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Transitioning to working from home at City Year UK

Two volunteer mentors talking

Over the last couple of weeks, what we perceived to be the ‘norm’ has been fragmented and brought to a halt as the world was brought to a literal standstill. And while our use of colloquial expressions now includes phrases like ‘social distancing’, ‘2 feet apart’, ‘isolation’, ‘covidiots’, ‘essential travel’, and ‘key workers’, trying to navigate what normalcy means during these uncertain times is something we’ve all had to grapple with.

As volunteer mentors, understanding and recognising the importance of meaningful work and service is a concept we’ve grown accustomed to, but one thing I am grateful for is how the nation’s eyes have been opened to the heroes who don’t wear capes, that help our daily operations function optimally (shout out to the key workers!)

So with the conversations and discussions we’ve had congregationally and more personally (in our teams), I’ve compiled a list of things that have helped in staying sane along with things that have helped to make working, or in our case, serving from home that bit more bearable.

Exercise

We all know that moving around is good for our health, but in the case where many of us have been at home all day, it’s easy to forget to move around. Mind you, though, even if this is in short-bursts throughout the day, getting some sort of movement is just as helpful as setting aside more time (at least 30 minutes) each day to get your body moving.

Mindset

Keeping a clear mind while cooped up can be a struggle, which is why the fact that we are allowed a single form of daily exercise outside has been such a godsend. A light 10-minute stroll down the road, with a little vitamin D, can do a world of good. Or if you’re afforded the luxury of a garden, to spend some time there too.

Some people have recommended making a gratitude list (of three things you are grateful for) at the start of the day to help set your focus on things you are grateful for, rather than spending too much time worrying about the things we have no control over.

Routine

Though we are all on a compulsory holiday, it’s natural to feel less inclined to keep to a routine but having a plan for your day, even if the list of things you want to do is as simple as cleaning, working, cooking, or working on your hobbies; having a plan of what you want to do at the start of the day is great in helping you to start as you mean to go on.

Connect

This is practically an unspoken word of advice at the minute as we are all connected digitally, but the connecting I’m talking about here is the kind with those around you, in your immediate location (by which I mean, your house). Be it housemates, family, friends, whoever you’re currently in quarantine with, take the time to connect, or re-connect. Have those conversations you’ve been avoiding, or reminisce on the things you miss and the things you’re looking forward to doing once the lockdown has been lifted.

Downtime

With many people having to adjust to working from home, this comes with its own set of challenges as it can be hard to switch off from work and remember to take breaks throughout the day. Having to work in the place we often associate with comfort and rest, requires discipline and as much as it can be tempting to just chill out all day (even with deadlines looming), having a list of the things you want to get done by the end of the day, and blocking time out for focused work has proven to be really helpful.

With this being said, schedule time to do nothing (that’s right, I said absolutely nothing) or at least something that doesn’t require as much energy and effort that work does. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, folks remember to plan out your downtime too!

Reducing screen time

This can be difficult when there are multiple online meetings taking place, and as the only way of staying ‘connected’ while quarantining, having time away from your screens is highly advisable. Whether it’s limited screen use, or if your schedule permits, no-screen days, it’s good to catch a break when you need it.

Reading

Perhaps the last time you picked up a book to read was during uni, your last holiday, or in secondary school, which – not to worry – isn’t all bad, because that Instagram caption you read, or that news article you went through also counts as ‘reading time’. But the reading I’m referring to, is either the paperback kind or now, as an opportunity that technology provides- audiobooks. Most of us have at least a few books lying around the house, ones we’ve probably gotten halfway through but have never found out the ending. As we now have more time on our hands, it’s not such a bad idea to get back into (or get started) reading.

Though this list is in no way exhaustive, these are a few words of advice we’ve been keeping in mind.

So how has it been, working (or rather, serving) from home?

I must commend the staff at City Year UK (including our impact officers) for being so understanding and willing to make sure we (as a cohort) have been able to transition and manage the new working situation. Though it is a volunteer role, there were moments where I was concerned about whether we would be laid off, but their desire to continue our service during the lockdown was something to look forward to during such uncertain times.

Especially with our service, up until the lockdown being school-based and people-focused, you can imagine the shock and unease we were met with as we learnt that our new work schedule consisted of us facing our laptops and having online video sessions to substitute our usual, in-person Leadership Development Days.

And though our sessions have felt tedious and disconnected at times (be it from a poor connection or a muted mic), they have brought about a different experience altogether. Collectively, we make a conscious effort to remain engaged, the support our impact officers and other members of staff in the City Year UK family have offered, has made the adjustment that little bit more bearable.

Our City Year Town Hall meetings where we are able to engage with our City Year brothers and sisters in the West Midlands, and Greater Manchester, as well as those across the pond has really allowed us to unite, despite our separation. The workshops and presentations hosted by various external people, such as our virtual Interview Skills Day, have been great, affording us the opportunity to continue thinking about our lives after City Year UK, since our year is slowly coming to an end.

Typically, fear of the unknown breeds warranted fear, but uncertainty has bred a new form of hope in a changed world. And despite all that’s been happening, I have reason to believe that things will get better and that the future is, indeed, brighter.

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