What We Learnt About Work in Lockdown, Part One: The Home Office

What We Learnt About Work in Lockdown, Part One: The Home Office

This three-part series looks at how the pandemic is reshaping the future of work through the on-the-ground insights of our employees. Read more about how COVID-19 has impacted employee engagement in our latest Heartbeat report.

The COVID-19 pandemic has covered the full spectrum of human experience. We’ve all felt the anxiety, the inhuman strangeness of social distancing, and the uneasy collision between our professional and personal lives as we’ve settled into working from our couches or dining tables.

None of us have been alone in these experiences, but all of our experiences throughout this time have been deeply individual — and they’re likely to be something that remains long after the pandemic is gone.

For my part, I’ve learned that the increasingly blurred lines between my work and personal lives has irrevocably changed my relationships with my colleagues. Our conversations, which have meandered from business to life and back again, have breached that invisible filter I’ve always maintained between my home and work personae.

And as the pandemic progressed and brought with it new, and distinct, waves of anxiety, I learned that I could truly lean on those relationships in ways I didn’t expect, and that I could hold less of myself back than I would in the office for fear of judgement.

But this is just my experience of work during lockdown — and these changing relationships led me to wonder about the differing experiences my colleagues were having. As we traded anecdotes about work and life, it struck me that every single member of our company was having an experience of work that was entirely unique to them.

Here are our stories.

Working from home has meant I’m giving myself time for me — however I need it, whether that’s exercising, or spending time alone, because it gives me more clarity and a purpose.

Deepa, Customer Success Manager, London

“I’ve learned to prioritise myself.”

“Lockdown made me realise how busy my life had been before, and how I wasn’t prioritising time for myself,” says Deepa, a Senior Enterprise Customer Success Manager based in London.

“I know what it looks like when I’m tired or frustrated — and in the past I’ve pushed that under the rug because I don’t want it to stop me being a mum or a colleague.

“I was commuting, working, and dropping my kids off to so many different clubs — my brain was so cluttered.

“Working from home has meant I’m giving myself time for me — however I need it, whether that’s exercising, or spending time alone, because it gives me more clarity and a purpose. I’m so glad I’ve been able to spend three months with my family, but this time has also reaffirmed that I do need to think more about my responsibility to myself.”

“I can work productively in a way that works for me.”

“In the beginning, I never thought I’d work remotely — I liked being in the office,” Louise, our Head of Customer Success based in our Copenhagen office, admits. “We were suddenly two adults in our quite small apartment with our two-year-old and no daycare. It was hard to manage those priorities.

“My husband and I agreed to work either morning or afternoon shifts, so it was about making sure we were working effectively during that time.

“At first, it felt like I couldn’t physically put enough hours into my work. But over time, I learned that I can be more productive and focused — I can get more done in a shorter amount of time at home than in the office despite the limitations.”

Torben, Peakon’s Lead Brand Designer and also based in Copenhagen has similarly appreciated this aspect of the change in pace.

“It can be difficult to shift the presenteeism mentality, but I have really appreciated spending more time at home,” he notes. “I’ve been able to find a new focus at home that isn’t always possible in the office, and I can set my hours so I can spend more time with my family.”

“It can be harder to disconnect at home.”

“Lockdown has been that reminder to shut off,” says Bobby, a Customer Success Consultant based in our London team. “It’s harder at home to do that because there are a limited amount of things you can do to consciously transition between work and personal life when you’re working in your home. But you have to detach yourself from work, and take your time off really seriously.”

Maggie, a Talent Acquisition Manager based out of our New York office agrees, adding that keeping her days structured has helped ease this transition.

“When you close your computer, you may not be working but you’re still in the same space,” she says. “You no longer have that routine of leaving the office or commuting, so you have to be more conscious about making that switch. I had to make the effort to go out for a walk straight after work so I didn’t feel like I was constantly at home.”

“There’s a new level of openness.”

“An important thing I’ve learned from this experience is that people are in very different situations at home,” Joy says. “You need to be very careful about assuming how they’re feeling and their experiences. 

“One positive thing is that we’ve had a new level of honesty in people saying, ’I’m just feeling bad today,'” Joy adds. “It’s important that people feel okay to express that, because it might well be your bad day tomorrow.”

Torben agrees with Joy, noting that as a manager, working remotely has paved the way for more open conversations among his team: “Having a one-to-one meetings in a meeting room can make it feel more like a formal process, but I have felt that doing these kinds of meetings in your own home can make people more relaxed and open to sharing.”

Why understanding your employees’ experiences is crucial for the future of work

As we’ve found from these conversations, each employee’s experience of working remotely during lockdown has been deeply influenced by where they are, how they work, and their situation at home. 

These experiences are all deeply individual ones — and they are ones that will resonate with different members of every company. From listening to the stories from our own team, we’ve learned that the home office can bring the benefits of spending more time with family and opens up relationships with colleagues, but that it can also blur the lines between work and life in a dangerous way.

As organisations consider their next steps for the future of work, these are things they will need to bear in mind for remote workforces. They will need to empower employees to make the decisions that make work work for them, and set clear guidance among teams about their advocating for their own wellbeing and balancing life and work. This hinges on building a culture based on mutual trust and autonomy, giving employees the room — with their individual experiences — to make the best choices that work for them.

If you’d like to see more on how to support remote employee wellbeing, click here.