Back in January 2020 I started my new role as a Deputy Senior Information Security Officer (yes, I agree deputy senior seems a bit contradictory - it's complicated) and in February 2020, before the pandemic really hit, I blogged on my reflections on working from home. I then blogged about working from home after three weeks of lockdown and I've been working from home pretty much ever since. Totalling it up, I think I've spent about six days in the office since March 2020 and in this blog post I'm going to cover my thoughts as things stand now.
Starting with the commute, I obviously am still saving time there albeit only about thirty minutes. As I've mentioned before, my commute was done by bike (not practical now as I'd have to cycle up the stairs) unless I had a meeting to go to. With meetings now being done online I save commute time to the more remote offices. My commute time is now around about thirty seconds - the time to get from ground floor to second floor (assuming I'm not running).
I've read comments before that when people start to work from home, they end up working extra hours because their brain is in "work mode" as soon as they would leave for their commute. Potentially for some people their employer would be gaining two unpaid hours a day, if not more. I've managed to keep my time balanced so I'm not donating hours to my employer. Additionally, because I work flexitime (lovely!) it doesn't matter if I start slightly late following a pre-work walk.
The only area I sometimes wonder about is tea breaks, as sometimes these get merged with sorting out the washing or putting away the washing up. I considered how tea breaks in the office would work. Generally I'd have made tea at the same time as a colleage and friend, potentially taking twenty minutes as we discuss work or catch up . On balance that seems to work out correctly without disadvantaging either party.
Work / life balance
I've managed to keep a good work / life balance for the most part, aided by a reasonable work / life separation. There's no work data or apps on my personal mobile phone (I'm fortunate to have a work mobile), don't use my personal laptop for work purposes, and work in a separate room to "normal life". Working from the home office (little h, little o) in my loft is helpful as, for the most part, I don't use the room for much else. I'm pleased to say I have largely compartmentalised work which was my concern.
What I have noticed though is that as a result of being in the house all day I use my computers (not phone) less in the evenings. That's partly because my family haven't been going out (pandemic) and partly because "it's more of the same". You'll have noticed that's had an impact on blogging.
My working space has changed a lot since March 2020 when I was working in the study with my wife. Initially I moved from the sutdy to the loft, so the two of us could actually work at the same time, and built a desk out of an old worktop offcut and four legs costing £15 total. I added a monitor and laptop stand (~£35) to put things at the right height and, besides wobbling, my desk was largely complete.
Recently I bought a sit / stand desk in order to help with my back and I'll write a review of that in due course (so far I'm impressed). My intention is to change the desk top out again for a bigger piece of worktop.
A definite advantage to having a dedicated work space is that I can listen to whatever music or podcasts I want in the background without having to use headphones 😀️.
Social contact is something that I was very concerned about missing out on while working from home, and I still have that concern. Fortunately though technology has afforded us the video call which, while not the same, has allowed me to stay in touch with people and not feel completely isolated. Sometimes I and colleagues will just start a video call to have each other in the background, much as you would in the office, which has also been good.
A benefit of not seeing people is that sometimes it's easier to concentrate, essentially only having colleague based distractions "on demand". That's also a drawback though because you don't overhear the incidental conversations (in the past, overhearing one staved off a ransomware attack). You also don't get to hear what other people are working on, and I really struggle with that. To me being told "everyone is busy" is a problem when you're not seeing any work output and no-one seems to know what people are doing.
Obviously with the workforce distributed to their homes, employers across the world are saving money in terms of office accomodation. Of the three councils I work for, at least two are trying to move out of their buildings and downsizing so there's a clear incentive for them.
Naturally costs saved by my employers have to be paid somewhere so are being picked up by me. Fortunately I'm able to claim the costs back in expenses (£6 per week) which, as discussed previously, should be ample. Furniture costs are not covered by my employer though, so across the staff body people have had to source their own desks and chairs. To my mind that's a bit rude given the offices are full of desks and chairs that are no longer being used. Staff should have been given the option of taking those home, especially given the chairs should be of a decent quality designed to meet the needs of staff sitting down all day. In my case the head of ICT has said it's fine to take a second monitor and my chair home, but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
I mentioned the purchase of my standing desk which set me back over £200 (it was on offer). I wouldn't have expected my employer to pay that and I consider it an investment - assuming it lasts ten years that's only £20 per year and if it helps my back that's a valid trade.
There is a physical impact to working from home, and that's certainly annoying me. I miss riding my bike to the office and rarely get the bike out except for rides to church or the occasional social outing. A friend and I were meeting for social rides but that's fallen by the wayside a bit recently.
Clearly I can't do no physical exercise so I've been walking most days since fairly early on in the pandemic. That's continued and seems to be my main exercise for the moment. Remember: exercise is good for mental health.
What happens when I do go into the office?
Having not seen some colleagues in a while there's a lot of chatter that goes on. Sometimes that's professional conversation ("how do you do this?") but other times purely social. As with tea breaks it's all about balance.
Despite saying on the work survey that I wanted to be a hybrid worker, splitting my time between home and the office, I think that's going to be decreasingly possible. My local office will be changing to have fewer desks and my next logical office is hot desking only. I really dislike hot desking - keyboards should very rarely be shared in my opinion. I don't doubt that I'll be primarily home based and, if I went to change jobs, I would be looking to see what roles were available that allowed home working.
It seems home working has become "the norm", and I didn't expect that.
Banner image: "Home working" (modified) by rg1024 on OpenClipart.org
 To be clear, that wasn't a regular occurence but sometimes appropriate for mental health reasons if nothing else.