In the week when The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and University College London (UCL) released research suggesting that women appear to be doing most of the housework and childcare during lockdown, I was delighted to be asked to provide a Guest Blog for The PA Club which captures the essence of a working day during lockdown.
By Chris Hare | Hare We Are
As a VA I’m used to working remotely most of the time, but on some days before lockdown, I would work from my client’s office. I miss the ritual of picking up my Starbucks, and the excitement of turning up to my client’s big shiny office in central London with that ‘proper’ coffee, but I don’t miss the commute.
In my new set up, it’s a very different dynamic as I am sharing my home with my husband who is on furlough, and two primary school aged children who are home schooling.
For me, the biggest shift in my working week is my own personal deadlines throughout my calendar. The week is now peppered with a diverse assortment of training and webinars leading to an extremely busy agenda.
This is a glimpse into how my typical day working in lockdown looks:
8:30: It’s not the earliest of starts but I don’t have far to commute!
9:00: If it’s a nice morning, I’ll go for a walk around the block to make sure I actually do get out for some exercise. Studies have found people who walk to work are less stressed. On wfh days before lockdown, I used to routinely walk around the block before starting my day’s work. Some of my ‘aha’ moments have been whilst out walking. For me, it stimulates the brain cells and provides a change of scenery for inspiration – I might see an idea or spot something in a shop window and think how that concept could translate to the VA business.
If I don’t go out, I’ll spend the next 30 minutes rushing round like a mad thing putting on a washing load, unloading the dishwasher or tidying up the sitting room from the carnage of the previous evening.
9:30: Ah, now I can go down to the basement for my sanctuary of calm to start work. It’s a bit dark but lovely and cool down here and the acoustics lend themselves to an essential quiet space away from the rest of the family. This is a change for me as before lockdown I was working on the ground floor in a bright airy room, with lots of windows.
I start up my computer and while logging on, I return up to the bright kitchen to make breakfast and much needed coffee – erratic lockdown sleep patterns!
The first task is email triage. It’s so satisfying when you have tackled the inbox and you know exactly what’s prioritised. I like to start with ‘low hanging fruit’ and then focus on items requiring more thought and time.
10:00: Homeschooling commences or at least I hope that’s what it is as I can hear lots of movement above my head – luckily my husband has taken on the role of ‘teacher’ so I can concentrate on business.
Lockdown is an amazing time to increase your learning and improve self-development. The PA Club has been an incredible source of advice and training during lockdown. I would definitely recommend in particular, their career webinars partnered with City CV.
The first virtual training today is Excel – useful tips and functions for my daily work including ‘Slicers’ in lists and more about charts.
10:30: Time for a virtual coffee with a colleague as part of a coffee series. Although this is nice initiative to get to know the team, I feel slightly Zoomed-out! Is that even a word? But things have calmed down a bit now on that front since the beginning of lockdown.
11:00: It was Mental Health Awareness Week and I’ve joined a Wellbeing and Resilience webinar which runs in the background like a podcast as I have to get on with organising the diaries. I manage two diaries as well as my own (mine is still busy due to all these virtual trainings and the children’s online classes).
Both my leaders have back-to-back meetings every day and there is no let up during Covid – more meetings to schedule as the business pivots and shifts its priorities in order to support its customers during this financial situation. One leader requires her entire diary adjusted week by week as she’s now working around childcare. Most of my time is spent arranging new or rescheduling meetings with the necessary WebEx set up.
The webinar has reminded me how it’s important to look after ourselves and keep topped up so we can offer our best version to both our family and clients. Another recent topic was how to optimise sleep – a key takeaway was regulating the amount of news exposure to limit our anxiety and stress levels.
Upstairs my youngest daughter is having her Zoom singing lesson with the headmistress’s daughter, a professional opera singer. She’s belting out Phantom of the Opera! It’s a pleasure I would not have had in normal circumstances.
The next hour is spent tackling the inbox, mostly diary requests requiring observation of different time zones. Just for fun, there is one thrown in for Phoenix, London and Singapore. I find the Time and Date app helpful for this.
I return to the kitchen for some water and can hear the sound of IM’s coming through, so can’t hang about and rush back to my desk to see what’s happening. It’s another EA needing some advice on how to upload invoices to Stream.
12:00: It’s that time to up the ante in the run up to lunchtime – I need to give it that extra push to get as much done as I can in the next 30 minutes. Overnight I received a presentation for formatting so I should be able to complete this before lunch.
12:30: We all come together in the middle of the day for lunch around the dining table. It’s a bonus to have the time with the family discussing this morning’s highlights.
13:00: After lunch, one of my leaders emails asking me to check the team payroll as there’s been an issue with cost centres. I was not expecting this to hit my inbox but as an EA it’s necessary to be agile. To get this corrected I drop my original plan which was to start the expenses.
14:00: The next appointment is our virtual Global Town Hall from the CEO & Chairman. During this I update the Org chart, although there hasn’t been any movement in the team – so pleased no-one has been furloughed. Next, I compile the team ‘thank you’ PowerPoint slide and update the rewards spreadsheet ready for the team meeting next week.
All staff are working remotely - this has thrown up inevitable IT issues which need resolving. There is only so much I can do to help but I know the correct procedures for connecting with the Tech helpdesk at least! I am also experiencing the frustrations of slow internet and bombing-out several times a day as there are multiple devices being used in the house.
15:00: It’s time to wrap up for the day for my current client. Now I can turn my attention to my other VA work whether it’s responding to other clients, catching up on social media or my own admin. Apps are invaluable to me and I refer to Microsoft One Note and Slack for keeping track of day to day tasks and projects. Anything that cuts workload is a good thing. Integrating apps can save time for you and your fee-paying clients.
16:00: It’s time for tea and biscuits on the balcony with one of my children. It’s an excuse to try out one of my client’s specialty teas which I have just received; Turmeric Chai makes a lovey change to Peppermint. I feel very lucky to be sitting in the sunshine looking down on our courtyard garden that is now looking amazing. Due to lockdown and the great weather, we’ve managed to get out there and get things tidied up ready for the Summer. It’s never looked this good so early in the year!
16:30: I squeeze in a piano lesson for one of the girls. This can be hard and can feel like an uphill struggle, as is often the case when trying teach your children a skill!
17:00: The weather is still lovely and I walk to buy ingredients for our weekly country themed Sunday lunch. This week we are going Greek so homemade Moussaka is on the menu and Baklava.
At the end of the day: We try to make Friday evenings particularly special. It’s a point in the week that as family we really look forward to. Routines are still important during lockdown - we have a night off from our usual evening walk which typically involves a brisk walk up to Richmond Park.
18:00: It’s time for the weekly Zoom school quiz so I round up the family and we have 40 minutes of uninterrupted head scratching and enjoying the sight of a sea of familiar faces. After the quiz the children love to help prepare our snacks for the next appointment of the evening.
19:00: It’s a trip to the theatre, or rather back down to the basement (my office) to our screening room for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘The Show Must Go On’. Each week you can watch the live stream of a musical production on YouTube. Our favourite so far has been Phantom, hence why my daughter is learning this with her singing tutor. Hummus, crisps and plenty of wine is always a feature; followed by bowl food – slow cook beef and rice. The slow cooker has been on all day with the smell gradually filling the house.
The week is marked by those regular events that come around – before I know it, we’ll be at the virtual theatre again!
Lockdown has been an opportunity for us all to learn some new skills and boost mental wellbeing; whether it’s baking, learning a new language, starting a blog or arts and crafts. For some of us it’s just nice to finish things we started several years ago!!