Working at Home - 3 State Modes
With the Government’s latest announcement to move to ‘Plan B’ restrictions amid fears of Omicron variant infections, I thought it would be good to talk about my own personal experience of working at home during the pandemic.
I’ve now been working from home since Boris made his initial announcement in March 2020, ordering people to stay at home. At the time, I was working in Manchester as a Test Manager. We had a great test team, good relationships with the clients and frequent social activities in the evenings.
So, what has changed since then? Can I still work effectively? Do I still regularly socialise with people? Do I still feel fulfilled in my working life? Alternatively, have I grown a beard, put on weight and wear my pyjamas all day?! Well, I think a little bit of both is true.
For me, the pandemic and working remotely can be split into three distinct states I call panic, confused and steady.
The panic state was the initial lockdown phase of the pandemic following the Government’s announcement on 23rd March 2021 to “stay at home”. At this stage, many people just panicked, boarded their lofts and filled them full of toilet roll and tinned food. Apparently, 50 loo rolls and 25 tins of pineapple slices can sustain life! Fortunately, during this time others were using energy to tirelessly think of new ways to deliver goods to people's homes or ensure computer systems remained stable despite a significant increase in remote logins by home users.
Thanks to these people, the transition from working in the office, to working 5 days from home was seamless. I genuinely feel many people were surprised a transition of this scale was possible in such a short time.
Our team found we could work just as effectively from home and in some ways, things improved. For example, instead of having to book face-to-face meetings in people's calendars, tools like ‘Microsoft Teams’ allowed you to ping people a quick message when you saw they were available. This resulted in significantly quicker resolution of issues.
From a personal perspective, I couldn’t say things were worse, only different. I felt I had more energy as less time was spent commuting. I got to see more of my Wife and children who were both back from University. The weather was amazing and although we couldn’t socialise outside of our ‘bubble’, we made the most of our time having regular walks at lunch and in the evening. All the family felt better as we were eating more healthily and doing more exercise. I understand we were lucky as things could have been different had I lived alone like my Mum who had a really hard time.
The confused state is the period where I felt we didn’t know what was going on from approximately September 2020 to June 2021. How long are we going to be in lockdown? What's the rule of 6? When are the Schools re-opening? What’s the tier system? Why is that town in lockdown but the town next to it isn’t?
What did this mean for work? Well, the reality was nothing. Our team and clients now had clear processes in place to deliver remotely. The only thing I did notice is that the number of back-to-back meetings started to increase. During the panic state, it was advised only to hold essential meetings but as time progressed calendars went back to how they were before the pandemic.
From a personal perspective, I did notice a change. I’d now been working remotely for over a year. The weather wasn’t as good, my Wife was working and my children had gone back to University. This was the first time I had spent significant amounts of time on my own.
I started to fall into bad eating habits and not doing exercise. I think the main reason was during the panic stage the whole family were motivated to do things together. This impacted me more than I thought. I was getting a small taste of what a lot of people had been going through since the first lockdown and needed to do something about it. Had I been asked at this time to come back into the office, I think I would have jumped at the opportunity.
Steady state is from June 2021 when all legal limits on social interactions were lifted and life got back to some form of normality.
For work, though I had started a new role, nothing changed. I was able to get up to speed quickly, enabling me to effectively deliver testing services to my new client.
From a personal perspective, I realised I needed to make some changes. During the confused state, I had no routine. When travelling into the office, you plan to get to work at a certain time, have a break for lunch and then plan a time to travel home. Without my family around me or the discipline of going into an office, this routine had gone. Days seemed long as I had little change of scenery, ate lunch at my desk and didn’t speak to many people outside of work.
So I decided to make some small changes. I now make sure I start work each day by 8.15am and am washed, shaved and dressed. No more lounging in pyjamas until 10am! I now have a planned lunch break at 12.30pm where I take a break from my home office and eat lunch in another room. I plan to finish work now at between 5 and 5.30 each day. At lunch, I take the dog for a walk or walk into town to do a bit of shopping. Not only is the routine good but a bit of fresh air and a change of scenery makes me feel so much better.
I hope from what I have written you can see that my biggest challenge of working from home has been the social isolation. Although work has been my main source of daily social interaction, this alone has not been enough and I have needed to make changes to address this. While we are potentially going to see some new restrictions imposed on us due to Omicron, I believe that although I now have a beard and have put on some weight, the small changes to my routine will hold up and keep me content in my work and personal life. If you have been feeling the same as me, some small changes to your routine might help? Give it a try!