Something changed

When we entered the new decade there was no way of knowing what was in store for 2020. Something changed and it changed for everyone at the same time, resulting in unprecedented use of the word ‘unprecedented’ in the first half of the year.

During lockdown, the use of technology and digital connectivity has exploded across age groups with huge increases in social media and video calling apps to stay in touch and stay informed, e-learning platforms and classes, and online versions of usually in-person services.

Alongside this digital expansion (and at times overload), working from home has been badged more essential than not working from home in many office-based cases, and the office concept itself now feels outdated. So, what has this meant for office-based people who were already working flexibly around caring responsibilities?

Last May, my eldest son was turning 10 and I wrote a blog about how that parenting decade had changed the way I work, that I work flexibly around my kids and the pros and cons that has brought to my career. This year, we celebrated his birthday in lockdown and flexible working has taken on a whole new meaning mixing home school and home office together into one big melting pot.

Is the balance better?

Well, my day is no longer organised around the fixed school drop off and pick up times that in turn create fixed physical office-based hours, which means my work day can start earlier or finish later or both. I’ve observed less adrenaline pumping round my body from always rushing from one place to the next whilst constantly keeping an eye on the clock. Time in lockdown has taken on a totally new abstract feeling with a pattern to days that stretches, blurs and repeats, sometimes flecked with moments of complete stillness.

Home is where the presenteeism is at now…and the kids have become used to interrupting my husband and I both in equal measure! It can be really hard to concentrate with constant interruptions and then when there is a silent window often you’ve lost your focus or train of thought. There’s more chores and housework to share – more cooking, more cleaning, but the balance of household operations is better because we’re both there all the time. There’s also the bonus of collectively spending more whole days of life in the house we work so hard to pay the mortgage for without having to go to a separate place of work to achieve that…but at the same time we miss switching off completely from school and work to truly enjoy home now there’s no packing-up-to-go-home type ritual.

Changing ways of working for good

Now we’ve experienced what happens with office work when everything else stops, including formalities and appearances dropped and zoom calls with life happening around, I appreciate it doesn’t work for everyone but hope we can continue with some of the change benefits.

Our insight into school life has shown us the variety of tasks covered in the curriculum some of which are really useful to later life (tasks such as research a place and write a fact file, create a poster for the next Olympics, plan a story…less so Mayan farming or fronted adverbials!), but also their short concentration spans and need for a steady stream of stimulus, and how they miss social interaction and learning through their peers and teachers. We have a better handle on what happens in school hours, their age-related capabilities and what’s expected of them.

Our kids have also had a rare insight into the world of work – they see how we work zoned into our laptops emailing, writing or on calls and the way we talk on those calls and how much of our work is created or completed through meetings with our colleagues. Their impression of work? “Boring”, apparently…and thankfully not in a rush to grow up!

In this new blended way of homeworking, I’ve also discovered the positive wellbeing impact of:

• Walking ourselves around the block at the start of each day to help feel like we’ve arrived at a workplace destination.

• Finding mental space for thoughts, as well as physical space in the house for all of us to work.

• Mixing up seats and work spots during the day to enjoy a fresh view.

• Eating lunch in the garden and not at a desk.

• Using the daily walk as a welcome exercise break during the day to help recharge and move on the to-do list.

A lot has changed in 2020, but it’s a vital reminder that change is really the only constant. As Gayle Forman says, so much can change in one day and we’ve shown we can sustain that over a period of months.

It’s possible to break free from restrictive old ways of office working and commuting, for many jobs we’ve seen it’s not essential to be physically in an office every day to get a job done well and embracing this now will only help prepare us for the next impending crisis around the corner – the climate crisis.

Do you have a better balance between work and home life now? Do you miss the distinction or does it work better for you living it all-in-one?

Song credit: Pulp. Watch the music video here.

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