According to the Office of National Statistics, “In April 2020, nearly half (46.6%) of people in employment did some of their work from home, with the vast majority (86.0%) of these homeworkers stating that this was because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.”

This hasn’t changed much even now with some offices closing completely stating that their workforce are unlikely to return to an office based system 5 days a week at all. Home working is here for the long-haul.

This might suit some people. My husband works in IT – he’s got an office upstairs where he can close the door on the raucous homeschooling, he gets time to take the children out for ‘an airing’ (while I cram in my work for the day) and he’s there for meal times. He’s not missing his commute to work (indeed, the car has been returned) and he still gets the same amount of work done.

It might not suit other people, those sociable people who thrive on office banter and who like interacting with real people. People might not have the space to dedicate to working from home (my lovely, lovely desk has been taken over by my daughter – it’s got a laptop, some felt tip pens and some lego on it) People might be overwhelmed by the noise at home (for someone who makes a noise for a living, I actually like peace and quiet) and some may find it hard to get motivated to work.

The social side of office life is missing and looks like it may be missing for a while. So how can we connect with our colleagues virtually?

Hillarys Liberty Singers 2019

My workplace singing back when were were face to face was amazing for creating bonds between people who ordinarily wouldn’t meet. At Hillarys, many of the staff didn’t know each other because they worked in separate departments. Our Hillarys Liberty Singers broke down these barriers as people mixed together having that same shared goal. It also broke down the barriers or hierarchy which are found in organisations. Nobody cares if you’re the CEO or the machinist when you’re all singing together. Julie Rutherford, Head of HR said “I can honestly say that introducing a singing group at Hillarys has had a really positive impact on engagement.  Whilst we may not have solid measurement for  this you can clearly see and feel the energy this has generated.” This has also improved cross functional relationships and there is a better feeling about the place” Powerful stuff!

Can we stay connected with our friends in the office through virtual singing? I believe we can. I’ve worked over Christmas with NHS ICU workers to improve their mental health and provide a pocket of joy for them – something to look forward to once a week for 4 sessions. Immediately, the community grew. These people all shared the same work situation and yet they didn’t know each other as they were from all over the UK. They might’ve commented on each others posts on Twitter or liked the odd Facebook thing, but they didn’t ‘know’ each other. Seeing each other on zoom and having the break out rooms at tea break really brought them together. They have a WhatsApp group to chat to each other on and I’m blown away at their support for each other. Many of them now even include in their Twitter bio “ICU Liberty Singer”. 

The releasing of a single made everything even better. I offer virtual recordings in my packages – it’s truly lovely for people to feel a part of the recording experience and to hear the collective voices and think – ‘yes, I was a part of that’. (The ICU Liberty Singers carried on after Christmas – they saw the value and loved it)

I created a Christmas singalong for NHS Supply Chain who really got into the dancing! I’ve also worked with CCM as a wellbeing one off Christmas singalong – the first comment when we’d finished was “Can you come again please!” Even just ‘seeing’ each other and doing something non-pressured like singing really lifted their mood!

But is spending an hour or half an hour of company time worth it? Does it simply cheer people up for a little bit and then it’s back to the grindstone? I was really surprised when I surveyed some singers that they felt the positive effects of singing lasted much longer than the session itself. It gave colleagues something to talk about – a shared experience that felt good which continued for up to a week. Sustaining this through regular meet ups maintains the harmony created. Virtual recordings add to it further.

Working last year with NHS Digital to create a virtual recording was an experiment for me. I knew my community choir could do it because we’d done a few by then. But could I get a decent result out of a group of people that I didn’t know, who didn’t know me, and largely didn’t even know each other? The answer was yes! They had 2 hour long rehearsals, chose a song and I taught the harmony parts for it – just in 2 parts. I didn’t want to bite off more that I could chew! I then created you tube videos of me conducting each part for them to follow, and they watched and recorded themselves into a separate device.

Mixing the voices together is one of my favourite jobs. There’s always a bit of hidden treasure in there! The lumps and bumps of everyday voices are all ironed outing the mixing process, just as they are when we sing together in a choir. I don’t retune anyone or miss anyone out – I just balance the volume.

It’s the look on the faces of the singers when I get to present it that is a win for me. They are so proud of themselves and what they’ve achieved together and it’s the ‘together’ but that’s so important at the moment.

So does virtual workplace singing work? Yes it does! And if you think it could work for you, then you know where I am. Packages can be created to suit the needs of your organisation. You can call me to talk more about it 07949774321.