Keeping calm, but not just carrying on (#workingfromhome week 1/n)

Most importantly, Borek approves

Most importantly, the cat approves.

Since last Monday, I have moved my entire team to work remotely. Here’s what it’s been like.

Establishing a routine

This is what I’m told is most important when working from home, and hey, do I love a routine. I had my basic routine worked out by Monday lunchtime, and now I’m just refining. 

While my SO always works from home, for me, this is a change. Most importantly, the cat approves – however, he still wakes me up at 5.00, so I can feed him and then go to the gym. Except, I’m not going to the gym, which is the hardest adaptation so far. But, since the advice so far is that open outside spaces are not risky if you don’t turn them into a festival, I am trying to improve my running – and my PT is supplying me with training programmes. Also, I thought this is the right time to test out the free FitBit Coach week, doing guided yoga and flexibility workouts. Should we go the way of Italy or France, and my range of movement be restricted more, however, it will be interesting to see how I cope.

Do I miss my commute?

I always liked my commute, as it gives me the luxury of one hour on a reliable train each way (no changes) to learn and read the news. It’s a nice line of demarcation between the private and the professional. To escape its tendentious reporting on Brexit, at the beginning of the year, I had switched from BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme to Radio 3’s soothing classic tunes, while reading my RSS news feeds.

It turns out, I can listen to music and my podcasts while doing housework now. Now for anyone who knows me, will know that this is great news for me, since I love doing housework. For those unconvinced, I recommend A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind which helps turn cleaning into more of a meditative practice. It feels soothing and reminds of my time living at a Buddhist temple in Tokyo.

Work feels different

While my team has worked remotely on the occasional closure day, to pull the whole operation online is still a challenge. We started a morning video call with everyone on duty – just as much a social as a professional measure, making sure everyone has a chance to share their feelings and concerns while discussing work topics. I’ve also increased the cadence of meetings with my direct reports, following the idea that regular short contacts are better than structured meetings every two weeks. With MS Teams, it’s possible to share information and ideas to everyone fairly quickly, but you can’t just turn around and have a chat. Having worked in very monosyllabic environments constructing MS Access databases at Siemens, I’m fine with a quiet workplace, but ours is normally one that feeds of a buzz, which helps create the environment that our students and start-up clients enjoy. That’s my main concern – how can we carry this forward without letting the buzz die? I’m thinking regular check-ins, virtual coffee mornings, now that my beloved weekly breakfast club meetings will be off for a few months.

I thought at first that I could finally do all the things I’ve been forced to put off for so long, yet, mostly, we’re trying to simply make things work. Today was the first day on which I just wrote a longer strategy piece without the usual interruptions from the desired buzz. Having spent long time isolation during my time in Japan, I don’t mind being alone – I will always find something to do (see ‘cleaning’ above). And in comparison to my more monastic life back then, my SO and the cat are buzzing company. But I know that not everyone will feel that way, so I’m spending time to ask how they are in every meeting, whether they are within my team or not. This will be a difficult time for those who need to socialise more and who may carry more existential angst than I do – or who live in more precarious living arrangements where they don’t have as much control over their  space as I do. So I plan to introduce some of the measures I’m applying in my personal life into work: regular social updates, maybe a joint lunch over video link, or a virtual Friday office drink – and office D&D game over Roll20? One can but dream.

We feel different

The importance of the emotional bonds between fellow workers feel amplified – there is a lot of fear and uncertainty, and talking over video link is quickly becoming a life-line. I have – just this week – seen some amazing moments of people taking care of each other. When one stumbles, the other team members were quick to pick them up and encourage them.

Everything will be different

What I am convinced of, though, is that we will not return to be the same people in the same workplaces when we eventually emerge from our isolated existences. I think that flexible and remote working will become much more of a norm, now that we are showing that it not only works to hold things together, but that it could have worked all along

Looking around in higher education, this forced switch to online delivery cannot be anything but a game changer – and organisations who do it well, may well thrive. But I’ll talk about that in a later instalment of what I hope to be a weekly series.

March 23rd, 2020 by