years months ago, I wrote a blog post about my experiences of the first couple of weeks in quarantine and working from home full time. It can be summarised as: I expected it to be easy, it wasn't.
I thought I'd follow that post up with an update on how I'm feeling in this new normal.
At the time of writing my previous post, the lockdown was in full effect. No socialisation permitted - with anyone - outside of your household. I was stuck in my tiny flat, alone.
This had fairly severe consequences on my ability to work; it was demotivating and at times it had a significant impact on my general mood and mental wellbeing. It went in phases, sometimes I felt pretty good and felt I was able to work reasonably well and enjoy a bit of leisure time, but those struggles would always shortly come back.
It wasn't until the social restrictions began to ease that I felt sustained improvement. Being able to have some sort of life outside of my little flat helped enormously. At the time of writing this, whilst many restrictions are still in place, many of the key restrictions that would change my day-to-day routines have been lifted in some way.
As a result, I do feel like I am now able to focus better on my work. I feel more motivated, interested and engaged. There were times over the past few months where I genuinely felt burnt out, not because I had been working very hard - I don't believe I was - but for all the reasons already stated. I struggled to concentrate and felt disinterested in many aspect of my job.
My 'countermeasures' for this were to relax about my productivity at work and to make more effort in establishing a boundary between my work life and non-work life. I also took holidays, I didn't do anything with those holidays except sit a metre from my desk doing something that didn't involve work, but these holidays helped.
Improving my working environment
Many have got the 'home improvement' bug during lockdown and I'm no exception. If you're spending more time in your home, it's only natural to want to make it a more pleasant place to be in. My desk setup hasn't really changed, but I have brought in some stationary and a whiteboard for sketching out ideas and making quick notes / todo lists. I've rotated my secondary monitor into portrait mode, a 27" portrait monitor is kinda ridiculous, but it works quite well.
Really, though - the biggest improvements have been in the periphery. Adding a rug so that my chair is more stable and the floor isn't so hard on my feet means I'm able to sit at my desk for longer periods comfortably, I'm not as fatigued after work.
Finally, a few nice little extras around my desk to make things a little more pleasant. Plants & prints. Peak millennial. Sorted.
Productivity and work/life balance
So, things are better. I am more productive than in the initial stages of the lockdown and I'm settled into a routine I could see being practical for a long time if necessary.
There are many positive aspects to the current arrangement, I broadly enjoy working from home, I feel I'm able to do more non-work activities during the week, as I'm less fatigued and have more flexibility in regards to how I work my contracted hours. The quality of my breaks during the work day are better and I have more options as to what to do on my breaks (e.g. a lunch time cycle without having the manage the logistics and practicalities of being in an office).
But, there are some downsides. I feel my time to work independently has been reduced. When in the office, I could often go entire days (after our daily standup) just working on a particular task, without disruption. In this new working pattern, I'm very rarely able to do that.
Some of this is due to new processes enacted to help with people's wellbeing at work. To ensure people don't feel too isolated and can maintain a connection with their teams. This is good and I'm happy to accept this trade off. It is a distraction, but I agree with the importance of these processes and there are real tangible benefits to them
But, I'm not sure if the balance is quite right. Before COVID-19, my working from home pattern meant I could have entire days working independently without distraction - and I felt at my most productive. The combination of having no meetings or other activities that day and the more comfortable, distraction-free environment of my home worked really well.
As the lockdown eases, the only remaining challenge will be to try and find that better balance. To be able to have longer stretches of time, perhaps multiple days in a week where I'm able to focus on a particular task.
I'm not sure how that balance will be achieved, but I do have a feeling that as many mature remote teams have found, being more asynchronous is helpful for this.
Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, etc, all these 'speak-to-me-now' communication tools are fantastic - but as is the case with traditional in person meetings - there are many conversations that can be had asynchronously, in email - and it could possibly be an even better exchange than had it been in Slack or Zoom.