It’s A Different Way Of Working

posted in: Case Studies | 0
working from home laptop on dining table with 3 chairs
Dining table – where I do my Zoom meetings

Since coronavirus hit, my partner and I have both been working from home.

We now have a better appreciation of how hard we both work  – and more of an understanding about what we do. But we don’t see any more of each other than we did before. In fact, we probably see each other less, because the hours have tended to be longer and we don’t mix during the day. He’s upstairs and I’m downstairs. And we don’t even break for lunch. 

Life has been very, very challenging. It’s been up and down. 

My youngest son moved abroad and got married in California in December, and came back in March for his brother’s wedding – which didn’t happen.  He is now stuck here and can’t get back to his wife because  they are not processing visas. So, now my 25 year old son is back living with us. 

My eldest son and his fiancée had to cancel their wedding  – twice. Once in March and also for this coming Saturday. They had to cancel their honeymoon in June –   to Italy.  Then they had to cancel the honeymoon in November –  to Mexico. 

I have a four year old granddaughter who I didn’t see for 4 months. That was difficult to deal with.  To top that, my partner is being made redundant this Friday. So, I’ve got emotion and worry to deal with as well.  

I’m trying to not to worry too much, and keep strong. 

Throughout this, my parents have been very strong. 

My dad is 74 and my mum is 70. My dad is well at the moment but he has an aneurism that is too big to be operated on and he’s had a number of heart attacks and strokes. He has eight stents in his heart.  My mum has COPD.  

But they have followed the rules. They’ve not been out anywhere… they’ve not been out for meals, they only do the weekly  shop. But on Sunday I saw that they’d had enough. They were saying:  “We need to get on with things now…. we can’t carry on like this…” 

So, it’s all very up and down. 

Our restrictions are currently at Tier 3.

That means, we can no longer meet anybody outside of our own household anywhere – unless it’s a park. We can’t  go into other people’s  houses or gardens or go out for meals together.  We can go shopping, but the pubs are closed. Restaurants can only open if they serve substantial meals  – and nobody has quite worked out what that means. We had a ‘rule of six’ – but  nobody  understands whether that is still in place. 

At home, there’s just myself and P. (my fiancé) and obviously my son is with me at the moment. Normally for Christmas we would have with my parents,  my son and his fiancée, my granddaughter and possibly my mother in law. If we do have a rule of six  – or lockdown – at Christmas I wouldn’t  be able to have my children over if my mother in law came – or my parents. 

 

partial view of house with tree

We live in a 3-bedroomed detached house on a corner. We have a downstairs living room, quite a large hall, a dining room  – where I sit when I’m doing my face to face Zoom meetings –  a conservatory,  a kitchen and a downstairs toilet.

Upstairs, there are three double bedrooms.  One is used  by my partner as an office, and is also my granddaughter’s room when she comes.  Then there is our room, my son’s room and a bathroom.

I’m lucky to have nice gardens all the way round and  a usable outside space – which I’m so grateful for. I’m a sunbather  – not a gardener. In lockdown the weather was so beautiful  it meant that when I finished work I  could go outside onto the patio with my kindle and read in the sunshine and fresh air for an hour. That was worth its weight in gold. 

When I first saw this house,  I was married at the time and living in a 3-bedroom semi. I couldn’t believe that we were thinking about buying it. My ex-husband kept saying: “ If we don’t get a detached house now, we will never do it”

When I was telling people about the house that we were thinking of buying everybody was saying: “ You mean, the big one on the corner”.  I can recall that I was really overwhelmed by the idea of the property. It’s not a mansion. But coming from a 3- bedroomed semi it was a big step for us. It is a nice house.

We bought it in 2001  – it was  just under ten years old.

hall with stairs showing 3 doorknobs
Entrance hall and stairs

I did sell it once but it fell through. 

Ideally, I would love to live in a cottage or terraced house…. something more cosy, beams and a nice open fire… solid wooden doors….things  like that.  To me, terraced houses seem more homely, more comfortable and more welcoming.  But I am very lucky. 

Just before lockdown a group of us working at the Council, looked at how we were going to react to the emergency response for food for shielded residents.  After that meeting we all had to work from home. 

We created four ‘virtual’ emergency response hubs to respond to the emergency number that the Council put out.

I’m a team manager and my staff were all drafted in and allocated to one of the hubs.  Then we drafted in other partners from other services within the Council: adult care, children, library staff  and volunteers from our leisure centres –  some of whom were furloughed. 

As our teams started to get the calls, and phoned the residents to find out what the request was, it turned out differently.

Not only: “I am shielding and I need food” but also:  “I  am shielding… I am not getting any housing benefits….my benefits have stopped… I’m suffering from mental health….I need a prescription….I’ve got no gas and electric… I need someone to walk the dog.” 

The staff – certainly in my team –  weren’t equipped  to deal with all these issues.

 

Not only was it difficult for them making the call, but also finishing the call. People wanted to talk. And when somebody is in distress and they want to talk, it is very difficult to end that call.

I got support training for my team around conflict management –  because some people would be aggressive with them.  They also had training around Early Years needs for families who were shielding with young children. That is: what their needs might be and how to spot signs, if they could, of domestic abuse. 

So, it was very challenging – and the hours were long. 

Nobody wanted to log-off their computer in case a request came in that was urgent. They didn’t want to leave anybody in need. You never felt that you could stop the working day. 

I would have my team contacting me in the evening and at the weekends if they were struggling with things. At that time my role was concerned with the pressure they were feeling and their emotions – the pastoral side of the job. 

We dealt with over 5000 residents.

You would ring up somebody, who just phoned up for a food parcel, and they would say: “I’ve got no food…. and my dad hasn’t spoken to  me for 12 months….and I haven’t got my tablets…. and I’ve got no gas and no electric”.

A lot of the calls were follow-ups, and the teams  would ring on a weekly basis.  Then of course, we had some people who were shielding and needed shopping  – but didn’t have any money for the shopping. So, we had to get in touch with charities and set up Mutual Aid Groups so we could then contact a charity and they would have a regular contact. 

There were others who were shielding and did have money, but couldn’t go shopping. We had to find  ways of going shopping for them and getting the money off them. Back then,  you couldn’t even knock on the door and take the money. You had to leave the shopping and walk away. Then somebody  had to set up an electronic  payment system within the council… or find other ways of getting the money from them.

view through window to garden
Front garden

There were issues like: how do we get the gas and electric cards from people to go and top them up? Resident had to disinfect the card, leave it down for somebody  pick it up. They would then disinfect it go and top it up and return it.

There were so many things that you thought would be easy. How do you give a dog to someone to walk  – keeping a 2 metre distance, and handing over a lead? We had to think about all of these things.

I said to my team: one day you will look back and you will realise what you did and  what a difference you made to the residents of this borough. And you will be very proud of yourselves.

And I think that is the case. 

The thing that is clear to me – more than anything else – was that we were  responding to an emergency. 

Traditionally within the Council, we are steered by reports and decisions  made by council members. With this: we just did it! If that person needs a parcel, if that person needs a prescription  – just go and get it. We kind of abandoned the rules and just did what we needed to do. And it worked so well.  

Working so closely with adult care and children’s services we all got an understanding of what other people within our organisation do. One thing we are all really clear about: we cannot lose those relationships. 

We brought people together whose interest is solely in people. So… someone in my team would know where to go if there was an issue of child who couldn’t get a school meal…. or an elderly person who needed something installed in the property. We had people go and do gardening. It’s just been absolutely amazing. 

The working relationships we now have from this – I wouldn’t ever want to lose.

There was no “Them” and “Us”.

You wouldn’t have known who worked for the council and who was a volunteer. Or, who worked for a community organisation or for the leisure industry. We all had the same aim and there was no one upmanship.

There was nobody saying “ Well… we don’t do it like that”.  We just all got together as a group: What is it that we need to do? How can we do it? 

I think we reacted really, really well and I’m proud to have been part of it. But I just wish it hadn’t taken a pandemic to make it happen.

 

With my managers I constantly emphasise that they have to understand how it is for those in the response hubs. 

Previously, within the Council, I have responded to emergency flooding. With that incident, I left my dry house, went to the site and then came back  – to my dry house. With Covid, the teams who are dealing with the people in need, are also suffering in their own way. Some of them were trying to home-school their children at the same time as they were trying to make these calls. Some of them were dealing  with members of their family who were shielding – or unwell.  We were all  working from home. So all this had to be done without any face-to-face contact. 

Within my team, most of us (normally) work in one particular area in the building and you can tell a lot about someone by the look on their face. You can say to them:” Do you need a chat.” But, you don’t get that working this way.

It is a very different way of working. 

At one point I did think that team relationships were going to be damaged. Trying to manage that, and talk people through the stress, was challenging. 

My team are now working with Public Protection and businesses. Some of my staff are out doing visits to premises to check they are wearing face masks;  that they making the customers wear face masks; and all the signage is correct etc.

silk plant in vase on window sill
The view from my usual work seat

Pre-Covid, I would get up in the morning, wash my hair, do my makeup and drive to work. Because I live twenty miles away it can take me anything from 40 minutes to an hour and a half.  I listen to the radio on my travels… a bit of music maybe a quiz … smile… Then I get to work,  log-on and have a cup of tea and chat to colleagues and then I would start.

If I got in for 8am I would leave at 4pm and I’d sit in traffic for an hour and half. I get home about half past five, and that would be the working day finished. 

Whereas now, if I’m up and ready at 6.40am I’m logging on at 6.40am. Last Thursday I had a meeting with councillors and I didn’t finish until 7.30pm. 

Working from home I feel a ‘guilt’  if I am away and miss a phone call;  I do find it more pressurised. The other side of it is: I am more productive because I’m not wasting time travelling and I’m saving money on parking and petrol. 

view to garden wall
Back garden

But I miss those face-to-face relationships. 

We don’t ‘chit-chat’ any more. 

We don’t ring each other to say: did you watch such and such on TV last night?

You only ring if you’ve got something work-related to talk about. And that’s not what it’s like in the work environment where you might admire somebody’s jumper… or you just chat… and just have a laugh. And that’s what is missing. There is a value in having a mixture of working from home and going into the office.  

I have been in to work a few times. But to be honest, when I do  go in I find it a bit soul-destroying –   because there is nobody around. 

I’ve tried to encourage my team to go back in. If we double up then nobody is sitting there on their own. 

One day my manager and other people, that I would normally speak with, were also in and I really, really enjoyed the day. I also enjoyed just putting on a pair of heels –  because it makes you feel different. 

Other times I’ve gone in and it felt really, really sad. It’s just a very strange experience. I am also slightly cautious when using the new social/spatial protocols. Am I walking the right way?  Have I gone the wrong way…. sorry, sorry? 

large shrub in garden and exterior of house

For me, I cannot justify the 40 mile round trip  five days a week at the moment. But for my own headspace I need to get back in.  

It’s certainly a different way of working. 

What I find is that with Zoom meetings, because people can’t all talk over each other, and can’t interrupt, their behaviour is much better.  I’ve done meetings where someone is… rummaging in the fridge and then wandering around the back garden. I think people forget where they are…and what they are doing and who can see them. So, yes, it’s a very different way of working. 

working from home laptop and fireplace and  TV

And then you’ve got the  IT issues. 

I can be getting ready to do  a meeting at 6pm and  my phone goes and somebody says “ I can’t get on, I need you to help me to get on.” And I’m trying to start the meeting. So, it can be stressful as well if your WI-fi goes down when you are in the middle of presenting something,  and they just think you’ve disappeared. 

For leisure I do yoga/Pilates on Zoom. It’s really good because that’s a hour where I can only think about  whether or not I can  achieve that next move. It’s as good for my head as it is for my body. 

But even that is not the same on Zoom.  When I go to the class the teacher is really funny, he’s got a  fantastic personality and his music is great. But when it’s on Zoom I can only see him. And there’s no music and there’s no  joking about. It’s just the moves.  But it’s good to still do it  –  even though it is not what it was.

When I am at home, I read a lot…  I read an awful lot. Also, (although it doesn’t sound like leisure) I am a magistrate.  I absolutely  love it. Sadly, for the past five months, each sitting I had was cancelled. 

It’s something completely different and it takes me away completely from my work life and my home life. The people who appear in front of us… the chaotic lives… the hardships that you see. It makes you grateful for what you have and the start in life that you had  – that they never had.

There is also the opportunity to do some good. It’s not always about punishment. It’s about recognising somebody’s needs and trying to help them with those needs: such as relationship counselling.  So, I consider it ‘leisure’ because I enjoy it. 

When we were in full lockdown, the government said you could leave your house to do exercise for an hour a day. At 12 o’ clock every  day I would log off and go for a walk.  I would do it for an hour, come back and log on. However, once you could go out, whenever you wanted to, I stopped doing it.  I no longer felt it was OK.  It’s not that anybody is saying that to me –  it’s just me. 

This year we booked to go to Greece. I spent weeks and weeks  waiting for a cancellation email – hoping for one – because I felt guilty. I felt selfish. And I didn’t know if it was the right thing to do, even though there was no travel ban for Greece.  

There were no cases where we were planning to go and  P. said we have to live our lives and make our own decisions.  Had they cancelled it, that would have been the end of it. But they didn’t cancel it – and if we hadn’t have gone – we would have lost all our money. So, we decided to go – and I am so glad that  we did. 

We felt safer over there.

They were very, very responsible and very, very grateful for our custom in the shops and in the restaurants. 

It was really just all about sitting… and looking at the sea…. and watching the boats bobbing… and going backwards and forwards….

Now that P. has been made redundant we feel we are much better equipped to deal with it – having had that break.  If we had not had that break I am not sure I would be as together now as I am. I just consider us extremely lucky that we had it.

Kitchen sink and drainer

I do look at my home more. Obviously I’m seeing it more, and think: I could do with doing that… or  this room wants decorating.  But we haven’t done anything more to it than we would have done had we still been going to work. 

Because we were  working all the time during lockdown we didn’t do any clear-outs or DIY.  Our actual working hours are longer than they would be at work. We don’t really have any time.

I always do my housework on a Saturday. When I am working it is a  different mentality. I would never think: right, when I finish this call I will go and mop the floors.  

I have quite a lot of back pain and if I’m not on a call or not doing a face-to-face Zoom meetings I’m sitting in the living room working away. If I’ve got a call I come into the dining room, which has a more upright chair. It means I move around during the day and I’m not sat in one position all day long. 

working from home with fireplace and cosy chair
The living room and comfortable chair – where I work

I worry very much about the economy and about the future for our children. My four year old granddaughter? What’s going to be left for her?

I am particularly concerned about people’s mental health. So many  of the businesses, shops and restaurants that we have always gone to on special occasions… all the people who work in those places..

.

There’s an enormous underlying mental health issue that is going to bite us –  never mind all the other conditions that aren’t being treated. During these times there are so many people who can’t work, or are furloughed, or  have time on their hands and are passing it by gambling. That really worries me. 

I know my mental health  has suffered – without a shadow of a doubt.   There are some days I think I can’t do this. I can’t carry on like this. Things like: having to leave my granddaughter to stand on the front doorstep and not allow her into my house  – when she can go to nursery. You can’t describe how that makes you feel.  How do you explain to a 4 year old that you can’t come into grandma’s. That takes a toll on you.

Fortunately, at this stage, I haven’t lost anybody. I haven’t had a member of the family on a ventilator…..and a wedding can be re-arranged. So, I still consider  myself one of the lucky ones – I really do.

 

When this is over, I’m looking forward to having a big  family meal where   we can celebrate all the birthdays that we’ve not been able to celebrate. If the rules are set so we can’t all get together at Christmas then I will certainly follow those rules.  But I will hope we can have Christmas and a big family meal.

Actually….one thing I’m looking forward to is having an ‘argument’ with somebody.  By that I mean when you don’t see people, you tend to only focus on the ‘nice’ stuff.  If I see my parents on the doorstep it’s: “how are you, do you need anything.….”

In normal times,  if I went round  and the news was on, me and my dad would be arguing over everything in the news. And, we would also be having conversations about other stuff. 

I would just like to have a conversation that’s not about Covid. I’d like to meet up with people and their first comment not be: “ Are you OK?’  Everybody feels like that. 

All Photos by Respondent

Follow Nuala Rooney:

I am a creative professional and award-winning author, currently developing original ethnographic design research. With over 25 years experience in Higher Education my interest lies in exploring distilled thinking and design as lived experience.

Latest posts from

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.