Covid and the hidden struggles of remote working

Originally posted July 2020, updated Oct 2020.

Covid has taken over the world, destroying families, businesses, economies and the very freedoms we simply were used to on a day to day basis, but it’s deeper than that, it’s personal, the changes we have had to make to protect ourselves have also isolated us, driven many apart and uncovered many mental health issues some of us did not know we had or had never experienced before.

This article is my personal story of working remotely, life in lockdown and the very real and unexpected struggles I personally encountered that caught me out.

Working from home is easy

Anyone who’s never worked from home

I’ve been working remotely (from home) now for near on 8 years or so and I think I’m in quite a sweet spot when it comes to handling my day, being productive and separating my work/life balance with the shut of a door.

That said, the myth that “oh it must be so good and easy working from home” is nothing short of not true. Distractions are a real issue, thinking about home things while working is also a constant struggle, add kids of dogs into that and there is another whole level of things going on around you that ruin any sort of clear cut working time.

The Covid situation blew this wide open also, with everyone being homebound there was now family members never previously there all day, “Hey Rob, just quickly” becomes another part of the day.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all gloom and doom, in fact, it has many pro’s, the point is that with Covid, my normal distractions increased of which required re-learning to stay focused and driven.

Time to relax?

This was the big issue point for me personally, my life had typically been built around the work at home and go out in the evenings to visit family, friends, enjoy a beer, go explore, walk the dogs. It was a perfect balance, however, with Covid in the mix, that getting out was wiped away, it was home all day for work and home all day for life/relaxing.

This is where I felt conflicted, slightly broken and ultimately on reflection felt like tiny layers of stress started to build on my shoulders without noticing. Many people see finishing in the office and going home as the switch-off point to relax, that trigger never fired with me.

Time off, a much-needed break

Due to Covid, my wedding was canceled, a year of planning, working with suppliers, picking a venue was over with, but one thing remained which was my booked PTO from work, I had a glorious few weeks off to de-stress, relax, enjoy life, etc.

Yeah that’ didn’t turn out to happen. Oddly the opposite, I quickly realized that working had given me structure to my days, getting up at 6:30am everyday, getting ready, working had become the backbone to my day and life.

The odd feeling was that I was lost with what to do with myself, I was less motivated, the shops at this point was still closed except food shopping, pubs/bars still shut and any attractions was a no go. Really our only option was to walk (which isn’t a bad thing) but wasn’t the break I’d felt like I needed.

The further into the time off the further it felt like the cracks started to show, I was getting stressed out for different reasons, boredom? same old same old? little things were becoming more triggering I realised I needed to talk it out.

Understanding how to turn things around

The talks that Sian and I had along with talking to friends and family were massively constructive, I got to understand life from a different perspective, and explain mine. It allowed me to pinpoint some of these areas where I felt friction with the lifestyle of remote working & lockdown, talking out the things that I took for granted previously and how I can start to introduce new ways to relax or move forward to break that stuck feeling.

3 Months Forward

Here we are now in October and I can say things are much better, being completely open with work, my partner and family really allowed for small change to drive positive movement. I cut out negative aspects of life and focused on what made us happy.

We have since moved house, still loving the beautiful Lake District and Pennine views and this has such a positive shift on mindset it’s unreal. We even bought a new car and got a puppy.

All in all, we have come to live with Covid, even with the current up/down situations, we know it’s here to stay for a while at least so we changed direction and focused on what we could do, what we could change to better enrich our lives.

The Future

I hope to update this quarterly or at least 12 months on from the original post as it’s fascinating to read back a mindset, thoughts and struggles we face and overcome.

We plan to buy our first house in 2021 and that’s super exciting, finally get married hopefully also!

So let’s see what the future brings, but be sure of one thing. It may not all be sweet roses, the difference is what you make from it, the reflection you make on your life and the changes you are in control of to better that even in an out of control environment.

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Rob James, Technical Lead - WPEngine