Tuesday 17th March 2020 will remain in my mind for a long time to come. My boss had scheduled a company wide ‘test’ working from home day. As the spread rate of Coronavirus started to increase in the UK, our ‘test’ day had been brought forward by a couple of weeks.
Little did we know that 4 weeks later, working from home would be the new ‘norm’, and the days where we would all take our various commutes to the office would become a distant memory.
In reality, 4 weeks isn’t that long, but right now, it feels like a lifetime ago.
We’ve all come along way in 4 weeks.
I started off on our working from home/social distancing journey with a jumbled brain. I was struggling to keep up with the daily changes in the virus outbreak which were being broadcast from every tv channel and every radio station. It was also incredibly hard to avoid reading and talking about it on social media.
I didn’t want to blog about it, yet, I found it creeping into my blog posts because writing about anything else no longer seemed relevant.
Not only was it hard to process what was going on, not just nationally, but globally too, it was hard having to continue to work, and to work at a pace which wasn’t going to burn me out.
During the first couple of weeks working from home, members of the senior management team (including myself) were in the limelight as staff and directors, as well as our customer base, waited with baited breath to see what our plan of action was going to be over the coming weeks.
On top of that we had to make sure our teams were able to work from home effectively, that all their tech worked ok, and they knew which areas of work to prioritise.
I currently manage a team of 5, many of whom are young and need to be given a lot of help with prioritising workload at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic.
All of a sudden my days were all about helping others, but where was the support for me? At times, I couldn’t even count on other members of the Senior Management Team. We were all going through very different experiences. One colleague has a wife and three children who he gets to spend more quality time with thanks to the pandemic, but also has to balance work around the needs of his family. Another colleague lives at home with his girlfriend. Another, with her husband and son. And they are all loving working from home.
I on the otherhand, largely live with just my cat, Wigs, for company. I was finding the lack of physical contact with people tough.
I was also beginning to feel that if Covid didn’t kill us then it would be death by video call. I was fed up of having to smile and pretend to be happy just because we were on camera all the bloody time!
It was great to see us moving forwards as a company and having to modernise overnight, but by the end of the working day I was exhausted. I was spending entire days on conference calls or webinars, and/or supporting staff. My own work had to be put on hold, yet no-one else would be there to take this off my plate. I was exhausted, and we were only a couple of weeks in.
On one hand I was pleased to still have a job, unlike so many people who have or will, lose their jobs. But I knew I had to make some changes. And I had to make them fast.
So based on my own experiences (so far!), here are my Top Tips for staying sane (or rather, not increasing my current levels of insanity) whilst working from home during a global pandemic:
Top Tip #1 – Routine, Routine, Routine
I’m not a fan of routine at the best of times. However, my Monday to Friday daily routine is proving to be a godsend. I largely work from 10am-6pm (trust me…I’m a much nicer person when my alarm clock goes off at 8 rather than 7!), so when my alarm goes off, I spend the next half an hour checking in with family, I have a quick scan through the news, but I make sure I don’t dwell on it too much. I then get up and dressed and ready to sit down at my makeshift desk, which tends to be my dining room table or the small table I have on my terrace, by 10am.
In the early days of this crisis, and even pre-crisis, I would spend most of my mornings in meetings. It was draining, and by lunchtime, I was knackered and unable to function fully for the rest of the afternoon.
I then read an article on Bloglovin a couple of weeks ago which has changed my life. The author of worldofwanderlust.com, Brooke Saward, wrote a post called ‘How to make the most of Working from Home‘ and mentioned that she works better first thing in the morning, so prioritises this time of the day to get shit done (my words not hers, but you get the jist!).
Brooke also wrote about making calls in the afternoon, when you don’t need to focus quite so much.
Despite the fact I don’t like an unreasonably early wake up time, I do work best in the morning. It was time to listen up and take some much needed action.
My way of thinking had always been to get my meetings /calls done and out the way first thing, to free up my afternoons, but this clearly wasn’t working, as by the time I reached the afternoon I was frazzled and pretty unproductive as a result.
By flipping my normal routine on its little head, I’m finding myself having ridiculously productive mornings. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent the mornings focusing on projects and anything which needs thinking time. Just before lunch I then check my emails to make sure there’s nothing urgent which needs responding to, which in turn free’s up my afternoons to check in with my team. They also benefit from this, as I’m no longer rushing to get off the phone to get an urgent piece of work done.
I can’t always avoid morning calls and meetings of course. Just because I work better in the mornings, doesn’t mean everyone else does, but it at least enables me to manage my own time better.
Top Tip #2 – Get Some Fresh Air
Fact: I love the sunshine far too much for a gingernut!
However, right now, that sunshine is a lifesaver! I know I’m lucky. I have an incredibly small piece of roof space outside my flat, which only I have access to. This is a rarity in London, and something I am grateful for on a daily basis, even in mid-winter. Despite it’s small size (not all good things come in large packages!), I manage to squeeze in a number of pot plants and a table and chairs for 2. My little outdoor space gets the sun from around 8am to 2pm, so as soon as I’ve finished making my breakfast, I’m out there, with my laptop, and a bottle of sunlotion, ready to start the day.
Thankfully we’ve had a really decent spell of good weather (coincidence?) since the Covid crisis began. However, I’m fairly certain you would still find me sitting out there in the cold winter months too. Why? The only time I am currently leaving my flat is to go to the local shop to buy food.
The parks in London are so busy that even if we all wanted to be top of the class in social distancing, it is near on impossible. It means I don’t get my recommended hourly exercise in the fresh air, but I do get to feel the sun on my skin and to enjoy this beautiful spring weather, despite having to work.
But whether it’s sitting in your garden, venturing outside for your daily hour of exercise, or just simply opening your windows wide and poking your feet out of them (not at all speaking from experience here…), make sure you get plenty of fresh air into those lungs! It really will make you feel better.
Top Tip #3 – Stop Working on Time
This comes back to routine, but I find this particularly useful when transitioning from the working day to, well, whatever the evening may hold.
I never stick to this when I’m going to the office everyday, but whilst working from home under social distancing conditions, it’s really important to try to stick to your core working hours, otherwise it becomes incredibly tempting to just do a little bit of work here and there, and before you know it, work is consuming your entire life. I don’t know how other working peeps feel about this, but I certainly look forward to an evening of ‘me’ time after a working day, even if it means sitting in front of another box set!
So I make sure I down tools by 6pm, change into my gym wear, put on some music and spend the next 40 minutes exercising in my flat. I then prep dinner, shower and I’m ready to eat by 8pm. Which gives me enough time to watch a couple of episodes of whatever tv series I’m currently working my way through (BBC I Player has been a saving grace the last few weeks, having now watched the entire series of of Noughts + Crosses, Informer, and part way through Trigonometry), or to catch up with friends (who knew that quizzes would be all the rage again in 2020), read a couple of chapters of the latest book I’m reading, or to write (or more often than not, think about writing).
Top Tip #4 – Clear your work space at the end of the working week
And when it gets to Friday evening, clear down your work station.
I have a box hidden behind my sofa, so that as soon as I finish work at the end of the week, I pack all my work things up, hide it in the box, and I don’t look at it again until Sunday evening when I set it all back up again ready to start work on Monday morning.
This ensures that a) I’m not tempted to work during the weekend if I have nothing else to do (although that’s highly unlikely to happen in my case, as I seem to find things to do from nothing!) and b) It stops me from spending all weekend worrying about work (I definitely fit more into this category).
If nothing else, it enables me to switch off and to enjoy my weekend.
It also ensures I can use my dining room table over the weekend for nicer activities, such as eating, or writing, or for simply stacking my ever growing pile of ironing…
Top Tip #5 – Breathe
For a while, at the beginning of this bloody pandemic, I forgot to breathe.
I put so much pressure on myself to keep going at the pace I was used to. Not only was I putting pressure on myself, no-one was there to tell me that it was ok to slow down, and to take some time to breathe (okay, I know it’s not anyone else’s responsibility, but it would be nice sometimes to have a supportive network around me who could remind me of this before I burn myself out).
Priorities were changing, and there were a lot of things we needed to get done, but at a new pace. We had a plan (important), but it didn’t all need to be done ‘now’. It took time for me to realise that’s it’s also ok not to work solidly from 10am-6pm, that it’s ok to take calls from friends and family during this time, and to go to the shop to get essentials, or even to do the laundry. After all, how many of us on a ‘normal’ working day work solidly from the minute we walk into the office to the minute we leave? We don’t. We all take coffee breaks, and take part in office banter, and enjoy some down time, so why was I putting more pressure on myself now I was working from home?
Over the last couple of weeks I have slowed things down. I have a to do list, and a list of of priorities, but it really doesn’t matter if items take longer than expected to complete or roll into the next day (or the next!). Because right now, the most important thing is not just our health and wellbeing, but also the health and wellbeing of friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues, our fabulous NHS, care workers, and dare I say it, our Politicians, who are doing a great job at keeping our country running right now (in my opinion).
I can honestly say that by putting the actions above into place, this is the best work life balance I’ve ever had…and I’m loving it!
I feel sorry for my boss right now, because when we all go back to ‘normal’, this mindful gingernut is going to want to maintain this wonderful new feeling of worklife balance. Sorry gaffer…