Like so many others I began working from home in March once the government announced a national lockdown.
It all seemed very surreal. Since our return from Christmas and New Year leave our office had been watching the unfolding disaster from China and monitoring the daily increase in infections. We discussed how terrible it all was, but not really acknowledging the impact it may have on us in the UK. As the days progressed and things got steadily worse with outbreaks spreading, instead of the light-hearted chit-chat in the office there was the realisation that this was going to affect us and thoughts soon turned to how were we going to cope and navigate through this.
Throughout February and the beginning of March, our team (Operational Resourcing) were busy getting things in place for when things got real. Adding additional absence reasons for national reporting and monitoring, additional training and support for staff, manning the Sickness Hub and so on. Every evening watching the 5pm government update from our mobiles in the office wondering what the impact was going to be and how we could be ready to react.
By mid-March the majority of the floor had started to work from home already and the once bustling office was already eerily quiet with fewer and fewer staff in every day. We had been getting things in place in order for the team to work from home and still provide the service we needed to, then the announcement came about lockdown. The open-plan office environment disappeared and was replaced by my laptop and a spare monitor I borrowed from my other half set up on a camping table in my lounge.
The first few days were exciting, this was a different experience and it was so nice not to worry about the traffic and finding a parking space or deciding what to take in for lunch. Excitement soon turned into a feeling of anxiety, pressure, stress and worry. There was so much work to do it was very difficult to switch off and walk away.
I found myself often working past my normal office hours into the late night, desperate to get things done. But the longer I worked the more and more work kept coming. I would clear one email and it would be replaced by five more, it was so demoralising. With the pandemic getting worse, I couldn’t sleep through worry about work outstanding and about friends, family and colleagues . I felt lost and that everything was out of my control. Not only was I trying to navigate my own thoughts and feelings while trying to work but I also had the kids to reassure and support with their worries, anxieties, and of course, the dreaded homeschooling. Then there was the dog! Wanting to be walked and played with at every opportunity just because we were all suddenly home.
Even though I am part of a team I felt like I was alone in a storm and that we weren’t connected to each other. There was so much going on around I couldn’t see a way out of what felt like hell. Then we started talking, using the MS Teams platform. I soon realised that we were all feeling tired, worried, anxious, exhausted, and that really helped. I wasn’t alone in this, although I couldn’t physically see my colleagues in the office we were still all part of a team, experiencing similar issues. We weren’t in the same boat but we were riding the same storm together! Daily team catch-ups started to happen and this gave us the platform we had been missing to check in on each other and offer the help and support needed from a work point of view and on an emotional level too.
Talking about our own challenges helped me to realise that it’s OK to work my hours and then switch the laptop off and walk away as I would in the office environment. Once I got my head around this, I was then able to support my colleagues in realising we only have one pair of hands and a set amount of time. I realised it is OK to switch off when we need to and to get that balance of work/life in place even while working in a slightly different way.
Now I have the right support in place and I am not so hard on myself, working from home is a more positive experience. Still with kids and pets as a challenge, but more positive on the whole. I have set up my computer and screens (collected from the office) correctly on the dining room table so I am ergonomically safe. I am more productive and find myself achieving more things in my working hours than I would in the open plan office.
Instead of being worried and anxious about how we move forward and emerge stronger, I am excited about what changes the future might hold and, based on our experiences and what we’ve learnt over the past few months, the opportunities that await.
– Ria George