Working from home

Published: 20 October 2020

Colleagues who are continuing to work from home share their experiences and learnings

Welcome to the second in our series of pieces looking at colleague experiences across the University, through lockdown and into the first few weeks of the session.

This week, we catch up with some MPA colleagues who are continuing to work from home, on their experience of lockdown and what it’s taught them; look out for upcoming pieces from our academic colleagues on delivering online learning!

Roisin Reilly, Internal Communications & Engagement Lead

I love working from home as I like to belt out Frank Sinatra songs at the top of my lungs as I reply to emails. Unfortunately for my partner (Darren) and my Labrador (Nora) this means they have had to invest in some expensive ear plugs to drown out the sound.

Roisin Reilly and her Black Labrador dog, Nora

So, what has working from home been like for a lass like me? What have I learned on this bizarre and unexpected journey? Firstly, I have come to the realisation that Nora has a better social life than me. Every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, she steps onto the dog bus to see her friends and comes back four hours later covered in muck and leaves. Every Wednesday, she attends ‘Wednesday Club’ which is where she jumps into my mum’s car and goes an adventure with her and my dad.

Secondly, old habits die hard. Before I joined the University, I worked in global roles with HP and HPE, mainly from home. This meant working at weird hours and speaking in a slow, annoying way so that my US colleagues could understand me. I have found it very easy to work from home again, but I know that for some people, this has been a difficult adjustment, and they have not enjoyed the experience. I hope those people can get back to some kind of working space where they will feel more productive and comfortable soon!

Thirdly, the serious lesson! This may be surprising, but my mental health has improved dramatically. I have suffered from depression for over five years, and despite being under the care of a doctor, and trying numerous different things, I had periods of time where I felt awful. Despite the stress and difficulties of a global pandemic, I have learned (finally!) to take better care of myself and prioritise my health and wellbeing. It’s a hard one to talk about, and so many people have struggled mentally during lockdown, but it’s best to be honest about mental health, and talk about what works, as well as what doesn’t.

If anyone reading this (hi mum!) needs any help with working from home tips, ping me on Teams or drop me an email. I love meeting new folks!

What next? Who knows! All I can say for certain is that employee experience should be at the top of every organisation’s list of priorities. Leaders have an opportunity to reshape and improve what it means to be human in this new world of work. Let’s start now while we’re all evolving, it’s going to be quite the ride!

Jamie Wightwick, Executive Assistant

Life during lockdown has been tough for all sorts of reasons. My professional role can be testing at times, but none of my previous challenges at work had prepared me for the pressures of trying to juggle my job with home schooling. It’s been a lot, and often too much.

Jamie Wightwick sat working at his dining room table

If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s gratitude: for the inexhaustible patience of teachers I previously took for granted; for the amazing professionalism of my team, who have quietly kept the Vice-Principals’ working lives in order with little to no direction from me, and for being part of an organisation which I think has been exceptionally understanding with regards to the myriad and diverse pressures staff have been under throughout.

Not much will change for our office as the new academic year begins; we have worked from home throughout and will largely continue to do so. And it is strange to reflect that this will be the first time in around 15 years that I am not around for all the fun and excitement that usually greets the influx of new students into Gilmorehill, but I think what the past six months has shown us is that our University is about so much more than that iconic tower on the hill: it’s a community of talented, creative and curious people brought together by this inherently optimistic passion and belief that we can use our knowledge to make the world better. I think we need that now more than ever.

Charlotte Kedslie, International Partnerships & Policy Manager

Charlotte Kedslie's baby

I had a baby at the end of last year and was four months into maternity leave when lockdown hit. Suddenly, just as I was getting used to life with a baby, my mat leave got turned on its head. Gone were all of the support groups, baby classes, mummy meet-ups and help from friends and family. Suddenly I was stuck inside all day with a demanding infant and nothing to do and nowhere to go! Those days felt long and exhausting and it was hard seeing my son hit so many milestones with nobody else to witness them.

Then suddenly it was time to return to work after six months of leave. I had been looking forward to returning; however, any thoughts of face-to-face catch-ups with colleagues who I had missed or of “escaping” the house were banished and physically I remained very firmly in the domestic sphere while trying to get my brain back into professional mode. Working from my dining room table with a baby hanging around was not easy to begin with, it was like everything had changed but nothing had really changed, and somehow the wee man didn’t get the memo that I wasn’t there to look after him 24/7 anymore. But with the support from my team and regular Zoom catch-ups I got my head around the new normal, and everyone was very kind in asking me how I was getting on; there was a lot of understanding from colleagues.

And now this way of working has become the new normal, and there have actually been some advantages as well as drawbacks. I’ve been able to spend more time at home with my son than I would have if I’d been commuting, nobody can smell stale milk on me during a Zoom meeting, and I always finish up in time for bath time (but for some reason when his nappy needs changed I’m usually on an important call…!).

Andrew Atkinson, Web Content Manager

Andrew Atkinson sat facing his computer monitor

For myself, the biggest single contribution to successful working from home is my monitor. It’s my window on to the world for seven hours a day and the only connection I have had with campus for the last six months. And it’s big enough to replicate my office set-up. This means I can have multiple applications open at the same time and maintain a good level of productivity. This in turn leads to job satisfaction and contributes to positive wellbeing. I’d recommend this to anyone hunched over their laptop all day.

James Walker, Market Intelligence Developer

James Walker and his babyMy son was four months old when I started working from home in March and I would be lying if I said it has not been challenging at times. However, whether it’s my son mauling me during a Zoom meeting or when he crashes into my ‘office space’ in his walker when I’m trying to concentrate, the silver lining for me is having the opportunity to spend more time with him and watching him grow. I’m so happy that I got to see his first wobbly steps and the first time he said "Mama" (well, I guess "Dada" is harder to pronounce).

The only two bits of advice I can offer are:

  • Go with the flow. It’s easy to be hard on yourself if things don’t go according to plan, but we’re all weathering the same storm. Try to embrace the funny side! I’m really lucky to be in a team that embraces flexibility and is incredibly supportive.
  • Remember to switch off. For me this was the most difficult part as I tend to keep on going, easily losing track of the time. Take plenty of breaks throughout the day and get away from your remote working set-up!

Thank you

Our thanks once again go to all the above colleagues for taking the time to share something of their experience of the past few months and offer their personal hints and tips we can all consider utilising to make our working day that little bit brighter. 

As we continue moving forward with our recovery plan and developing new ways of delivering our key activities, it’s more important than ever that we continue to be mindful of our own health and wellbeing. A host of support resources and information remain available, and these can be accessed via the staff health and wellbeing information and resources webpages. We encourage all colleagues to take a look and engage with the resources available.

We’ll be hearing from more colleagues over the coming weeks, including pieces on hints and tips for delivering online learning and working from home, along with sharing more information and resources to help support our staff as we continue to work through this uncertain time, so do keep your eyes open for more staff updates over the coming weeks as the new term continues.

First published: 20 October 2020