It has been nearly two weeks since my employer (BBC, Design + Engineering) asked us to work from home due to the on-going coronavirus pandemic. The experience has been somewhat mixed and surprising and I thought, given I'm stuck at home alone and bored, I'd write about it!

Expectations

I'm no stranger to working from home, I was already doing it on fairly regular basis and was pretty comfortable doing so.

My working from home patterns weren't usually out of any real necessity, just mostly due to convenience or an attempt to better focus on my work in some instances. Some examples would include waiting in for a delivery, having maintenance work done in my flat, etc.

Nothing that absolutely necessitated me working from home, but due to the nature of my work and the flexibility afforded by my employer - it's something I'm able to do which helps make my life a bit easier in those cases.

I'm a nerd who insists on having a decent desk setup at home, I've made sure I have a good chair (I finally bought a Herman Miller Aeron in early 2019), adjustable desk, foot rest, monitor arms, etc.  So I am well prepared to work comfortably at home.

Home desk setup
Home desk setup

As I've often opted to work from home for the purpose of being more productive, I expected to be happier with my level of focus and productivity.

When working independently on a particular piece of work, I've been able to stay at home and focus to a much higher degree than I'm usually able to achieve in the office. My work routine in the morning typically involves setting myself objectives, to get x done before lunch, or get y working before the end of the day.

These objectives worked well and felt appropriate when I was in the office, they stretched me just enough without causing me undue stress. When setting similar objectives when working from home, I found that I'd complete similar sized tasks much quicker. Something I can only attribute to being able to focus better.

One negative side effect of this though, was the feeling of 'burning out' earlier in the day. That high degree of focus is energy intensive and it's not something you necessarily realise until after the fact. To help negate this, something I learned to do was to take more meaningful breaks throughout the day.

I'm going to come back to the idea of meaningful breaks later on, as I think it's important and something I found has helped me tremendously.

But to summarise my expectations, I'd say they were broadly positive. I was confident I'd cope well - I don't want to work from home all the time, I like to be in the office often for a variety of reasons - but I also find working from home sometimes useful and beneficial for other reasons.

Reality

It has been a bit of a struggle in the past week. I'm finding it difficult to sleep, difficult to focus and generally lacking energy and motivation. I thought I'd be mostly okay with being stuck inside alone for a while, but it has drained me faster than expected and I'm trying to find ways to deal with it.

On the work front, I've been able to find bursts of productivity and motivation, but not on the same level as I typically would, and definitely not able to sustain it for as long. Not having the option to come into the office and work through problems with other members of my team affects productivity and progression and is something we'll have to adjust to using remote tools.

BBC teams within Design + Engineering have, I believe, been excellent at recognising how difficult this situation could be and are continually working on finding ways to help with people's mental health and work/life balance. Providing opportunities to socialise with the rest of the team, encouraging (remote) social activities such as lunch time gaming, crafts, quizzes, Friday drinks, etc. These all help and are definitely useful.

I do believe, if we weren't dealing with these extraordinary circumstances and I had transitioned to 100% remote working for other reasons, that this wouldn't be as difficult. But the added pressures of being confined to my small flat, alone, all day and night (with permitted exceptions) really adds a whole new dimension to this.

I'm reasonably confident that in the coming weeks, it will get easier on the work front. A routine will settle in and some of the teething problems of being 100% remote will work themselves out.  This should also have some positive knock-on effects in the rest of my quarantined life, being able to, at least for the duration of the work day, lose myself in my work and not be all consumed by the pandemic would be helpful.

Finally, I saw this tweet and it made me feel a little better about the way I'm feeling about this whole thing. It's a nice and succinct explanation.

Meaningful breaks

Returning to the idea of meaningful breaks I mentioned earlier, this is a behaviour that I've consciously encouraged in myself and advocated for to others that I believe helps.

Taking a break whilst in the office for me (and I suspect many others), means just stopping whatever work related task you're doing - going making yourself a drink and perhaps browsing the internet for 5 minutes. Maybe going and sitting somewhere away from your desk and browning around on your phone for 5 or 10 minutes just to get away from staring at the same problem for too long.

These are decent breaks and mostly suffice in the office, but at home - where greater flexibility is sometimes afforded in working hours (i.e. how you work your contracted hours) - it's easier to take what I'm defining as a more meaningful break.  By this I mean, something longer (20-30 minutes) and doing something else that is engaging, relaxing or otherwise a distraction from work.

This could mean watching a short TV episode, playing a game, doing a bit of your washing, cleaning your windows, sitting in your garden, anything that is a genuine break from work. The other day, I was banging my head against a technical problem and I was finding it difficult to focus on it.

I stopped and randomly decided I'd clean my patio doors. It took me around 15 minutes and that genuinely felt like a good break. I got back to my desk and felt better able to work.

Some people's roles mean this can be a bit more difficult to do during 'core' hours (i.e requirements to be on calls more often), but I think this just means it's important to be strict with how many calls you allow yourself to be on.

It may mean that if I start working at 08:00, I don't finish by 16:00 as I normally would, but instead at 17:30 - 18:00, perhaps later - depending on how I've spent my day.

This whole idea applies whether or not you're currently quarantined due to a global pandemic, but how you apply it may differ slightly. I don't currently have anywhere else or much else to do after work - so finishing work later currently isn't an issue for me.