Working from home, pandemic style: Six months down, countless to go!

It’s been a little over six months since I began working from home full-time, and I am trying to prepare myself for another four months – but probably more than that! But this is what life is like when you are living with two chronic illnesses during the global COVID19 pandemic!

The UK went into lockdown a few days after my own personal COVID isolation started, and just before I began my new job. At the time, no one really knew what the timeframe for people working from home would be, but early conversations at many universities were “at least until June” then “probably through July” then “well, some people will be able to come back in August depending on the nature of their work”. And yes, slowly some people could return to offices around the country, but “working from home” was still the default if possible.

I work at the University of Aberdeen and they asked everyone to complete a personal risk assessment that included their “COVID Age”. By this time, I already knew (or at least strongly suspected) that it would be highly unlikely that I would be back in the office before the new year, as my work can all be done remotely. (Not that I’ve been there at all, having started my job at the start of lockdown!) But when I calculated by COVID Age and learned I am 91 in COVID years*, in addition to being on the shielding list, there was no doubt in my mind that I would continue to work remotely (from the safety of my cottage) well into 2021, because I am in the highest risk group as a 91-year-old woman.

Of course, working from home isn’t a new thing for me and over the last 20 years, I have done at least some level of working from home. However, up until the last 6 months, I’ve always had an office to go to when I wanted/needed to. Sometimes, my main place of work was the office, with homeworking once or twice a week (or less often) and other times I have spent more time working from home and less time in the office. But there has always been the option – along with the option to work in other spaces such as cafes or libraries.

In those 20 years, I found that I derived a certain level of energy from working in different environments over the course of the week, depending on the kind of work I was doing. My work style evolved in a way that enabled me to plan tasks in a way that I could schedule office days or work from home days depending on what I needed to do. In fact, I even got into the habit of scheduling meetings for set days whenever possible so that I could have a day or two with a crazy schedule of meetings, protecting my time on the remaining days.

Ah, the olden days of pre-COVID. It was really bliss!!

Now, however, working from home isn’t a part of my working life. Working from home is the whole of my working life! And I must admit that I find it hard to be fully motivated and productive at times, in part because it is a little unrelenting. This is no longer a choice I’ve made to break up my working routines a bit; this is a necessity. And even if I wanted to, I can’t just pop into the office for the day because I am not on the approved list of people who can come to the office. Of course, as the office is in Aberdeen and I live in a cottage outside of Edinburgh, I can’t exactly just “pop into the office” anyhow**!

I realise that I am luckier than most people who are trying to work from home during a global health crisis because I have a dedicated home office, which allows me to better separate my home and work life. And I have a good internet connection and a great computer set up with extra screens, which helps tremendously! I also don’t have any caring responsibilities or a partner with whom I need to share a workspace***. Those things make it easy for me to put in a traditional “Monday through Friday, 9-5” workday, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to manage a typical working week!

In fact, the struggle I have is that I can’t recreate the typical working week. Even if I take away the idea of my typical week including multiple working locations, and just pretend that my home office is my work office, the week isn’t typical. And I don’t think it can be typical.

In a typical week, I would be leaving my house around 8 am to walk 3 minutes to the bus stop. Then I would have a 20-30-minute bus journey followed by a 6-minute walk to the office. Once in the office, I would chat with other real-live humans in the various communal spaces (break rooms, shared offices, the kitchen, the corridor, you name it). Those conversations might be about work or they might be about the weekend – but they were almost always energising to some degree.

In that typical week, I would have meetings to attend, lectures to give, and face-to-face research to conduct. That would mean walking to and from different locations, sometimes having chats with other real humans along the way. And then at the end of the day, I would reverse my commute home, using that evening commute to read a bit so that I could unwind before entering the cottage to begin my “home” routines.

But now, there is no commute. There are no casual chats with real-live humans. There is no little variety to my days.

Instead, I sit in the same chair from 9 am until 5 pm (sometimes later). And I find it hard to motivate myself to work with the same passion and excitement because I am missing something. I am missing a lot of somethings and I am struggling to recreate those things whilst working from home.

But I am trying. Indeed, I have been trying since I started the new job! But nothing seems to work because I am only accountable to myself on these things and I haven’t found the right motivation (yet!) to make myself stick to innovative ideas to make the coming months easier and more enjoyable. In fact, I think that if I can incorporate new habits that help me to get more movement and fresh air into my working day, that might be a good start!

Tomorrow is the start of a new week, so it’s another opportunity for me to start afresh with better routines. So maybe I’ll start and end each day by recreating my commute times with a short walk before and after work. Yes, that’s what I’ll do! And maybe I can build on that the following week… I have a list of things to try, and I’m sure that some of them might work.

I will post an update in a couple of months to share what progress I’ve made. In the meantime, please feel free to share with me any suggestions for how I can break up my days a bit so that I can survive another few months of working from home!

* My COVID Age is based on my “actual” age (46) plus my kidney disease, bleeding disease, and my lack of a spleen. Combined, these things put me in the highest risk group for potential complications. And although I feel that I am probably (overall) healthy enough to survive a COVID infection, I am not willing to risk putting that theory to the test. Especially when it is still unclear what the long-term effects of the illness are.
** There’s no point in moving right now and the way things are looking I may never move. Which is OK because I really love my little countryside cottage!
*** I have a housemate, but he works night shifts and so he’s generally sleeping whilst I’m working. And if he is awake, he doesn’t bother me when I’m in my office. Mostly.

Photo notes: The first photo is from my home office set up in mid-March. It was before I started working from home 100%. The set-up has since changed to make things more comfortable as a daily space. I will share a new photo in my update post. The second photo is of my office decoration. The sign is what my youngest sister greeted me at the airport with when I came home for a visit after my PhD graduation. The TARDIS lights are part of the graduation party decorations that my eldest sister had for me. And Kim Possible is my office mascot, a gift from my then-5-year-old nephew, that has been with me for 16 years.

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