Talk us through your new working routine?
It took a while to get into a routine. You see, it’s just me and George, my 8-year-old son, so, in fact, I don't have one routine – I have two. The first starts at about 6am, where I get up to sort out the animals and start working. George wakes around 7.30am, so we have breakfast and they get him ready for the school day. We used to have an au pair, cleaner and a dog walker, but they’re not here during lockdown, so now I’m house-keeper/chief bottle-washer/teacher – the lot.
I’m usually at my computer by about 7am to do a bit of work. George’s classes start at 8.30am and, while the teachers take the lessons online, I have to be on hand to help with any technical issues or help with any work he might have.
In general, I have to be very disciplined with my time. In the morning, while I’ll be working, I make sure my diary is free of calls. That means, I arrange meetings and calls for after 1pm, when school is over and George can amuse himself. I must say, the team have been excellent in that regard and we’ve all made it work.
Work/life balance is more important than ever, so I make sure I stop at 5pm and we go for a walk, to get some fresh air and clear out heads. Then it’s dinnertime/bath-time and bed. It's a busy old day, that’s for sure.
It must be hard to make that work?
On top of managing my time, I think what’s been really important is to have a nice working environment. I’m lucky that I have a study, but it wasn’t the most inviting work space when lockdown started. For one thing, the desk faced the wall. And I thought: “I can't stare at a wall all day!”; so I’ve moved the desk to the window, and got new computer screen and other office things, which make it a really welcoming space. I think that’s helped a lot. It also means I don't get distracted by the odd dirty dish lingering in the kitchen.
What have been some of the challenges?
There have been a few. But one of the main ones recently, is that English isn't George’s favourite subject. So, I’ve had to deal with the odd meltdown here and there! I think online learning has been hard for the kids. It’s a new way of doing things and I think a lot more wearing.
What has surprised you most about working from home?
From a work perspective, I thought I’d want to do everything by video call, but I was surprised how tiring that can be. When you’re in a room, you pick up physical cues and body language, but on a video you really have to look out for them, which can be quite mentally taxing. As a result, I’ve actually been talking more on the telephone, which I never thought I'd do, but works really well.
I’ve been amazed at the real sense of community that has blossomed during lockdown.
Away from work, I’ve been amazed at the real sense of community that has blossomed during lockdown. I live in a little crescent of houses and all the neighbours have really come together. In fact, we have a WhatsApp group, so if someone needs shopping or errand run, we all use that and help one another out. Actually, it's thanks to the group that I found out some of my neighbours love dogs and have offered to walk mine, which has been a great help. So, that sense of community has been a lovely surprise.
What have you missed most about the office?
What has really hit me is how much I’ve missed being around my colleagues and that physical contact you have. You know, someone to give you a hug or take you for a coffee on a bad day. I have friendships at work and we talk on line, but it's not the same. That physical, emotional support. I’ve really missed that.
How do you strike and work/life balance
I think it’s important to make a distinction between weekdays and weekends; between work-time and off-time. For example, George wears his school-uniform when he’s at ‘school’, but Fridays are 'dress-down' days! My office helps me to make the same distinction. It also means that the weekends are treated as weekends. I try not to work of Saturday/Sunday if I can help it, which has been really important. It means we can spend some real quality time away from work. Which is good for you mentally. It also means that one day doesn't merge into another, which can happen if you’re not careful!
How do you think WFH will change the way we work in the future?
I think a lot will change. In business, I think people will be judged more on their output, rather than how much time they spend in the office. I think we've all realised that working from home is just that – that you’re working and get things done. I believe that will certainly help how we view our work/life balance. Before, I used to panic if I couldn't get childcare, but now I’ll feel much more comfortable working from home, because people will know that I’ll still be as productive as if I were in the office.
Similarly, we will revaluate travel, particularly over the next 6-12 months. People will ask: do I really need to get on that flight or take that trip? I think the answer will be ‘no’, in most instances.
But most importantly, I think we’ll all be a little bit kinder and appreciate one another more. A lot of people have really had to struggle but, like my little crescent, many have come together and I think we will all be a bit more understanding and be better friends/neighbours/colleagues as a result. I also think we won't take things like shaking hands or hugging for granted, like perhaps we did in the past.
Lastly, I expect we’ll be more focused about what we want from life. It has certainly made me think about the past and the future. I now realise that my son needs me far more for schooling that I thought, so I’ll be making changes in the regard.
Away from work, how do you relax or switch off?
Well, I’ve started running. I never used to, but with the dog I’ve recently taken it up – and it's great. I don't run every day, but yesterday I ran in the sunshine and I loved it. I also get the newspapers delivered. It's been so long since I had the time to just sit and actually read a newspaper, so that’s an enjoyable way to relax.
My son and I have also take up lots of garden games (cricket, boules, grass-tennis, you name it) and lots of board games (we have epic Boggle tournament on the go at the moment). We also bake and cook, and all those fun things.
And to round it all off – I have big soak in the tub at the end of the day, which you just can't beat.
Recommend one book, one box-set and one song that’s helping you get through this time
I wish! As any single-parent with a young child will tell you, they are relentless! They never stop. So, box-sets and books are definitely out at the moment.
However, what I do love is connecting with people. On Zoom and House-party, it’s great and I recommended it. In fact, I recently had my own birthday party on Zoom. I was supposed to be in South Africa for it, so instead all my SA friends had an “Out of Africa” party, which was fantastic. I do the same with my team, where we meet on Zoom and have Friday drinks and stay in touch. I guess you could say that connecting with people is my box-set.
Finally, any tips for your colleagues out there?
Be kind to yourself. Take Time for you. Also, make sure you reach out if you are struggling, because you are not alone. I think it's important to recognise we all have bad days – everyone in the company has them, managers have them too, which is a thing people haven't realised. So, reach out if you need to.
Also, be realistic in what you can achieve: don't let social media tell you that because you’re working from home you have to learn 12 languages or master wood-carving! Don't be hard on yourself.
But, most of all, appreciate the good moments when they happen.