Before Covid working from home was a thing. I get it; for some roles it is not just convenient but essential. I used to work for central government and home working was encouraged. I lived alone then and was single; my house was a show house and things weren’t moved, used or lost without my knowing. Working from home on a practical level was ok to manage but I didn’t have an office or anything; I was at the dining table. But things used to interrupt my day. If the weather was nice the homebird in me would just put a wash on and hang it out to dry or wash the windows as the sun showed up every flaming mark. Sometimes friends and family called in and said ‘oh I saw your car outside I didn’t know you were off; fancy a brew?’ If I was procrastinating then the odd episode of Columbo got watched on an afternoon but that just meant working later.
But from a work perspective there became this unspoken expectation that you’d be “online” 24 hours a day or certainly respond to emails at 11pm when someone else had been watching Columbo and was catching up. I hated that there was a pile of stuff constantly on my dining table or if I remembered something I hadn’t done at weekend I just jumped on line and did it.
When I came to work at Backup as CEO I was asked at times about working from home in principle and I have always resisted it, for myself and for others. We use a saying here “our residents do not live in our workplace, we work in their homes.”
When lockdown came and we readjusted our business and admin services to facilitate home working it was ok. We got by. It wasn’t ideal though but I would not rush back to that way of working unless it was for a bigger agenda like Covid. Most people enjoy the ‘social’ aspects of working and being in a routine.
I used to work with someone years ago and he ended up in rehab. He said it started with a job working from home. 7pm drinks became 6pm, then 5pm. Isolation added to his lack of routine. Once a month the team he was in did a meeting and he put a shirt and tie on but was in his boxer shorts or joggers with them. His performance meetings were bi monthly and he did the same. So 5pm became 4 pm. He kidded himself he was being flexible and doing 1 or 2 hours at weekends. Over a period of three years he was alcohol dependant and drank all day but his IT outputs went from excellent to good to ok to poor. This did not end well. I am not suggesting working from home caused this but don’t assume all your teams are at home working from their study and are managing their mental and physical health perfectly.
In May 2020 we started having our Board meetings on Zoom. So because I hadn’t subscribed they were limited to 40 minutes then cut me off. But even those that run well, you can’t check in with people, I feel like I am wasting time or being personal when everyone is watching and listening, I have to wave to speak and is generally hard work I find. You can’t read body language or even really hear tone or mood through it. When it is working I can see the benefits but I don’t enjoy it.
One of the Trustees said this is fabulous, it saves travel time and I get more done – we should use zoom for all future meetings. As they started to agree and say yes it could work etc I just waited. When I could be heard I said no. They laughed and I said no again. Post covid I will delete the zoom app and never use it again if I can help it. Communicating with people across the country and world I can understand it but if we can meet as a Board; we should. What I didn’t say was I am CEO and the Board meetings are my safety valve and my support network. I am not going to speak freely if I have to yell into a Zoom call or make that call from home with my family listening as the meetings are usually in the evenings. As Trustees they won’t be able to assess my mood or wellbeing unless I explicity share something with them. No. No zoom.
My opinion isn’t coming from a place of distrust or lack of autonomy; I trust my colleagues. But I did once attend a ladies lunch ( I was on annual leave ) with a friend and she said “Christ don’t take my photo for twitter I am working from home!!!!”
For Backup, continuing to work at work shows some solidarity, that we will support our colleagues that simply don’t have the choice to work at home as they are required to deal with and support young people in their own accommodation day and night. Talking people away from suicidal ideation, intervening in attempts to self harm or harm others, accessing emergency medical and emotional support out of hours, reading body language and checking in on the young people. They are responding to young peoples worries about relationships, money, college, sexuality, exploitation and risk taking behaviours. They are available 24/7 to report young people missing, support them to disclose allegations of harm or sexual offences against them, comfort them when their cat has died.
At Backup, we ARE all in this together; we do work from home just not our own! My amazing teams can’t do all this from their own dining room tables and certainly not via Zoom.