Lisa Leong, the host of This Working Life on ABC Radio National has returned to the studio this week after making her show from home during the lockdown.
We peek into her diary as she shares the ups and downs of WFH and going back to the office, and lets us in on some secrets from the experts about the new normal at the office.
Last week was our first week back in the radio studio since the end of March 2020.
And to think I just got used to broadcasting my show This Working Life on ABC Radio National from my home! (but you know my show, right diary?).
Reflecting, it does seem like yesterday but also lifetimes ago since Maria Tickle my Producer and I went remote – we went early and were testing gear and audio links at the end of March.
One thing I am glad we did, is to make an early call to commit to one platform, rather than trying to keep pivoting to shiny new suggestions.
We committed to a basic audio-only (at the time) recording website (which recorded guests locally on WAV). I used my trusty directional mic from AFTRS days (2003! Still a bewdy) with a split XLR dual cable plugged into a portable recorder and an amp which then plugged into my laptop. Easy peasy and the quality is surprisingly good!
Maria monitors the show live on the web platform, plus we use a cloud based doc “Producer Screen” and I have my brief up on in the cloud as well, for real-time production.
The bits I love about remote broadcasting:
- We can put the show together flexibly in the week, whereas we used to have to record everything on a Friday at the ABC studios in Southbank.
- We can record international guests more readily, and outside normal Australian working hours.
- The quality is pretty good! Maria is a super star at coaching our interviewees on getting the best sound at their side too.
- No commute and everything is set up in my study, so I am pretty much ready to go, at any time.
- It puts extra strain on the Producer who is doing much more to get the show together including a huge amount to edit it from home. Massive shout out to Maria, whom I call “Magic”.
- I do miss the face-to-face connection with the guests. I think it took me a few weeks to get my mojo back in terms of generating energy when I was in my study, by myself, with no visuals. I guess all those hours of commercial radio weekend broadcasting came in handy!!
It felt strange. It was much quieter than normal, kind of eerie. Like when I went to Chadstone shopping centre in April to pick up a puzzle. The physicality was there, but the soul had gone.
When I spotted some people who were not my husband and child, I suddenly felt a rush of energy. A kind of desperation for snippets of shouty, physically-distanced, conversation. I started scanning the horizon for humans, like a hungry wolverine.
The episode we recorded in the studio was about returning to work. I spoke with Deloitte’s Chief Transformation Officer, Clare Harding. They had moved 10,000 staff to remote working, in a week. And now they were considering the return.
She said that, going forward, they will move to a “hybrid working environment”. So it will be a combination of people who are working on site, coupled with people working from home in a virtual environment.
She shared a really great technique to make this hybrid approach work: if you are running a meeting and it has some people in the office and some people at home, you have a “one screen per person” policy. That means that everybody dials in from their own screen. To avoid the feeling that if you are not in the office, you are missing out.
We also heard from former office worker “Heather” who, whilst happy to have retained her job, doesn’t really like WFH at all. She is even missing the colleagues that she doesn’t particularly like! Ha!
From a health and well-being perspective, HR institute CEO Sarah McCann Bartlett said their recent survey revealed that almost half of Australian workers are worried about their health and safety in the return to the office.
Her advice is that, in addition to employers providing a safe physical place to work through, for example “temperature testing, a one way system of walking around the office, additional cleaning and no hot desking”, it is important for employers to understand what their staff are worried about. So, a lot of employers are doing pulse surveys on a regular basis (even weekly) to find out how people are feeling.
Jim Stanford, Director for the Centre for Future Work, said it is imperative that employers and government ensure that working conditions are fair for employees when working from home. He said that there seems to be an assumption from employers that everyone has a study – but that this is “dreaming in technicolour.” Very few Australians have an extra room, or extra space.
He adds that in order to set people up for proper working from home (where they can be efficient, safe and productive), employers are “really going to have to help with that in terms of compensation for space, office equipment and utilities etc”.
And if you are contemplating your return to the office, according to our experts, things will not “snap back” exactly to the way things were before COVID-19. This might give you more say in how you do the work you need to do. As Sarah McCann Bartlett pointed out: “what we are really seeing is a move to an employee-driven workplace. So, before COVID 19, a lot of employers had flexible working practices but they tended to be more on the employer’s terms rather than the employee’s terms, and I think what we are going to see is that employees are going to drive the flexible work agenda from now on”.
So, with our minds full with returning to the office considerations, we finished up our interviews and our episode. I packed my backpack with the pile of non-fiction business and self-help books that had been sent to us and had arrived in the office in our absence. And I rode my eBike home to my WFH co-workers, Darcy my husband, Billie my daughter and Buttons our labradoodle.
Thanks for listening, diary. Bye for now!
Lisa’s WFH recording setup includes:
Scarlett Solo Focusrite – plugged into an Apple MacBook. Shure SM58 with beautiful large ABC mic sock, connected to the Focusrite and a ZoomH6 Recorder via a balanced XLR connector. Zencastr or Zoom are used for videoconferencing, with the ZoomH6 simultaneously recording the audio.
Her book shelf includes a copy of Steve Ahern’s Making Radio, Thoreau’s Walden, which she read during lockdown and Atomic Habits by James Clear. Buttons the labradoodle is shown assessing the latest fashion in Ugg Boots!