I keep hearing the phrase “the new normal” and I am still processing what that might mean for me in terms of work. One of the clearest differences is where and how I do my job; my laptop has effectively replaced any meetings, need for travel or attendance at events and my office looks very different nowadays.
In those heady pre-Covid days I still spent my time avoiding hugs, admittedly through self-preference rather than in fear of a potentially deadly virus, but I was adamant that I would not work from home. It didn’t suit me. Now here I am, happily working from the comfort of my own home and reconsidering how often I will venture into the office when the opportunity is there.
But what changed?
Firstly, how we are working. Now that everybody is working from home we have adapted our ways of working to accommodate that fact. Our team holds virtual coffee breaks twice a week, dedicated time to get to know the team with no work allowed, and as we get ever more confident with using Microsoft Teams virtual meetings, chats, facilitated sessions and conferences are being ran virtually and successfully. There is also a return to my first time living away from home during my first year of university – fortunately only in one way; communication via messaging on the computer. Not MSN messenger unfortunately, but in many ways Teams fills the gap well – you can even set a status message if there’s a particular song that feels achingly relevant (although this perhaps is a professional version of “just because you could, does not mean you should”!)
For an extrovert like me, who thrives off the office atmosphere and the ability to interact with others during a working day, this has been a game changer. One of my main complaints about working from home pre-Covid was the feeling of isolation. The default was still to be in the office, this is where the chatter, the creativity, the collaboration happened if you were working from home a certain element of needing to be left to focus was assumed.
Secondly, where we are working. In many ways it seems like this should be first, but for me it wasn’t the first thing that changed significantly. Along with many people I have used some of my time during lockdown to craft a working space in my home so, although I have been “working from home” since February, I have only had my office in place for the last month. I did enjoy working in my kitchen, it is bright, airy and – most importantly – next to the coffee machine! But it did make it harder to focus during the day and switch off effectively afterwards, with the added hassle of moving my desk off the dining table each evening.
Now I am sitting in a newly created corner of my dressing room, on an actual desk with a proper monitor, surrounded by bright floral wallpaper, photos of those important to me and some “happy things” (including a dinosaur night light reminding me “don’t forget to be rawrsome” – some of the best motivational work advice I’ve ever been given).
The difference in my working day was immediate; I was able to work in a space that suited me, leave at the end of the day (with a significantly reduced commute) and focus on being at home.
Finally, when we are working. I already worked condensed hours meaning I had a day off in the week – a change I’d recommend to anyone who can accommodate it – but my approach to working has become even more flexible since lockdown. I am able to pay attention to what state my brain is in and work accordingly.
This actually works really well for my natural working style, I am an ebb and flow style person; I work best when I can thrown myself fully into something (nothing motivates me quite like an impending deadline) and my best work happens in the afternoon or evening. This has always been the case and has caused me no end of difficulty in structured education and previous working environments, the need to be present in body does not necessarily relate to how engaged my mind is!
Now, I have almost complete control over what I do and when. This means I can spend an afternoon at the weekend working if it suits me and start earlier in the week if I’ve had a difficult night’s sleep. It is also much easier to have a break during the day and do something positive for my mental and physical health.
This does of course come with its’ own pitfalls – I need to be very focused and make sure I don’t work ridiculous hours, I love my job which is fantastic but means I can get carried away if I’m not strict with myself. It is also really important that I am open with my team about how I am working; it does not set a great example if your manager is sending emails at the weekend without the context that they spend Tuesday afternoon on the sofa binge watching Netflix.
We don’t know when we will return to an office and when we do it will be a very different environment to the one I knew and loved. I am excited to see what it will be, to see my team in the flesh and get round a physical table to work with my team. However, my personal balance between office and home will have completely changed whatever the outside world looks like and I’m intrigued to see what this means in the future.
Written by Lizzy Stillibrand, GMTS Leadership Development Senior Manager
Midlands Leadership and Lifelong Learning