Working from Home in the Age of Lockdown

Important context/timeline for this post: I live in Guernsey, which went into a full lockdown at the end of March (although I started working from home about a week before that occurred). Lockdown was slowly lifted in phases which meant increasing ability to go out and see other people, with things largely returning to something resembling normal (being able to go out to shops, see friends casually etc.) around phase 4 (end of May).


If I’ve done this right this post should be published on the first day that I’m back in the office since this global pandemic started, which by my calculation means that I’ve been working from home for the last 16 weeks(?!). While it’s been a tough experience overall, I’ve learned a lot from it and wanted to get some of those thoughts out of my head and into a post.

Flexible hours were a game changer

One of the biggest and most notable changes when working from home was how flexible my hours became. Instead of trying to get into the office for a strict 09:00 start ever day, my schedule was based a lot more around what hours worked for me. Was I ready earlier than usual? I’d just jump online at 08:00 instead and finish earlier. Forgot to put on a load of washing? I’ll down tools for 10 minutes mid-morning and make that time up later on in the day. This is definitely something that is heavily dependent on/needs to be supported by your company, but I’m very lucky that the work I do is really flexible and that my manager is awfully accepting of my ever-changing work hours.

Another huge win for me was the fact that I found I had more time for exercise. I’ve been commuting to work by bicycle for the last year or so which was a pretty effective way of keeping active, but being able to shut down at the end of the day and already be at home meant that I could get straight out on my bike for an hour or two of focussed cycling without having to worry about lugging all of my work gear home with me first.

Flexibility in hours definitely wasn’t all roses though; I found myself on numerous occasions sitting at my desk well past the end of my usual work day because I struggled to put a task down. This is something that I could definitely improve in the future since the only pressure for me to keep going was internal; if anything, working from home meant that I had no colleagues around to notice I was working later than usual and convince me to come back to it tomorrow.

Separate stations were critical

There’s a fantastic video by one of my favourite content creators titled Lockdown Productivity: Spaceship You which really helped set the tone for how I was going to approach lockdown. One of the most important points that I took from it was the four stations (Exercise/Sleep/Recreation/Creation) and the fact that they should be physically separate. Even though I have a computer on my desk at home set up with two screens just the way I like it, I knew that if I used it throughout the day for work as well as in the evening for working on my own projects or playing video games, that line would become terribly blurred.

Thankfully, I normally work from a laptop and I was lucky enough to have an available kitchen table and a patient fiancée who didn’t mind our house being slowly covered in more computers (tip: it’s all about the long game). Even though this space is only about 2 metres away from my desk*, the routine of turning off my laptop and moving my headphones and comically large mug from the kitchen table to the desk was really key in helping me define my two stations and keep them mentally separate. If I didn’t have that minor change of scenery every day, I don’t know that I would have coped nearly as well or been able to enjoy my recreation station in the same way.

*Curiosity got the better of me, so I grabbed the tape measure: 210cm from the centre of the desk chair to the centre of the table chair. Not a bad estimate!

Communication changed, but not by much

I don’t know if it’s just something my colleagues and I do or it’s common in the greater field of software development/consultancy, but even when we are all working together in one office (often only across a desk from each other), a lot of our communication happens digitally on Teams. Oftentimes this is because science has yet to find an effective way to send a GIF face to face, but it’s also because we’re often sharing documents, editing code collaboratively or working in a group that also has colleagues in a different location. As such, communication wasn’t all that different when we all disappeared into our own homes.

That’s not to say that nothing changed however. The big differences were with casual communication; you couldn’t be part of a conversation unless you were explicitly copied in or it was posted to a channel specifically for chatting that included the whole team (which is very good to have by the way). It was also harder to keep up to date with the rest of the team without making a conscious effort; we ended up making a habit of posting daily updates with a quick rundown of what we’re working on, what help we needed from anyone else and achievements from the last 24 hours (which were often not work related at all), which really helped retain a sense of team and reduced feelings of loneliness.

These four walls got boring fast

From the start of lockdown (end of March) until around phase 4 (end of May), I barely left the house. Sure I went to the shops, and getting out on the bicycle was very freeing, but there was no avoiding the fact that for a solid couple of months I stayed very much within the bounds of my bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room. On top of that, thanks to the open plan nature of my house the kitchen and living room are all one big room, meaning that I genuinely spent most of my waking hours between literally four walls. I do love the space that I live in, but I challenge anyone to not start feeling a bit cooped up after that much time in a relatively small space.

I’m ready for a remote or blended working style

I’ve worked from home before the pandemic, but it was always in response to a specific need; a builder coming over to fix something and needing to get into the house, an appointment nearby that was closer to home than the office, needing a quiet environment for studying etc. I was always curious to see how well I would cope with working from home long term and the answer is that I actually prefer it. While there are definitely benefits to working from an office and being able to spend time with your team in person, the comfort and flexibility of home working has been eye-opening for me.

We’ll see what the landscape looks like after everything returns to a pre-pandemic normal, but I’d definitely be interested in persuing a more blended or fully remote work style since it suits how I work best.

Pets are a welcome addition to meetings

Meetings can only be improved by pets.

A grey cat with white paws sitting on the lap of the person taking the photo. The person is sitting at a desk with their arm reaching out and their hand on a laptop touchpad visible in the background. The cat is resting a paw on the outstretched arm.
My friend and colleague Michael Wade kindly sent me this picture of the third participant on all of our calls!

Conclusion

Working from home definitely has some good points and bad points that really depend on your specific role, the company you work for and the kind of person you are. In my case I had what I would consider a good experience, especially when I compare myself with the experiences of some of my friends and family.

Finally, while this whole experience has truly been rather strange from start to finish, I would be awfully sheltered if I didn’t also point out that I’ve been in a very privileged position considering the fact that I still have a stable job and my biggest concerns while staying at home were boredom and wanting things to go back to normal. As well as that, Guernsey as a location is isolated enough that we managed to get down to 0 cases and largely re-open and get back to normal relatively quickly, even while other parts of the world continue to struggle more and more each day. Huge respect and appreciation to all of those in frontline positions across the world who have been putting up with so much in the name of protecting and providing for others.

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