By unfortunate coincidence, I started self-isolating on the day I started a partial secondment at Defra, working on their coronavirus response.
I’m normally quite fit and healthy. I cycle most places, I have two gym memberships and I eat well. I tend to survive winter without having a cold or a cough. So it was a bit of a surprise when I started developing a sore throat and earache on Monday evening, which soon turned into a dry, chesty cough.
I followed the government’s advice and self-isolated immediately. I contacted my significant other, who I’d seen that afternoon, to let him know. I sent messages to my friends that I’d seen over the weekend. I’d been in the office too, so I alerted my line manager via WhatsApp that evening, telling her who I had been in close contact with over the last few working days.
Once I had got all the practicalities out of the way, it started to hit me that I would not be able to leave the house for seven days. I haven’t been stockpiling food as I tend to have things delivered, like milk from the milkman and organic vegetable boxes from the local greengrocers. I just wish I had kept a small stash of chocolate!
I am well enough to work, and I do want to work, though I do get tired quite quickly. All of my meetings are now via Google Hangouts and Zoom, meaning I can take part as normal. Both of my teams have check-ins first thing in the morning, where we all share how we’re feeling. My managers also check in with me several times a day to make sure I’m still feeling okay.
I have had a couple of bad nights' sleep, due to coughing, and everyone has been flexible in moving meetings so that I can have a quick power nap, when needed. I work flexible hours anyway, but it was straight forward to agree to work an augmented working pattern that suits both of my teams.
I am conscious that I can cough a lot when I am on group calls, so I try to go on mute where I can. Sometimes, it has been easier to switch to instant messaging and text messages instead, and a colleague will read my comments out on my behalf. There are definitely ways to make things work so that I can still take part and feel included.
I love how both of my teams are taking the time to make sure that we still socialise with each other and replicate online the interactions we would normally have in the office. There have been several email chains where people have sent words of encouragement to one another, and I’m working with some colleagues to set up a virtual book club – meeting new people and sharing ideas doesn’t have to take place face to face.
When my illness is over and I feel better, I want to be able to pay a lot of the kindness I have received forward. Though it is unpleasant to be ill, I hope that I will be able to help those who have been so kind to me and others.
It’s times like this when I realise that we are more than just the sum of our parts.
For all those who are working from home there are, as Georgia shows, a variety of ways to keep in touch. And, as she says, this is good not just for keeping you in the loop with your teams, and enabling you to carry on working effectively if you can. It is vital for bolstering a sense of wellbeing and community, and sharing with colleagues, friends and family – by phone and a variety of apps – how you feel.
There’s no reason why self-isolation or working from home should mean being cut off, even if you can’t physically be in the same space with your others. And you will find a wealth of advice and information on your departmental intranets.