9 April 2020

Working from home

Ewen_working_at_home_sm

I wonder how many people threw their arms up with glee when the boss said: “Due to Covid-19, you are now all working from home!”

I bet there were more than a few who thought it would be fantastic to get out of bed in the morning and go straight to the office to log into your email, via the kitchen for breakfast, and then pass through the lounge to catch up on some morning TV.

Now that you are logged on and have checked an email or two, it’s time for a morning cuppa, closely followed by lunch and perhaps a wee nap. How many then thought they could also knock off an hour early and the boss would never know? Nevermind, there is always tomorrow and anyway, it looks like we are in this for the long haul.

Soon you are into a nice wee groove and before you know it Friday comes along and rolls over to Monday, and it all starts over again. The problem with this approach is that things mount up, deadlines are harder to meet, it is more difficult to become motivated and your performance dips while your stress levels rise.

You see, I have worked from home for 20 years now, and it would have been so easy to fall into that trap. I can accept that I am no angel and that I have had some days ‘here and there’ where I do less than on other days, but as long as I perform well over the piece and stay ahead of the game, that is the beauty of the flexibility home working allows.

At the very start of my homeworking career, I made a decision to discipline myself and ensure that whoever I worked for got a good return as repayment for the trust that they had put in me. Close supervision is now a thing of the past for many of us and it will be for the foreseeable future, so for those of us who are not used to it, what does it all mean?

Perhaps, I am fortunate because my children no longer live in the same house as me and because I have always enjoyed a dedicated office space to work from. I was afforded the opportunity to plan for home working, I created a dedicated office and I managed to get things set up just dandy. I became properly equipped with my laptop, two monitors, two printers, adequate telephony and wi-fi. Not forgetting my Nespresso (other brands are available) coffee machine and McVitie’s chocolate digestives (sorry, there is no alternative in my eyes).

Home working at this time is almost as easy for me as it was before, but that will not be the case for the majority. Don’t get me wrong, isolation and travel restrictions mean that I have had to alter my way of working too, and I am now missing out on some of the things I used to enjoy when my role took me out of the house.

For those who do not know me, I am employed as the Legal Assistant to the Solicitors who work on our Personal Injury cases, so my role included visiting Police Officers up and down the country and visiting the various incident sites involved in the claims we handle. l would programme those trips to Police Offices to suit the respective Police Officer operational requirements and I had the added luxury of visiting incident sites at a time of my choosing.

Hey-ho, all that is gone for now, so I have had to adapt to interviewing Police Officers and other incident witnesses by telephone or via video calls. The locus reports which included photographs, video footage, measurements and sketches I previously produced for the Lawyers now have to wait, and while Google mapping with streetview is good, it is never the same as getting the ‘feel’ of a location by visiting it.

My regular bi-monthly trips to our Peebles office suite have also gone by the wayside for the time being, so I am missing out on a delightful run down from Lanarkshire to the Borders, just at a time when the daylight abounds and the countryside is at its best. I miss meeting up with my peers to discuss specific cases and generally interacting with our wider team.

Step in Zoom, a relatively new phenomenon to me and something I will probably make more use of when all this is over and done with. We now have a Team Zoom call twice a week and I know that our Partners, Associates and Solicitors are also making use of this software to meet with clients and Counsel on our live cases.

Due to Covid-19, I absolutely accept that many have been forced into a home working situation at short notice and there are undoubtedly many people out there who are not so well equipped. They are having to overcome some significant hurdles to perform as they would have done when they were working in the office.

Managing things like finding a suitable work space, having good connectivity and fully functioning equipment can be a challenge. Perhaps you are also wrestling with home schooling for your unsettled, and perhaps unruly teenagers, or you are now called upon to provide infant child care while also working around partners who are also home working too.

The challenges we face in these unsettling times are undoubtedly immense, but if you can somehow get your head straight and overcome the obstacles, working from home can still be a success and immensely rewarding.

Most employers will already know their individual staff members' domestic situations, and if not, they should. My advice would be to make sure that your current situation is clear to those you work for and with. Set out your office space to give you as good a working environment as possible and plan your daily and weekly work pattern. Remember it can, and probably will vary.

You may be in a situation where working the normal 9 to 5 is just not practical for you anymore, so assess the time now available to you and create a work/home timetable. Speak to your Manager and outline your situation and your proposal, to achieve something mutually acceptable. It could be that you have to adjust your ‘working day’ by starting earlier, say 5 or 6am, and work until 9am. You might stop then to look after your family and do a few more hours later on in the afternoon or into the evening. Don’t assume that you ‘must’ be available as you normally would be, because the situation we are experiencing is just not normal.

Once you have your week planned out to allow you to complete your core hours and it has been agreed with your manager, have a structure to each day and create a task list. By doing this you will reduce your stress levels and any feeling of guilt when people are looking for you and you are not around.

Think about adjusting your voicemail message to reflect your new and temporary work hours. Put an 'out of office' on your email to advise when you are contactable and make sure you explain the reason for any short delay in responding. By clarifying what you can do and when you can do it to your peers and communicating that externally, you will reduce your stress levels and still be able to work efficiently.

It takes a strong will, self-discipline and determination to successfully work from home and no matter how tempting it may be, you do not want to get into the habit of putting your feet up and relaxing, because one of these days this nightmare with Covid-19 will come to an end and we will soon be back in the office!

Until then, stay safe and do the best you can with the cards we have been dealt.

Ewen Stewart

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