Hotspotting From a Hotspot – Relocating into a Pandemic

When an opportunity came around for me to lead Edge’s work on a large Australian infrastructure project based in Melbourne, I really didn’t need asking twice! Melbourne is a city I have always wanted to get to know better. I’m a huge tennis fan (Aussie Open – yes please!), I love my barista coffee (soy cap, every time) and I’m a complete culture vulture. Oh, and I’m a massive sustainable infrastructure geek. It was always going to be a perfect fit.

When I first arrived in Melbourne late last year, Covid was barely a story – and certainly nothing that would give me pause for thought about moving. Having spent the previous eight weeks travelling around the country meeting client teams, establishing relationships and processes and delivering toolbox talks to site teams,  it was actually quite a relief to  finally set foot in my new home. Professionally, I immediately found the new project to be one of the most fulfilling of my career. Securing a massive infrastructure bid was always going to be incredibly challenging and I was straight in at the deep end; forging new relationships, working across multi-disciplines and working hard to deliver against an extremely ambitious sustainability agenda.  Without doubt, my physical presence on the ground made a huge difference in developing client partnerships and new relationships in a way that could never have happened through a “fly in, fly out” model.

But that was all turned on its head by Covid, and by March we were told to work from home. Suddenly, my fast-paced office life with a team of 300 was replaced by endless Zoom calls – and a social life largely limited to the local park to play fetch with my dog. The workload and objectives of my work hadn’t changed, but the practicalities certainly had. Superficially, there is nothing that a well designed Teams meeting and Mural board cannot fix. But factor in some dodgy internet, failing audio, duplicate working documents and a non-physical team presence and the WFH freedoms quickly start to wear a little thin. No more playful banter across the office. No more meandering discussions about the Melbourne weather. And, most importantly, less opportunity to strengthen those vital personal relationships that actually make projects tick.

But we Aussies are nothing if not resilient! As a team, we doubled down and really prioritised step by step what we needed to achieve – and how we would do it. Pretty quickly I had to learn new ways of building a collaborative culture online. I had to work out how to keep our team motivated and engaged from afar, in a way that would effectively deliver against the rigorous sustainability outcomes of this tender. And because we couldn’t physically be there in person to sell in our ideas, we had to make sure that our document submissions worked twice as hard in our absence.

While we’ve definitely made a success of remote working in lockdown, I think a large part of that comes from the hard yards that went into those first few pre-Covid months back when I arrived. As I sit through yet another lockdown period, quietly daydreaming of zooming in from a tropical island somewhere, I realise there’s still so much to be gained from being in amongst it on a project. Nothing can really replace those random conversations with a team mate that can only happen when you’re in the same room with them all day. No surprise I’m super excited at the prospect of my colleagues Ken and Viv joining me here in the Melbourne office later this year! And I can’t wait for city life to properly open up again. With a progressive social procurement framework and an encouraging sense of momentum here in Victoria, there’s so much opportunity for us all to get stuck in and drive change. I never thought I’d ever be craving that on-site 7am toolbox session with a bunch of sceptical construction workers – but right now, I really can’t wait!

Charlotte is based in Melbourne and will be joined over the next couple of months by Ken Lunty and Dr Viv Heslop. Get in touch if you’d like to keep up to date with news about our growing Melbourne team, or if there’s a project we can help you with.

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