A woman with glasses smiles at the camera while her laptop sits on a desk in the background as she is working from home.
Louise Heaney. Image: ACIA

‘I was surprised at how quickly I got used to working from home’

26 Aug 2021

ACIA’s Louise Heaney talks about her experience of remote working and shares her tips for how she stays productive and motivated at home.

Click here to view the full Future of Work Week series.

As we look to the future of work, a major question is how employers will bring in remote and hybrid working models. But how have teams been coping so far?

To find out, Siliconrepublic.com heard from Louise Heaney, a senior risk and compliance associate at the Aon Centre for Innovation and Analytics (ACIA) in Dublin.

Her role is a mixture of working alone as an individual, with her team and collaborating with other colleagues in ACIA and Aon as a whole.

Currently Heaney is fully remote and she has not been in the office since the initial lockdown in March 2020. However, she said due to the global structure of her team, the majority of her work has taken place via virtual platforms even when she was in the office.

‘Being outside for a meeting offers a completely different perspective’

What does your current role involve?

I might be biased, but we have a great risk and compliance team! Our manager has worked in compliance and risk for more than 20 years and she has a wealth of knowledge.

My colleague here in Dublin loves all things compliance and policy-related. My colleague in Krakow is strong in information security, and my colleague in Singapore has a great all-round knowledge and looks after risk and compliance there.

I’m more involved in risk management and data privacy working with our heads of function to identify new and emerging risks and putting measures in place to mitigate those risks, and working with the Aon Ireland data protection lead on queries that arise relating to data privacy. My role is varied, sometimes challenging, but always rewarding.

Have you always worked remotely?

I had never worked remotely before, and I was not a fan! However, I found that I adapted quite quickly and I really enjoy working from home now.

At the start of lockdown, I set up meetings for almost everything, but I think I’ve learned to recognise what really needs a meeting and what can be sorted out quickly by message or email. Apart from that, my work style hasn’t changed too much, only the environment has changed.

Which skills have you found to be most important for working remotely?

Interpersonal skills, particularly for meetings. Cues that we would normally be aware of ‘in real life’ can be easily missed on a call. I’m fortunate that I don’t have interruptions at home, that makes it easier to focus on the task at hand. And with fewer distractions, I find it easier to manage my time.

What were the biggest surprises or challenges you have encountered while working remotely?

I was surprised at how quickly I got used to working from home. There were challenges with technology that I think everyone experienced at the start – ‘Can everyone hear me? Can you see my screen? I think you’re still on mute.’ But they were sorted out pretty quickly.

We had the opportunity to have an ergonomic assessment of our workspaces, and where necessary equipment and hardware has been provided. Then it was just a case of getting on with things.

How do you stay productive when remote working?

Fortunately, I have a great team who I can always instant message if I have questions and we help and encourage each other every day.

Our ACIA leadership and managers have been very supportive. We are encouraged to block out time on our calendars for lunch, breaks and to log off on time. We are asked to reduce meeting times from 30 minute to 25 minutes, not to schedule meetings at lunchtime and to try to avoid scheduling meetings on Fridays.

For some meetings like large town hall calls, we are encouraged to take the meeting while going for a walk. Being outside for a meeting offers a completely different perspective and that feeds into my work for the rest of the day.

Separately, I have a few rules for myself. No pyjamas at work, ever! Even if I have no meetings that day, or if I don’t turn on my camera. No TV until I log off for the day – although with the Olympics, that rule has been soundly broken! These are things that really make a difference to my working day and help keep me focused.

What are some tools and techniques you’ve found particularly helpful while working remotely?

We have good messaging tool that allows for informal conversations as well as quick work questions without the need to organise meetings or send emails. We can also create groups for our teams, or for projects we’re working on and we use it for our book club discussions too.

Like many people, I don’t have a spare room that I can convert into an office, so my kitchen table is my office. Because of that, I find I need to have a very distinct separation between work and non-work.

For example, I have a chair I only use when I’m ‘in the office’. I never have meetings from the sofa, as I simply wouldn’t concentrate. When I log off in the evening, that’s it for the day, no further checking of emails until the next morning. Lastly, I always clear the table of equipment on Friday evening.

What do you most enjoy about doing your job remotely?

I can make my own schedule. If I wish to start earlier so that I can finish earlier or if I prefer to start and finish later, my manager is happy to accommodate this as long as I get my work done.

I don’t miss the commute at all and I love having extra time in the evening, especially now that the evenings are longer. It’s lovely to pop down to the Phoenix Park for a walk with a friend or to the Memorial Gardens to watch the rowers on the river or to Bull Island for a brisk evening walk along the beach.

Is remote working something that suits everyone, do you think?

Definitely not. While it has worked out well for me, it would not suit everyone. It must be very tricky for people who are renting with a number of others, where there is simply no space to work.

And I certainly don’t envy the parents who not only had to work, but also had to homeschool their children during lockdown! Remote working means no longer bumping into a colleague on the way to grab a coffee before a meeting and having a quick two-minute chat.

Conversely, when I finally met some friends from work for the first time for an outside coffee and a walk it was all the lovelier because we hadn’t seen each other in real life in so long.

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