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      PA Life Lockdown Stories: Marie Heinsen, Sagittarius

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      Our new series takes a look at how PA Life readers are coping with working during the lockdown. First up, we talk to Marie Heinsen, Executive Assistant to the co-founders and head of Sagittarius Agency Services…

      How long have you been working from home?
      My daughter finished school on Friday March 20th – that was my last morning in the office.

      Did you work remotely regularly before the lockdown?
      I have worked from home on and off for most of the last 18 years, in the early days it was an odd day here and there, usually to write a report or prepare for appraisals – that kind of thing.
      In my last role (a small events company), I worked from home occasionally as an events organiser and operations manager. After maternity leave I returned to the company as a Conference Producer and spent about eight months working three days from home and one from the office. I found this really hard and didn’t enjoy it at all – I experienced isolation and loneliness at this time.
      When I joined Sagittarius two and a half years ago, working from home was not common place but was an option for special occasions. This became five days per month allocation and this was gradually being relaxed. I used to work from one day most weeks but since the lockdown I’ve been home full-time

      Many people are finding it tough, feeling isolated and lonely. What are your top tips for staying motivated and positive?
      I understand lots of people are finding it tough. I think most people miss the interaction with people outside of their home, the office banter, the water cooler chat etc. I am always mindful that when I am at home, I am able to focus more clearly for longer periods without being interrupted, one of the benefits of working from home. My top tips would be:

      • Set a routine – get up and go to bed at the same times as you would if you were working in the office.
      • Use any commuting time to either spend with your family or on your own wellbeing (they may or may not be the same thing 😉 )
      • Work out when your most productive time of the day is (with the fewest interruptions likely). This may be really early in the morning or later in the day. And use that time to complete your most important piece of work. I’ve been doing an hour of ‘PJ working’ early in the morning most days – it’s my best time and it’s quiet before my daughter gets up. It becomes really focused as I know it is limited!
      • Set up a dedicated work space, and arrive in that space as you would your office desk – that is you arriving at work. At the end of the day, pack it away, shut the door, close your machine down, leave the space clear and ready for the next day. I’m lucky as we have an office space which I’ve taken over, but I still make sure I close my laptop at the end of each day. I would have to wait for my machine to boot up and turn on if I wanted to do any more work – it adds a barrier and I’m far less likely to do this.
      • Get away from your work – make sure you set boundaries between work and home. When you have finished for the day, close your laptop/computer down and put it away. Take a few minutes before returning to ‘home’ to empty your head of work things. Write a new ‘to do’ list, take a few deep breaths, have a shower – do something that helps to close work from your head

      Is your company doing anything to help?
      Yes, lots. We have a daily ‘all in company’ (AIC) stand-up at 9.15 each morning. We meet up online, there is a bit of chat before the business, usually an update from one of our CEOs (who I support), a round-up from our talent team as to who is / isn’t working that day, and then an update from the leaders in different parts of our business. The team also has the opportunity to highlight anything important that the wider team should be aware of. Our Friday AIC stand-up is extended and gives the opportunity for the team to share highlights from around the business.
      Our CEO provides a daily C-19 update – what has happened that day, his thoughts on the news and things the team should be thinking about – it is a daily message from him.

      All of our virtual meetings have a cameras-on policy – we get to see each other’s faces as if we are in the room (we do permit them to be turned off after the start of the call if anyone is having internet challenges – usually our team in Sri Lanka, as their internet isn’t always as strong or reliable)

      We have a Show & Tell four days per week – one or two people share something they are interested in. This can be work / business related or a hobby/interest. We’ve had sessions on ‘Innovations in the Workplace’, ‘What the kids think parents get up to at work’ (with pictures), Virtual Cooking Demo, How to Brew Beer, ‘Making Videos in PowerPoint’ and a Lunchtime Quiz among others. We also have virtual Friday beers and film nights using Netflix Watch Party.

      What are your top tips for coping with isolation and loneliness?
      Don’t get sucked in to social media scrolling and bragging. Do use it to have quality conversations with friends/colleagues. Set up a time with a friend when you can both make yourselves a cuppa/pour a glass of wine and have a video chat. Video is great as you can see each other – it’s not the same as being in the same room, but I think it is much better than a phone call when it’s easy to get distracted.

      If you are joining a meeting, if you can, be early – hopefully others will be early too, and you will get a bit of pre-meeting social.

      We have a number of group chats going with our neighbours, school parents, family and friends. I get a message most days from our neighbour asking if I need anything from the supermarket/shop etc – we practice safe distance delivery! If you haven’t got a group chat, start one – reach out – be brave and reach out – it’s okay not to be okay.

      Help others – whether it is going to the shop for a relative who has to isolate or giving your nan a call, they will feel better and you will have a warm glow too

      What do you think are the positives about working from home?
      I’m not tied to school runs – this is lovely. I can be at my desk and get set up for the day early (PJ hour) and then join our AIC whilst my daughter is doing Joe Wicks.

      No commute – nearly two hours back in my day. I’m using this to make sure I exercise most days. I’m mixing taking my daughter out either on her bike or for a walk and going for a run. I’m trying to alternate.

      Focused time – I can get through work quicker (a little pressure applied by a small child helps!).

      Being able to cook proper meals at the end of the day and eat together. Being able to eat lunch as a family. Working a ‘PJ hour’ means I can take a bit more time at lunchtime.

      How are you juggling home schooling/child care whilst working?
      Hmmm, this is definitely more challenging! I’m lucky for several reasons. I have a five year-old who loves to learn and is also fairly happy to play on her own, my partner has been put on furlough and my parents are isolating but can do tech. When my daughter finished school, myself and my partner were both working from home for the first week. I set up a daily two-hour video call with my parents each morning on Messenger – their brief is to read with her, do some numbers, do some words/phonics/writing. My daughter’s school provided a home pack and uploaded some suggestions for activities each day and they use these too. Twinkl has been amazing for activity sheets and numbers, and we had a load of activity books which were given to us. This gives my partner time to get on with some DIY jobs and feels he is achieving things – and supports his wellbeing.

      The two-hour virtual babysitting/schooling is working a treat! It also gives my parents something to do each day, time with their grand daughter and a focus/reason to get started each day – I’m confident it is good for their mental health too

      We all stop together for lunch and I’ll make sure to spend time with my daughter. We may use this time to play a silly game in the garden or have a little walk or just chat

      I go back to my desk in the afternoon. For the first week, I was using this time to work downstairs with my daughter and set her up with a Lego activity, painting, colouring sheets or let her play with her toys.

      I’m not stressing about the home-schooling but I do make sure my daughter reads each day – even if it is just at bedtime. This was part of our routine anyway. I encourage her to help with the dinner and we use this time to count, talk shapes, group things and learn kitchen skills. I’m not a teacher, I’m a parent, I can share my knowledge as a parent and provide guidance. All the children are in the same boat.

      What technology is providing invaluable to you during this time?
      Prior to lockdown as a team we were used to using Slack, G Suite and Teams. Since lockdown, these tools have all been great and we have added Zoom to support our bigger meetings. We have purchased a single licence for Zoom to support specifically with a couple of our regular weekly meetings, as these involve a group of people and last longer than the 40 minutes allowed by a free account. For home, WhatsApp, Messenger, as well as Zoom, have all been great.

      If you would like to be featured in this series of articles and tell us about your lockdown experience, contact Lisa.Carter@mimrammedia.com.

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      Lisa Carter

      All stories by: Lisa Carter