As we hurtle towards the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 crisis and the country entering national lockdown, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the workplace has changed.
For those that had to continue to go into work to deliver essential services, we owe you a huge gratitude. You are the everyday heroes who stepped up and worked incredibly hard when it was needed. Emergency services and health care staff, shopkeepers and supermarket staff, delivery drivers and postal workers, cleaners and refuse collectors, teachers, chefs, community workers, volunteers and carers – thank you for keeping everything going while the rest us were furloughed or working remotely.
More people are working remotely/from home than ever before, some are also trying to juggle the nightmare that is home schooling (not me, I’ve dodged that bullet due to my kids’ ages), people’s availability has been affected by personal circumstances, lots of people haven’t set foot in their workplace for nearly a year, some people (like me) have left jobs without ever saying goodbye and some people have started new jobs without ever seeing their desk or meeting their team mates in person. It’s fair to say, the workplace has been hugely affected by everything that has gone on.
And when things do start to open up again, everything will be different. There will be COVID-safe policies and procedures to follow and social distancing to maintain. Some organisations have already said they won’t be returning to 100% office working; others such as Twitter, Facebook and Shopify, are now offering staff the opportunity to work remotely on a permanent basis. Conversely, Boris Johnson has dismissed the idea that remote working is the new norm, stating that commuters will return to offices in “a few short months” and that “British people will be consumed once again with their desire for the genuine face-to-face meeting that makes all the difference to the deal or whatever it is” (The Guardian).
My husband and I are currently both working at home. We don’t have a massive house – what was the office is still the nursery – so we’ve found ourselves sharing the dining room table. In terms of work, he has an employer so his working pattern fits within the traditional Monday – Friday structure with weekends off, and at some point, he will be expected to return to the office. I am my own boss so my working pattern is structured around our kids and their schedules. The obvious benefit of this is I get to spend a lot more time with my family, which is fantastic. I feel this particularly because I took a short maternity leave with my second child, which I invariably feel guilty about, and I really feel like I’ve got that time back with him. But whilst all this extra family time is great, it means a lot less work time for me. Often, on the days the kids are in nursery, I barely look up from my laptop because I know I have a set amount of hours to get the job done. If I don’t finish what I need to during the day, I pick it up again after the kids have gone to bed. A few weeks ago, I found myself formatting graphs at 11pm whilst watching Taskmaster repeats. It’s a good job that I love Excel.
That’s not to say I’m complaining. I actually love what I’m doing – the work is interesting and varied, and I’m incredibly grateful to have clients and nice clients at that. I know how lucky that makes me and I appreciate it immensely because taking the leap from full-time employment into the freelance life was scary! I may be working condensed or odd hours but I am working, and I’m working a lot less than when I was employed. I am also able to switch off, something I was struggling to do before as I raced around trying to deliver my role along with whatever other projects had come up, and still get to nursery on time for pick up.
I used to think working from home was the dream – what could be better than not having to schlep into the office every day and having meeting after meeting? In reality, whilst I enjoy working at home, I do miss contact with others – I miss the buzz of the general office environment, I miss the support you get when working in a team, I miss catching up over a brew or going for a quick walk with a colleague, I miss having people there to bounce ideas off, and, more than anything, I miss meeting my usual gang for lunch and setting the world to rights. That being said, working from home is pretty awesome – you just need to get the balance right…
Tips to improve remote working
- Get dressed – as tempting as it is, don’t sit around in your pjs.
- Don’t turn the TV on. Your new best friend is the radio. Our station of choice is BBC6 Music. We like to play Mary-Anne Hobbs Bingo (ding ding ding whenever she mentions John Peel). We occasionally mix it up by putting on a record – something we rarely do these days as small, sticky hands are usually nearby and they do not mix well with vinyl (we cannot have anything nice).
- Have some sort of structure. Mine is respond to emails first thing, write a to do list, work, walk, work, lunch, work, get the kids.
- Sit at a table if you can – don’t sit hunched on a sofa/bed if you can help it – and sit on something comfortable. If you can, get a proper office chair. Take this from someone who has sat on a piano stool since November. I’m currently on the lookout for a suitable chair – my lovely neighbour has loaned me hers in the interim. I will never again mock health and safety desk assessments. I took having the right equipment for granted.
- Take regular breaks – even if it’s just to make a brew (I always have one in hand) and stare out of the window for 5 minutes.
- Make sure you stop for lunch. I wasn’t doing this at first and would just woof down some food without looking up from my laptop but now I make sure I take at least 30 minutes and actually notice what I’m eating.
- Get your daily exercise! It’s extremely tempting for me to power through whenever I’m child free – it’s the only time I get any work done. However, I’ve started taking a daily socially-distanced walk with my next door neighbour. It’s great – we both get fresh air, we can use each other as a sounding board, offload frustrations and enjoy a break from the screen.
- This one is a bit of cheat as I haven’t actually put it in practise yet (due to lockdown restrictions) but when things do begin to open up, I have plans to meet with a freelance friend once a week for a coffee. We’re going to treat it like a mini team meeting – updating each other on what we’re doing, asking for advice/help if needed, peer reviewing each other’s work etc. and, most importantly, eating cake.
I’d love to hear from some of you. Do you have any remote working tips you’d like to share? Please comment below so I know I’m not talking into the ether.
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