Challenge number one was how to reconcile my new role, community engagement, with the new reality, community isolation. And what did I take for granted in previous jobs, regarding job induction, establishing a new team, networking with other professional partners and space to work?
So, what were the immediate benefits?
• No commute
• Personal time management
An office base supports your daily routine through the shared communal activities within a working day. This needed redefining for home working to make sure that a healthy separation between work and home life was maintained. First, I had to have a space to work. In my case, a spot of DIY created an office space. For others, claiming a corner of a shared space or booking the dining table between 9 and 5 was needed.
I found it important to establish my time routines throughout the day, just as we would in an office. Tea breaks and lunch punctuated and fuelled productive work time.
However, all the good time management in the world was disrupted when work clashed with home-schooling. Creative use of time became essential to keep children on task, safe and fed. My colleagues knew it was Wednesday when they could hear a flute lesson over the Teams meeting…
The symbolic shutting down of the laptop and work phone at the end of the day gave separation from work. But what about the benefits of a commute? Time to decompress, listen to music or an audio book, change your head space to home life. In my case, I have found that ten minutes quiet wind down time before facing the family did the job, but it can be hard to step out of your work space straight into family chaos.
Before the lockdowns, we didn’t even know what Zoom was and we would accept that a portion of our day would be lost to travelling to various locations to meet people. How could I be isolated at home but be connected with colleagues and the people that I support? As with the rest of the world, I discovered what Teams and Zoom could add to my work. Teams enabled me to create a virtual office for the CET to meet, share and collaborate. New skills were learnt. For example, video calls require a different way
of interacting. You cannot interject, so you must listen and give spaces for other people to contribute. We have become more polite in our conversations, offering time to each person, apologising for talking over someone else.
In addition to establishing my personal home working routine, a team routine was also essential. It was important to replicate the opportunities for incidental conversation, networking and reflection. Within the CET, we established daily morning check-in meetings and end of the day de-briefs. The time given to these supportive sessions ensures that our independent work time is efficient and focused. Meeting at the end of the day has proved especially important, because it provides us all with an opportunity for daily group supervision and the sharing of our successes. The use of a WhatsApp group means that we can informally discuss tasks throughout the day.
“We even set up a WhatsApp group for colleagues who were home schooling to share our experiences of impossible worksheets and tantrums. And the children sometimes struggled too.”
The social restrictions have made us re-evaluate our focus on the importance of face-to-face interactions. We had to look at the tools available, and make the best of what we had. We quickly realised the potential for immediate and accessible communication through the phone, WhatsApp and text, without the barriers and formality that a face-to-face meeting may pose.
Starting a new job during a pandemic raised the risks of isolation and disjointed communication. We have had to put extra effort into the most important commodity of our work: positive, enduring relationships. From my first day with Manchester Mind, colleagues have been generous with their time and their words of encouragement. We have all lived through the same experience and so we have all seen the benefits of the extra effort given to maintain our communities.
Our next challenge is to take the benefits of our experience of working, communicating and forging trusting relationships whilst physically isolated, and add these skills to our established creative approaches of engaging people in our communities.
Martin Gaved, Community Engagement Team (CET) Manager