Day in the life of Sarah Howarth, Head of Content & Design; a lockdown special
Sarah, Head of Content & Design (and working-parent), hopes for better decision-making in a post-Corona world
I’m told we’ve passed 100 days of lockdown, a third of the year. I can’t say it feels like that, but perhaps that’s because we’re now coming out the other side – things are being booked in the diary, I’ve had a hug with my brother (social-bubble-legal), and kids are enjoying a few hours of school. These extra allowances each week give some hope and help the weeks pass.
Thinking back a few months to a Tuesday in March, it was a week like any other. I’m a part-time working mum and normality is juggling kids in nursery, school, a long commute, a job I’ve chosen to juggle it all for, a house to keep upright, food to get to the table, and friends and family to share it all with.
Then overnight, boom, all changed. The news headlines were the backdrop to our days as the pandemic unfolded and lockdown begun.
Those early few weeks when home, work and schooling collided were frantic and intense. Running low on nappies became a panic, my husband and I battled over whose meeting took precedence, constant calendar checks to see who was on childcare shift, we weren’t giving enough to the kids, to work, to the house or to each other. It took a while to get to a stage where it almost sometimes sort-of works.
But despite living though a pandemic, by all accounts it was perfect horror movie material, I was amazed at how human nature adapts – we turn the kettle on, clean the dishes and put the toys away. I didn’t see anyone screaming down the road, pulling out hair in a frenzy. Not on my street anyway..
We are in the camp who have it good. And many of us have had the opportunity to reflect on this and be thankful. Every day I appreciate our garden, a salary, children whose only needs are their family unit, and a company who listen. I hear about the struggles of those with teenage kids who were ready to fly and are now under lock and key, or who are in the midst of crucial educational phases, or those in upper flats working from their sofa with the kids at their feet, those given time slots in the day when they are allowed out, contractors with no work and no salary, people taking health risks to keep food on their tables, the list is endless. My family are the privileged through this. From a personal, family perspective this has been the biggest learning. Gratitude.
Professionally, the company IT team has done a sterling job of ensuring connectivity, and from where I’m sitting it really has been a seamless transition to remote working.
Sunrise Club was the first new regular team meeting to go in the diary and it sort of sums it up. Every day 6+ of us from Valencia, Utrecht, London, Cardiff, Surrey check in with each other. It started as a chance to discuss struggles and talk through personal COVID experiences. But the seat we’re literally in during the meeting brings an inevitable cultural conversation too; seeing homes, partners making coffee, sharing exercise and cooking ideas.
In the past few years, since cramming in children and a commute to my work day, I’ve found little time for small talk in the office and I’ve missed it. But the past few months has opened this up (albeit with half an eye on a small child digging for worms) and with a wider team that crosses borders.
Company meetings have switched up. Once in an auditorium in London every quarter, now online and weekly again brings its benefits, regularly hearing updates from colleagues on all corners of the world. Yes, I miss the drinks and post-meeting analysis, but this new setup doesn’t have to replace that, instead it can add to it.
Picking up the phone doesn’t seem an inconvenience any more – less emails are pinging around instead replaced with more ‘face-to-face’ time (of a virtual sort), in the knowledge that you won’t be interrupting meetings and that people will be at their desks. This goes for external meetings and internal, featuring cats, dogs and chickens, to name a few.
We’ve run online consultation events with record numbers of attendees, participated in industry webinars broadcast globally, done a 24-hour exercise challenge from every continent, continued to build solar farms and plan for new ones.
On the whole, our learnings have brought opportunity rather than hindrance and for my team at least, the set up is working so well I’d be surprised to see people back in a central office unless they really can’t avoid it. When we can share time and space at the pub there may be an incentive but until then..
In my working-mum capacity, the new balance is also positive; sharing my morning with the children and still at my desk before most, hours saved on travel, children enjoying evenings with us rather than childcare, and still time for a run through the beautiful countryside before dark. Don’t get me wrong, shift working with children brings new challenges I’d rather do without, but this will only improve as schools open for longer days.
I’m excited by this opportunity to switch up the working culture, a chance to fast-track a lifestyle change and #BuildBackBetter. I’ve been incredibly disappointed to learn of companies who are already planning for 100% back to office, business as usual, as soon as possible scenarios. This is also a chance to reconsider the bigger picture, our travel, shopping and other consumer-driven habits that we’ve managed without for months. We’ve proved that change is possible, and so I have my fingers firmly crossed that with choices available once again in the post-Corona world, we choose better.