Sales Director Rachel Rowe reflects on the ‘temporary normal’ that has seen thousands like Rachel ‘working from home’ in recent months. How does one prevent working-remotely from sliding into ‘not remotely working’ when surrounded by the demands of running a busy office, the continual disturbance of UPS deliveries intended for neighbouring houses, a dog who is un-used to having day-time company, young children and the general business of running a home? The sort of things that we generally go to work to get away from!

In the first few weeks my office looked like this. I sat in a different dining chair each day to avoid wearing one chair dis-proportionally!

Like many working parents across the UK, some of our team members juggled working from home and caring for children during the COVID-19 pandemic – and some like myself, still are…

To be thrown in to the role of teacher and dinner lady whilst still being mum and ‘Rachel from the Office’ was a shock to the system and took a bit of getting used to.

I found myself stressed at times, worrying how the children would cope mentally without the stability and routine of usual daily school life, not seeing their friends. Their reluctance to learn was initially equally balanced by my reluctance to teach, but as the realisation grew that school closures were a long haul reality, both parties improved after arbitration and conciliation services offered by my husband. If the children didn’t pay attention in my classes, he would take over and there would be far less looking out of the window!

When it became obvious that I would be working from home for some time, my husband kindly transformed the area under the stairs into Cranfield’s second administrative hub.

The only time my desk has ever been empty was 2 minutes before the official opening…

In all honesty, we settled for a balanced approach to learning to maintain education but at the same time making sure that our home was where the family wanted to be. I decided to give myself a break and say ‘it’s ok if the kids leave their school work for today’. Let them be outdoors and let them play, this isn’t going to be forever. As long as they are safe, that’s what matters. In hindsight I am thankful that I didn’t know how long this would continue.

There’s no easy solution for making the “new normal” work. Colleagues are quite used to little heads popping up in the background of many a video call to say ‘I’m hungry’ or listening to Henry the dog continuously bark at the postman! Thankfully I have very understanding workmates and am lucky to be part of a team who work with me continuously and have always supported my situation. It’s through keeping in touch and working closely (yet remotely) that we have helped one another not go completely mad!

I make sure to keep in contact with colleagues several times during the day. Fitting webcams to all the computers around the factory has (if anything) made it easier for some members of the team to see my face when asking a question or wanting direction. It should be said however that our first attempts with Skype and Google Hangouts were memorable for all the wrong reasons. We have clients in the Far East requiring early morning conversations and associates in California finding meetings at the other end of the day more convenient. Fortunately, despite slippers beneath the desk, I’ve managed to look business-like from the waist up!

Making a clear end to the working day remains a problem with the computer now under the stairs. However I avoid eye contact when I walk past!