We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Sally Killington, an experienced EA currently supporting the directors of a Development and Construction company in London. In our interview Sally discusses the challenges of working from home for an extended period for the first time, as well as the benefits offered by this new experience and the innovative ways in which she is keeping her team engaged and happy.
Hi, Sally. Could you tell us a bit about your current role?
“I work for a large development and construction company and am the Executive Assistant for the Directors of a project in East London. Interestingly, we have just loaned the land that we will be building our development on to the army to help with the Nightingale Hospital in East London.”
You’ve worked from home before, but not to the extent demanded by the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. How are you finding this experience compared with your previous remote working?
“It’s a very different experience. A day of remote working before was treated as a bit of a luxury. An extra hour in bed because of not having to commute, lunchtime at the gym, peace and quiet to get on with anything I needed to do without interruptions and time to do chores around the house during the day, put a wash on or what have you.”
“This time - apart from the obvious not being able to go to the gym - it has completely changed. I take a lot more calls during the day, I don’t think I spoke to my team this much when we were actually in the office! I have to be more flexible with my working hours now to accommodate those that are having to home school their children etc. I find I now get more interruptions than ever as the volume of meetings has increased dramatically.”
What challenges have you faced transitioning from an office based EA position to a remote one with little to no preparation time?
“I’ve actually been quite lucky as I work for a company that is very focused on employee wellbeing. Back in December, I was permitted to purchase a mobile monitor to leave at home for the days I did work remotely as I struggled with only one small laptop screen. We were also told to work from home from 13th March, 10 days before the lockdown, so that weekend I had been in the loft and got an old table down that I set up in my living room as a make shift desk.”
“It’s been tough as my ‘desk’ is not the most comfortable and I have to have cushions on the chair so that I can type properly. I’ve found myself getting back ache quite a bit. I’m also facing a wall due to lack of space so that isn’t particularly fun either.”
“At first, we had a few technical issues. Our servers were not used to such a vast number of people accessing it remotely so that became a little frustrating at times, but that has improved over the last few weeks.”
“The biggest issue for me has been that I am definitely a people person and never particularly wanted to work from home more than once in a while. I live alone so the lack of human interaction became very apparent, very quickly.”
How have you been making sure you stay motivated and productive while working from home?
“I have forced myself to get in to a routine. I get up at the same time every day, I shower and dress (albeit mostly in clothes that feature a lot of elastic) and I make sure that I’m sat at my desk for 9am like I would be on a normal day. I try to go to bed at the same time at night during the week to ensure I have a pattern.”
“I have the radio on all day in the background as the music makes the house feel less empty and I never turn the TV on until I have finished for the day.”
“I try to take a lunch break every day to give myself some time away from the screens and at the end of each day, I write myself a list of jobs for the next day. On my list, I always include one personal thing. It might be to paint my nails or run the vacuum round or something, just to remind myself that I wouldn’t be able to do these things in a normal week and my current position is a privilege.”
Has your role changed at all since you’ve started working from home? Have you taken on any new responsibilities?
“As I mentioned before, the volume of meetings that demand my presence has increased dramatically which does impact on my day. And all the video calls! I would have been horrified if my team Facetimed me before, but that has rapidly become the norm for us.”
“I became a Mental Health First Aider for my company a few months ago and I do find that there are a lot more ‘chats’ happening now due to the current situation.”
Good, healthy relationships with bosses and co-workers are important for the happiness and success of PAs, EAs and other support professionals. How have you been maintaining communication and relationships with your colleagues?
“Part of my role before this was always to look after my team’s wellbeing. I spent a fair bit of time getting us together for team building and social events and as a result, we have good, strong relationships with each other. This situation has just meant that I’ve had to be a little more creative with how I go about it.”
“Twice weekly, we have a half an hour morning ‘sanity check’ call where we can bring up questions we want to ask the team that are work related or personal. I always try to throw something positive into those conversations, a nice happy little fact to give everyone a bit of a smile.”
“At the beginning of this, I spent an entire day scouring the internet and social media for ideas for people with children and came up with 4 pages of ideas and links as I was fully aware how challenging this would be for them. It’s a live document and I add to it every time I come across another idea.”
“We play a game that I came up with called ‘Whose House’. I choose a part of a typical house every week and ask the team to send me a photo. We’ve done front doors, inside of fridges and art so far. I then pull them together in a PDF and send back to the team for them to guess whose is whose. On Friday afternoons, we have a ‘Beer O’clock’ Microsoft Teams call where we all grab a drink, and I share the answers with them. The winner gets an Easter egg from Amazon.”
“I’ve shared my ideas with some of the other EAs and they are now doing the same with things with their teams which they say they’re really enjoying.”
“I’m also having a weekly ‘coffee’ with the other EAs in my department where we can share ideas or just sound off a bit.”
What have you enjoyed most about working from home so far?
“Lie ins! It’s so nice to get up a little later, even if it is just an hour. And cooking; I love being able to cook my lunch from scratch instead of just grabbing a sandwich. Also, I quite like not having to wear shoes…”
Do you have any final advice, tips or comments that you’d like to share with the rest of the PAs, EAs and support professionals in the SecsintheCity community?
“I agree with what most people say about sticking to a routine. I think it’s important to do that during the week, to make sure you don’t sit around in your pyjamas all day. But I also think it’s important to give yourself a treat now and then. This isn’t a normal situation so you aren’t expected to have a normal reaction. If you want to answer a few emails from bed for the first hour of your day every now and then, do it. If you want to turn the camera off on your laptop for a bit and do an entire meeting wearing a face mask, go nuts. If you want to eat chocolate biscuits for lunch one day for a bit of comfort, knock yourself out! Try to make this feel a little more like a treat than a punishment every now and again, your mental health will thank you for it. Just don’t do it every day.”
“And keep talking to your colleagues daily. Speak to them as much as you can, try and stay a part of your team.”
“Take time off! Don’t work until 8pm just because your ‘office’ is there and don’t work weekends unless you absolutely have to. Take your personal time, it’s really important to give yourself time to recharge.”