Friday 3rd April 2020
When I joined EA Inclusion as an Executive Assistant in February 2020, I went from working in a traditional office environment, to working from home as part of a remote agile global team. With many people having to move to home working overnight due to the Coronavirus pandemic, I wanted to share my perspective and experiences with the aim to help any one else going through a similar transition.
Since the age of 18 I have always worked in an office of some sort. My typical daily routine was that of the majority of office workers; go to work, come home, and go to bed. My working day was dictated by my line manager and my every move was taken note of. Then, about a month or so ago, I started a job that requires me to work from home 99% of the time. When I told my previous colleagues that I will be working from home, they all said how lucky I am to have this opportunity, and I couldn’t have agreed more. It is an amazing opportunity, however, none of my previous work experience had prepared me for such a drastic change to my work environment.
Some people, in many cases traditional managers, believe that when you work from home you can simply ‘slack off’… Anyone who works from home will tell you that this is definitely not the case. There is still the same amount of work and level of expectations whether you work from home or in an office. Office environments are traditionally based on a strict schedule of working patterns with allocated breaks and lunches, with managers’ perceptions of your performance being based on the time you are sat at your desk, as they keep a watchful eye on you. When you are working from home, in my experience, this is not the case, there is far more freedom and trust, and as a result I have been far more engaged, taking more ownership and being far more productive than I ever was before, as my performance is now judged on my output.
In my new role I am given complete freedom on how to structure my working hours. No one is checking in on me every 5 minutes to make sure that I’m working, and when I speak to my manager or my colleagues their first question isn’t “Have you done this yet?”, it’s “How are you today?”
You’re probably reading this and thinking what’s all the fuss is about, right? Well, over the past 8 years, or 22 years if you include my school years, I have been told what to do, when to eat and when to go home. It has been a constant routine, which became addictive to a point where I was reliant and dependent on the structure… I had been institutionalised.
This new agile way of working at EA Inclusion works on the basis of complete trust of my manager and colleagues, and it is so different to what I have been used to, it is somewhat a shock to the system. The support I have been given from my new colleagues is second to none. We have weekly team meetings via webchat, have small talk via email and phone, and I am regularly given positive feedback and told what an amazing job I am doing. All of this is completely foreign to me. In previous jobs I felt as though was just a small cog in a big machine, but now I feel like I am truly recognised as a valued person and member of the team with a valuable contribution. I just need to find my new rhythm.
The dramatic change in work culture and resulting lifestyle have had an impact on my mental health, meaning that I have faced challenges and situations which I had never experienced before, and as a result I have had to develop coping mechanisms as I learn to adjust.
Some of the challenges that I have faced during this transitional period have included:
Loneliness and isolation - I am an extrovert. I am a very sociable, outgoing and confident person. Working from home, it is easy to spend my days not talking to or seeing anyone. I do miss the social aspect of chatting and venting about life to my colleagues.
Pressure to hustle 24/7 - Without the traditional structure of the office environment, I often squeeze in work whenever I can, but without time to disconnect and unplug I run the risk of burning out.
A sense of depression - Working from home sometimes makes me feel stuck. Without the face to face recognition of my achievements it is easy for me to feel like I’m not achieving enough.
However, to combat these there are steps that I have taken:
Create a designated workspace - Having a designated workspace not only helps me concentrate, it also stops my work life blending into my personal life. I also make my workspace the way I want it to be. If you are anything like me, music is your fuel. I have created a workspace sanctuary with candles, fabulous artwork and of course my favourite playlists. You can’t do that in a telesales office filled with 200 cubicles.
Create a routine and stick to it - My work changes every day, and I work with clients and colleagues from all over the world, so emails can come in at any time. To stop myself from working every hour of the day I have created a routine that works for me and I stick to it. My current working hours are 8.30am to 5.00pm and I take regular breaks. The work I do between these hours can change but when it hits 5.00pm, unless there is something business critical, I close my laptop and turn my phone on silent and clock off.
Accept that it’s okay that sometimes I’m not ok - I can guarantee that I am not the only person that feels these things. Acknowledging that I am feeling lonely, under pressure or depressed allows me to recognise the issue and do something about it.
Get up and move - It is completely unnatural for someone to stay in one position for the entire day. I aim to set aside an hour a day to go for a walk or if the weather is bad, I will do some yoga. Doing this significantly lowers my anxiety and boosts endorphins and serotonin which floods your brain with happiness. Being outside also helps lower bloody pressure and stress hormones.
Stay in touch with the team - There is so much technology that allows me to stay in touch with everyone I work with. We use web chat, video calls, text messages, emails and phone calls to communicate and socialise whilst we work remotely. The conversations we have aren’t 100% work focused either, we are encouraged to take time to connect and talk about what we did at the weekend, how we are feeling, or what great movie we might have watched the night before. This allows me to recreate the camaraderie of a team environment in this new, modern and remote way.
Talk to someone when you’re feeling low - Sometimes I have days that I am just not okay, and I can’t talk myself out of it. When this happens, I tell someone. Sometimes having someone else tell me that I’m going to be okay and understand how I am feeling is exactly what I need to refocus and pull myself together.
Learning to work from home is like quitting smoking. At first, I was stressed and craving structure, then with time and following these helpful tips I started to notice the amazing benefits:
I am basically my own boss - I organise my work and time to suit how I work best and feel most productive. I can take my lunch when I want, and I can make a cup of coffee when I feel I want or need one, or when I just need 5 minutes to myself. The list of these little things that go a long way goes on. The only limit to what I can achieve is myself.
Wearing comfortable clothes - It sounds so simple, but it is a real benefit and has impacted me more that I had ever imagined. Working from home means I no longer have to spend my own time ironing shirts, and I don’t have to spend 8 hours in uncomfortable heels, blazers or ties. I’m not saying I work in my PJs, but it is so nice to just throw on a comfortable t-shirt and a pair of jeans.
Zero commuting - Not only am I saving time, I no longer get stressed by rush hour traffic or late buses, and I have saved so much money too!
I’m sure as time goes on, more and more benefits of agile remote home working will become apparent to me, but I’m off to a pretty good start. Now, after a month I am by no means a home working expert, I still have a long way to go, but the fog of the traditional office environment is starting to lift. I am lucky to have permanently escaped this traditional outdated ways of working, and as I become more comfortable with this new agile approach who knows, in a few weeks I might even change my working hours to 8am-12pm and 7pm-11pm, so long as the work still gets done it’s up to me.
I hope that those who are now experiencing working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic have as positive journey as I have, and in future organisations wake up and give more people the opportunity to continue to work this way.
- Abigail Roberts, Executive Assistant at EA Inclusion