Life of a Lawyer in Lockdown: Advice on working from home
Monday morning catch ups! Conference calls! Appraisals! Department meetings! Staff meetings! Thursdays are the new Fridays! After work drinks! Team lunches! Month End drinks! All face to face and direct forms of interaction.
But things have changed. We are still communicating face to face, the only difference being toys in the foreground, feature wall backdrop, and sound of kids playing in the background. With that in mind we approach the end of one month of remote working. For someone who has never worked from home this was an alien concept that threw me off course. So, having now embraced the concept and somewhat enjoying the balance it offers, what advice do I have for it to be a success?
The main danger is working too much! Being married to your screen all the time; I even found myself checking my emails on a Sunday afternoon when the kids were watching a movie. This danger means there is a propensity not to move. That first week of WFH I was glued to my seat, had coffee at my desk, lunch at my desk, even did the home schooling while keeping an eye on emails – and that is not fair on the kids or my clients. My advice is to physically break yourself away from your desk. If you need, set yourself an alarm so you make sure you get up and move away. If you have children, have a ‘school bell’ to coincide with your children’s school break times. Taking a break with your family will be a sanity check throughout the day. Rather than mulling over a point of law, why don’t you mediate a disagreement between the children or kick the ball about in the garden?
The polar opposite is also extremely dangerous. Some people need that office environment to function. So, get into a productive FRAME OF MIND for work. Get up on time! Get out of your pyjamas! Ok, you do not need to be suited but don’t be in your dressing gown. Designate a particular part of your home to be your new office; whether that’s the breakfast bar, dinner table, the study or your gazebo. This gives you the opportunity to consciously pack up from work at the end of the day, which is important when you are living in your workspace and working in your living space. Trust me, you need that separation. Otherwise you will not ‘switch off’ and your family will not thank you for it.
WFH and home schooling has of course been a challenge for every working parent. Two working parents can be difficult and you will need a rota. There may be times when both parents are on calls for example and the children are left ignored. There is no perfect solution other than have a plan but be flexible, communicate, manage interruptions proactively (not reactively), make up for the lost time by doing something super fun once you BREAK AWAY FROM YOUR SCREEN for the day. Also remember, this is not easy for your children so please empathise with them and ask them how they are feeling.
Fortunately, everyone is allowed out once a day for some exercise. With gyms, leisure centres, and sports clubs being closed it is essential to try and find an alternative way to exercise. My rationed activity hour outside has mostly been spent going for runs, walks or bike rides around my neighbourhood with the family. Get out for your one hour’s sensible EXERCISE maintaining social distancing. For inside workouts we are fortunate that with the use of smart phones and apps, and Joe Wicks, it now couldn’t be easier to follow a fitness program from the comfort of your home.
It is not just physical health that matters at a time like this. Looking after your mental health is crucial during a period of enforced isolation. So, make sure you exercise, sleep well, laugh, communicate, listen, and do as many ‘normal’ things as you can. I have been lucky to spend plenty of time in the garden with the family barbecuing.
Thankfully, all of our communication channels remain open and I have not yet had to resort to speaking to the paintings for conversation. Make sure and take time every day to CHECK IN WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY via telephone, Zoom, drone, or pigeon carrier, if you feel like easing the burden on Royal Mail. We have even had Zoom drinks, Zoom quiz nights, and a Zoom birthday celebration. For a society habituated to smartphones and tablets, it’s never been easier to stay in touch with loved ones, so although it may feel at that we have never been more separated, the truth is we have never been closer.
My final piece of advice is to stay positive. There is negative news, fake news, conspiracy theories, and sad news all around us. However, we are in this together and the key to getting through this is to stay POSITIVE and EMBRACE the situation. My ‘glass is half full’ thought is that I will never again be able to amalgamate the two most important things in my life like this: my family and my work. And I am going to make the most of it!
I would like to think that once things return to normal, we can look back and think of all the things we achieved – working remotely is not to be feared but embraced; using technology more fully than ever before; and the team spirit with everyone pulling together during difficult times. I would also like to think many of us will come out of this more adaptable and having grown rather than come out scared.
Most importantly I firmly believe that this experience has HUMANISED us all.