With today marking the one year anniversary of the UK going into lockdown, many are looking back and reflecting on one of the strangest years in our time. I can remember this time last year and we had already been working from home for a short while to avoid infection. We thought the lockdown would only be for a few weeks and then we thought it would be for just a couple of months, we had no idea then that we would be in lockdown for the third time a year later.
But what a year it has been. Everyone I know has faced challenges in lockdown but many have had wonderful experiences too. I asked some colleagues for their experiences of the year and was amazed at what I learned.
Life on pause
I have heard many people say that life has been on pause over the last year, but speaking to colleagues, that has not been the case at all. Love has blossomed, families have grown and people have made huge life decisions. When asked if their situation had changed over the past year, a colleague told me they had had a baby in the middle of the first lockdown, one colleague changed their name and gender, and another squeezed in a civil partnership ceremony in the brief window that we were allowed.
Despite the challenges of lockdown, lots of people moved home during the year. One colleague moved north after 27 years in London, others moved to homes with more space. One colleague, Laura, had been saving to buy for some time, with the aim of doing so before the end of the Stamp Duty holiday. She says “Initially the lockdown was a blessing in disguise for this as it meant I could save more, but for many reasons I still didn’t get to fulfil my homeownership dream. Instead, at the start of this year my partner and I moved into a lovely apartment together renting – and it’s a far nicer place than I’d have ever been able to afford to buy, especially alone! Having space to roam rather than being confined to respective bedrooms, and having separate rooms in which to work and shut the door when on calls/meetings has been great.”
All of my colleagues with children have said they loved having more time with their children in lockdown. They also said that having more time with their children was one of the main challenges of the past year!
My colleague Simone, commented: “I have two kids (15 and 11), two cats, one dog and just the one husband! I suddenly found I had to share my working space at home with the kids and my husband. Some days, there were three of us sat around the kitchen table, trying to make calls or attend virtual meetings, and that was really tough. I had always found that working from home was really productive for me as it was quiet and I could work undisturbed. However, that changed when all four of us were competing for workspace.” She also adds, “Having time with my kids has been lovely and there have been some lovely moments with them. When my daughter was home, she would walk with me every day before her schoolwork started and it was such a wonderful way to begin the day.”
Sara was on maternity at the start of lockdown and comments: “The first lockdown during maternity wasn’t easy and wasn’t the maternity leave I was expecting but there were many pluses being with my little ones. I would have never spent so much time with my little girl, and it was so beautiful to see her talk more, become more confident and do lots of fun activities together. As for my son, it’s a shame we didn’t get a chance to go to play groups and do all the usual activities you would do over maternity leave, but we were lucky to spend lots of time together as a family and lots of time with his big sister.”
I can remember hearing so many reports a year ago that all the people living alone were going to go mad in lockdown. As someone who has lived alone for several years, I did worry about how my own mental health would fare and whether I should move in with family or face it alone. In the end, I decided I would be saner staying in my own space than leaving London and to live with oddball relations. Instead, I have had more visits from my brothers who come to London for work than I have ever had. We all got Zoom, and in the first lockdown we started having family quizzes twice a week and I saw more of my family then than I would normally.
Speaking to colleagues, the highs and lows of solo living in lockdown have been felt by all.
Perry comments “The first phase over the spring/early summer of last year was ok – it was novel, it was sunny and warm, we could sit in the park and meet friends for drinks after work. This time round, none of that has been possible plus we knew the virus was more contagious so there’s been less rule breaking (i.e. no having people round for drinks).”
Jo adds “Living on my own and not being able to see my friends and family like I would normally has certainly taken its toll. I can’t wait for things to ease up soon!”
One of the best things to come out of the past year has been more engagement with the local community. Many of my colleagues have been helping isolated neighbours and family throughout lockdown. Gina says: “We’ve created themed window trails, a street what’s app group we regularly reach out. Being able to help vulnerable neighbours who live by themselves and who have been shielding all this time. I’m lucky enough to have a support bubble which has been a lifeline.”
Likewise, others have got to know neighbours and have stepped in to help pickup food, clear gardens and help with chores throughout the year. All things which they may not have had the opportunity to so if it wasn’t for lockdown.
Commuting vs colleagues
Everyone I asked said they loved not having to commute and valued having this time back, however we all miss seeing our colleagues. One colleague said: “I didn’t realise how much of a drain I found the commute and how it affected my health (germs on the tube anyone?). Also working in my own home surrounded by daylight and birdsong and eating whatever I wanted from the fridge (and having kitchen chats with my partner) was/is really nice.”
Will adds “I’ve saved about 16 hours a week (and several thousand pounds a year) commuting. I’ve been able to spend that extra time with my family and looking after myself. Even though I generally love working from home, there are some things that it’s much easier and better to do face-to-face (creative brainstorms, team bonding, difficult conversations etc). Not being able to go for a coffee or a beer with a colleague or a friend is annoying and I look forward to being able to do that again.”
Despite not being able to see each other in the office, in many ways being able to connect virtually with colleagues and clients in their homes has brought people closer together. Nina comments: “It has amazed me how easily we were able to just seamlessly work from home and set up our systems so that it all worked – it wasn’t a nightmare at all. I think we’ve also all got quite close as we’ve had lenses into people’s homes and their private lives which has brought us much closer. People are more open with whatever issues they are having as a result which can only be a good thing.”
Room with a view
The boom in video calls has been wonderful for helping people and businesses stay connected during lockdown. It has not been without its challenges though, Henry told me “At the start of lockdown, my brother was on conference call and ran to get something while on the call, which gave away the fact he was wearing his boxer shorts with his shirt and tie…”
Beth said one of her funniest moments while working from home was “My client asking if I was hosting my meeting from the bathroom. I wasn’t! But somehow the backdrop made it look that way!” Will also adds “My 3 year-old walked naked into the room where I was working when I was on a Zoom call…”
Life has changed dramatically during this past year and while we can’t wait to see our family, friends and colleagues in real life again, it has been a pivotal time for reflection and change. Ana says: “I had time to reorder my thoughts and set priorities, realising what really matters.”
Likewise, Caeden said: “On the whole I have been occupying myself with positive things; completing The Artist Way – a book which encouraged you to be creative and overcome creative blocks. It has helped me to address evolving emotions. I had a lot of realisations and lockdown has given me the time to sit and think and not be too distracted by the world.”
Some other great things to come out of lockdown:
Adam says: “To keep in touch, my friends and I have been gaming together online for the first time since we were about 16 which has been really fun. Enabled us to catch-up without having to schedule Zoom calls and quizzes.”
Jess: “The long walks and extra time for exercise. I’ve spent more time in country parks this past year than in my whole life before! It’s also made me appreciate how amazing my loved ones (including my team at work) are at making an effort and keeping each other sane through all of this. I’m really lucky!”
Alina: “Cooking – I’ve discovered a passion for it and have learnt to make quite a few new things over the past year.”
Laura says: “Taking up paddle-boarding and peloton riding.”
When asked which new habits they will take forward:
Beth said:” Good hand hygiene! Regular Zoom catch ups with family who I usually wouldn’t see in person for a long time anyway due to living far away. I most definitely speak with my family now more than I did when life was speeding by at a hundred miles an hour!”
Clo: “The flexibility of working from home – but I really miss office life so it will be about having the right balance.”
Gina: “Enjoying the simple pleasures a lot more.”
Nina: “Walking 10k steps a day.”
Sara: “Cooking and baking – I’ll continue making challah, pizzas, new cakes and biscuits.”
Emily: “More home cooking and more exercise I hope!”
These conversations have shown me that the last year has been challenging for all in different ways but it has also brought unexpected blessings. Life on the other side of lockdown will be very different and hopefully a little better than it was before. I have noticed that many colleagues have said they plan to continue with baking and cooking after lockdown, which is wonderful – I am so looking forward to seeing them and to sharing our home-made goodies on the other side!