I miss my wonderful colleagues

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Jude Girling is a Senior Administrator, supporting our emotional, spiritual and welfare services. Here she shares her experiences of working from home.

“Before lockdown, our counselling referrals for January and February had been very high

What with that and two new managers joining the team, things were quite hectic. We were way behind with contacting clients and volunteers, we were struggling to find appointments for people as we were so booked up, plus there weren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things we needed to do – we were working harder and harder then lockdown came.

On the day that we were told the Counselling Team could no longer see clients face to face, for their safety, it was all hands on deck. 

Firstly, I contacted all volunteers to check who was happy to finish supporting their current clients by telephone. I decided the quickest and easiest method would be a text, with the volunteer replying with a simple yes or no.

For those who answered yes, I co-ordinated the calls to the clients. Between myself, the counsellors, the Counselling Lead, and Jackie Blackman and Lisa Rainier who also kindly pitched in to help with phone calls, we contacted around 80 clients over two days and made sure our numerous volunteers had the contact details they would need.

Around 50% of people at that time chose to wait until they could see someone face to face again – I think, like me, most people didn’t think lockdown would last longer than six weeks or so.

Everyone worked from a photocopied spreadsheet (the quickest way at the time), but they all gave me updates for one central copy. I had names, and different colour highlighters merging into one by the end of the process!

Whilst my manager was keen I went home as soon as possible, I knew that this task had to be done whilst still in the office to make it as efficient and smooth as possible.

So I finally got home at about 3pm on Tuesday 17 March and have been working from home ever since. That first afternoon I logged on and dealt with some emails and began logging on Crosscare some of the calls we’d made.

On my first full day at home, I managed to eventually log in. At that time, there weren’t quite enough licences and it was a bit hit and miss. I then seemed be kicked out of the system. After about 20 minutes of trying again, I looked at my router and realised that I actually had no internet connection at home and it wasn’t something I’d failed to do correctly! Another 30 minutes later, after trying to find my login details for my internet provider, only to realise I’d changed my password some time ago and couldn’t remember it, I called them and ended up going through to a recorded message, that told me they were doing some essential works in my area and the internet would be down until 3pm. Not great on your first day of working from home! Eventually, after conversations with IT, I managed to work off the office mobile hotspot.

I’m pleased to say that things did improve after that first day

My only experience of working from home before that was about 12 years ago during heavy snow and things were very different back then. Our IT was painfully slow and much less user friendly, so I’m grateful that IT has developed since then!

After about three weeks working from home, I regretted not having spent more money on our very basic dining room table and chairs. The chairs aren’t designed to be sat on for many hours a day and I was becoming stiff and achy. I also struggled typing on my home laptop. As a touch typist, I’ve never been as fast at typing on one, plus despite having two (old) laptops I was finding things a struggle. One laptop developed a pixellation problem with the screen every time the laptop locked, and the other has a dodgy keyboard, so this was a real, big frustration and meant I was logging off and on to our system about six – eight times a day at one point. Thankfully, these things were easily rectified and I had my office chair delivered to me at home, as well as my keyboard and mouse. When one became available, I was also lent an office laptop which is far quicker and better for the job.

The emergency admin hub has been a real lifeline for me

It saves the stress of trying to get my home printer to print straight, or suddenly realising I’ve run out of ink. It’s been easy to use and those working in the hub are efficient and communicate well, so I know that what I send over will get done.

Over time, working from home has become more normal and I can hardly remember what an ‘office’ day feels like

Referrals have picked up again and we’re still very busy, but this time incorporating cover for furloughed colleagues, revised ways of working, and regular emails, telephone and video calls to liaise with colleagues, instead of just turning my head to Julie on my left, or going into the next office to speak to a counsellor.

Fortunately, our team of volunteers have been able to continue with their work by telephone, and so I’m in regular contact with many of them, which helps and more importantly, makes sure that patients and their families can still access our services, albeit in a different way.

However, for me, I miss the contact with my wonderful colleagues far more than I ever thought I would

When you’re spending most of the day dealing with people who are upset or reading things that are very sad, I’ve realised that the ‘office banter’ is what keeps me going, and of course, that is now missing, as are the hugs and support sometimes needed after a difficult call. So I’ve hit the biscuit tin or sung along to the radio at the top of my voice instead….. apologies to the neighbours and to my waistline..!”