’s just carried on. The staff are managing their own capacity to continue working and how and when that takes place.”
ChangeAbility experienced a drop off in self-referrals, and mandated referrals coming from the Ministry of Justice and Corrections continuing, albeit at a slower pace. However, Jeremy says this picked up and might led to a larger number of referrals when the judicial system goes back to normal operations in Alert Level 1.
“Locally, we’ve had an increase in ‘Pol-400s’ (police call outs) – about twice as many as usual. Our local Police Family Safety team are managing to contact most families and calling on support agencies like ourselves to provide addition support and follow-up calls.”
The agency is making good use of extra funding provided by MSD to help families and individuals affected by family violence meet hardship whilst in lockdown.
“The lockdown contributed to extra pressure in some families, especially with financial and relationship stress. We used the extra funding to support some of our families with food, cell phones and safety bracelets to improve safety outcomes, and accommodation for perpetrators who need to be moved out of the family home.”
Some self-referred clients used the option of taking a break during lockdown. That decision often depended on how comfortable people are using technology, Jeremy says.
“A few clients didn’t want contact although we found that many people wanted to continue with their programmes and counselling, and looked forward to the regular contact and check in’s. In some cases they increased them to two times a week.”
Mandatory referrals are a different story: if they used lockdown as a way to resist engaging with the agency, they were referred back to MOJ or contact their probation officers.
“As a team, we came together three mornings a week by Zoom, beginning with a karakia and took turns to read out an inspiring reading or poem, and took time to check in with each other, before attending to business and clinical matters. Our next challenge is to add waiata to Zoom meetings!”
A look to the future
“We are preparing for the possibility of working from home potentially over the next few months,” Jeremy says.
“What this has shown me is that we need to be well prepared to enable everyone to work remotely if required, with everyone having access to an agency computer or laptop so they do not need to use a shared family one.
“As a team we will explore the opportunities that arise from working remotely both for staff and clients in the long-term”.
For the forseeable future, the scene is going to be different. At times when Jeremy has worked from home himself and often felt a “bit guilty” about being away from the office.
“But I think this situation will shift those attitudes. We don’t need to feel guilty that we’re not at the office because actually, you can do really focussed work from home. As long as people are effectively doing the work that they’re paid to do, it doesn’t really matter how and when they do it.”