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Unnatural habitats: working from home.

Inside the life of working from home for the kind of people who like to spend more time outside of it. The outdoor community have had a year of adapting and of changing, and not only in terms of getting a daily dose of adventure and fresh air without being strangled with red tape, but also in terms of our working lives. So much goes on behind screens and we are so much more than a name at the bottom of an email. We are all still out there; planning, yearning, coping. We reached out to this community, and asked: what does working from home feel like to you?

James, lecturer

As humans we are always planning whether we realise it or not, Without truly understanding the importance of our plans, hopes and dreams, each day, week, month I make plans for our future. Plans, for me which, mainly involve the outdoors, climbing, a bit more climbing, climbing trips with friends and family. The vacuous hole of time I now face each day is slowly eeking the energy not only from my body but also from my drive, my get up and go for aspiration chasing and general energy for life. I am a teacher. An engineering lecturer, a full on 9 to 5, on my feet all day, talking to students all day, coffee guzzling weekend warrior. The eternal lockdown has rendered my high speed life somewhat stalled and confused. I now sit seemingly endlessly everyday 8am until probably 9pm, uncomfortably at a kitchen table starring at Teams icons of students initials , cameras off, mics off. I know they are fed up too. but sitting on my arse all day feeling old injuries return due to the lack of movement and growing weary of answering endless emails from worried people regarding grades and missed lessons, is grinding my spirit down and changing my personality, my relationship and my purpose.

My entire understanding of who I am has been flipped and seemingly overnight I have become a polar opposite in character, I can no longer plan anything or do anything other than be a virtual comfort for a hundred students. Suddenly I have realised the importance of being able to make plans and carry them out. We are fulfilling dreams in our heads. You must feel it also?….the call of the wild!

Elizabeth, student

Student life from home, wild. Absolutely wild I tell you.
In one sense it is because I have swapped my (infrequent) nights out and (much more frequent) climbing trips to the peak with mates for solo walks/runs in the fells or chasing ice and snow to go wild swimming or winter climbing. I love these things; they are the main thing keeping me going at the moment. What I don’t love is the countless lectures, struggles with dissertation and “how on earth do I read a scientific paper” that I now do alone. Gone are the late nights in the library, commiserating with each
other over the state of our degrees, the informal catch ups with friends in lectures, the hastily grabbed lunch as you peg it to the next bit of useful information to stuff in your brain. The events, trips to the climbing wall, evenings at church and Uni talks where they give you free pizza that I used to cram into my hectic week feel like someone else’s memories now. I miss busy days, structure and independence. The support around you that inhabits all those small moments of human contact, that we can do this together, that we are all finding it hard but that everyone gets through vet school eventually, is sorely lacking at the moment. Instead, my computer screen stares wearily back at me, my dissertation process is slow, lectures no longer interactive and friends pixels on a screen.

But I have learnt some things. I’ve learnt that being outside fixes every black mood or lack of focus puddle I get myself into. I’ve learnt to seek out my friends and make time to call. I’ve learnt to value family time. I’ve realised how lucky I am to be living in the Lakes, having spent previous lockdowns in cities. I’m grateful that I have another 3 years of Uni left to enjoy and feel for all my friends graduating in this mess.
I worry about my lack of focus incessantly. I worry about my placements and whether I’ll be able to do them, I worry about the friends I haven’t seen in aeons, I worry about how online exams will be. I worry about a ‘missed Uni experience’. But I also hope. I hope for the stupid student antics to return, I hope for the vet teaching I have coming, I hope for the catch ups over tea, messing about at the climbing wall for hours and the late-night knocks on the door asking “whether you’ve made dinner yet” at 10pm. I hope for the opportunity to share my runs, swims and climbs with friends again, to fill a valley with the laughter of a group of mates. For now, I’ll be running the fells and freezing my toes off in lakes, reminding myself to be grateful for what I have, and cajoling myself into focus until Uni gets cracking again properly.

Sophie, wilderness guide

How does a wilderness guide work from home?
When the pandemic madness was starting to happen I was up working in the arctic. I just about managed to finish my trips before getting a flight back to the UK. Normally I spend a few months back in the UK between guiding jobs so a permanent place never made much sense. I had a camper van, some lovely parents and lots of willing friends. With all the pandemic chaos I found myself moving in with my boyfriend who was working a short term job in the centre of Manchester. I’d gone from endless Finnish wilderness to a city centre. 
With Manchester being one of the areas with what seemed like never ending restrictions we have felt pretty trapped. It’s not known for its abundance of green spaces, and we just round ourselves walking around the city or along the same river trail. I’ve gone through every phase; the insane sweaty indoor workouts, the craft projects, the climbing guidebook bucket lists of climbs I’m gunna send. At one point I was going to pay like $200 dollars for a street dance lesson subscription…I did a one week trial and realised that money cant buy co-ordination. 
It’s been wild. A whole new type of wild than where I felt comfortable. I gave up trying to replace the things I loved doing because nothing could really compare to that. At times, like everyone I felt immense guilt that I was just moping, I felt like a spoilt child that couldn’t handle reality, and in some ways I am. My life previously was full of challenges, and adventure and people – but most importantly…incredibly beautiful places. But now I guess I’m just grateful that I’ve found my happy place, I know exactly where I do thrive, and now I understand where I don’t. And that’s cool. To just come to terms with the fact that so much of who I am is instilled in my time in the outdoors, and when I’m forced to stay inside and keep myself busy I’m not really me. I’m like a weak vimto.

Alistair, product manager

I’ve been working from home for about a year. This has given me flexibility, time, and new ideas for adventures. It used to be a much longer day when I had to commute, but I can now be on an adventure within ten minutes of finishing work. I can still get out onto high places and woods, but this latest lockdown has hit home a bit harder. Everything is getting a bit samey and running out of ideas to go. Starting to get the trapped feeling and trying to keep positive but it is getting difficult. I’m now focussing on planning a trip in September when hopefully we’ll all in in a different place.

Helen, student

I normally live away at Uni, but since the pandemic began in March I’ve been living at home, apart from about 2 weeks in September, when I quickly realised students + COVID made me more worried than it was worth. Living at home I’m pretty far from my friends, so even when we haven’t been in lockdowns, I haven’t really seen them which is a little bit rubbish. If you didn’t enjoy group work at Uni/collage I can tell you, online it’s a whole new level – lots of blank screens and muted mics whilst I talk to myself… but it is pretty good being able log on seconds before the lecture starts, breakfast in hand. I’m not 100% sure I’m coping, but the ways I’m trying to are, getting some movement in, setting my alarm every day and using it as an opportunity to really focus on my work – the rocks and mountains would definitely have distracted me otherwise! And finally, I’m just trying to think how exciting the world will feel when this is all over.

Dicken, electronic engineer

Since the first lockdown in March, I have only travelled to work 3 times.  I used to commute by bike every day, rain or shine and spend my time in a busy office.  I long for conversation outside of my household, with colleagues and friends, not living a digital life on Skype, connected to my laptop.  The cycle was a means of therapeutically turning off from the day’s work but now the separation of my time and work time is blurred.  

I am fortunate to have a small well-kept green space near my flat.  From the beginning of the lockdowns, I have walked around this space once or twice a day, to get a breath of fresh air and to escape the confines of my city flat.  I watch spring blossom in 2020, I have seen the autumnal leaves turn from green to golden orange and fall.  Through what has felt like a long, dark and oppressive winter, the Snowdrops have begun to flower.  The first sign that winter won’t last, and spring is coming.  These signs, the changing seasons, are how I have managed to differentiate the days, so the last 10 months did not become one.  The small things are much more special to my daily life.    It won’t be forever but I cannot wait for the day that I can disappear into the mountains, equipped with my tent and a stove.

Mirjam, writer and translator

I dreamed of being a freelance writer and translator for a long time. Since getting stuck in Venezuela because of Covid-19, I made this dream a reality. It is the first time I am working for myself and working from a “home” that is not my own home, has its very own set of challenges. But what helps me is having a dedicated work space and do yoga outside daily. I recently splurged on a proper office chair that cost me 80 dollars, but has been worth every penny.

This all sounds so boring, but I think having a positive mindset and making yourself as comfortable as possible (and some nice backstretches) really do work wonders. Even if it seems impossible at times.

Meghan, archaeologist

Working in the construction industry, to a large extent the practical elements of my job haven’t changed all that much. We’re still out doing fieldwork, just with extra precautions. Where there are several of us on site, we must all travel separately (hello, environmental angst!) and stay socially distanced at breaktimes. So it’s a lot less sociable than normal, which is a shame ‘cos when you’re out in all weathers battling with the elements, it’s quite nice to come inside and have a mass whinge about how miserable you all are and pass some brownies round. Where there is only one of us on site, it’s a bit of a roulette in terms of what facilities you get and how “covid-safe” they feel. Sometimes it feels like we’re making an awful lot more effort than some of the other contractors! Once fieldwork is done, the report-writing is now done from home, with the usual combination of  distractions, internet connections that aren’t quite up to the load, and temperamental remote access drives etc. Personally, I’ve  been working on my own since November, with only the odd day on a site with some of my colleagues. It’s been cold, wet and utterly miserable standing around watching the contractors dig holes.

Managing the consumption of tea to somewhere between ‘maintaining core temperature above hypothermic’ and ‘spending all day on the loo’ has been quite the balancing act. Consumption of chocolate and biscuits may please Mr Kipling (if we could afford him) but would certainly disappoint my dentist (if I ever see him again). Getting outside for daily exercise is great at the weekends but when I’ve crawled home, sick to the pit of my stomach from being not-quite-warm-enough all day (and often a bit leaky in the face department), the motivation to go and slog round the same limited selection of knee-deep and/or icy routes is kind of small.

I find myself scrolling past Facebook or Instagram posts of people who live in more mountainous areas without even looking, because I don’t want to see what they’ve got and we haven’t. Our last proper hill day – of any kind –  feels like years ago. Most of the time I try to remind myself how lucky the two of us have been, but every now and again I get quite frankly sick of being grateful, and just want to wallow in misery for a short while. Music and making simple things, like food or hand-sewn patchwork, has become more important than ever. Just about, we’re managing. 

Pat, Dark Ventures

I run a small climbing distribution company, lockdown 3 and WFH has been a real challenge compared to the previous lockdowns. I have an 8 year old lad and a partner who is also working two days a week at her place of work and the others helping with the climbing distribution. The really challenge for us has been the home schooling whilst also running the business, home schooling has evolved through the lockdowns and school closures to nearly a full a full school day and a daily zoom meeting at 9am to start the day. Running the business has not really slowed through the lockdowns as we are evolving to deal with the new situations of lockdowns as well as Brexit and with now also teaching 9-3 it has put a lot new of pressure on us. Also we worry about the mental health of our lad and all the other young children who really miss their friends, class mates, extended family as well as all the activities that had to stop, it is a lot for them to try and understand with the situation changing each month. We are lucky to have the support of the climbing community and other small outdoor business that we can chat too  and that one day we will soon be back see each other and share our stories face to face over a coffee!

Reece, support worker

My job has changed drastically throughout the pandemic; and still hasn’t stopped changing! It involved taking young people on outdoor residentials and doing projects out in the community, flash forward 10 months and most of my work is done inside and online. Most of the fun parts about my job aren’t possible due to the pandemic, so supporting young people remotely and online has been a real challenge. Staring at a computer all day isn’t normal for me so that part of it has felt very unusual and has resulted in many a headache!

I think the aspect of working from home I’ve found the hardest is not having that separation between work life and home life. Because my work space and my living/relaxing space are now all in the same four walls it’s been difficult to prevent them from overflowing into one another, which can make it hard to fully relax when your brain knows that all your work is still around you. It’s mainly being stuck inside that bothers me the most. Being outside, doing practical things and working with loads of different community groups is what I love about my job, so trying to make the same impact on young people’s lives without those parts is difficult and frustrating.

My partner is also working from home, and we have found it challenging doing our very different jobs in the same space. We often have virtual meetings at the same time so one of us (usually me!) has to go into another room, and we can’t usually time our breaks/lunch to have them together. Being able to nip out for a lunchtime walk together is a real treat, though.

However, there have been aspects about working from home that I do enjoy! I can sleep in a little bit longer, can wear comfies most of the time and I’m not spending all my money on Greggs. The money I’ve saved in petrol has financed the extra load of teabags I’ve had to buy to keep the constant flow of brews going! All in all, I feel so grateful to still be working, and the changes to my working life, although not easy, have been a small adjustment to make considering how other people’s lives have changed because of the pandemic. I can not wait to be back outside in the community, working with a huge range of people and helping those who need it the most… but I think I’ll take a few flasks of tea with me this time!

Christina, interior designer

My job is usually spent on my feet most of the day, meeting new people and going out to customer homes. During lockdown home visits became virtual meetings and communications with everyone were phone calls or messages on Teams. I don’t have a working computer at home and I often forget about my phone outside of work hours so to suddenly be spending 8hrs a day (or more) glued to it as well as being sat down was difficult to get used to. I started with back problems from working at the dining table on wooden chairs, then gradually prepared the flat for working at home. Work could lend everything I needed to work from home comfortably (a computer desk chair), yet still I found it difficult to motivate myself. Most of our new work comes from meeting new people, inspiring people with large fabric samples, design software and products to feel and interact with. Interior design is a very visual and interactive process, so to translate this on only a screen (fabric textures, scale, even sofa comfiness! etc.) was sometimes challenging. 

I’m lucky to say my workplace did everything to make staff feel comfortable. Home visits were stopped, our daily routine changed to include a full clean of all surfaces first thing in the morning, and at regular intervals throughout the day. We were also given tablets to airdrop information onto TVs at a safe distance, so we could talk to customers whilst maintaining social distancing. But equally it was a big change in the environment and pretty exhausting to get used to. You couldn’t read anyone’s facial expressions anymore, or even visibly smile at someone when welcoming them into the shop.

I think the hardest thing to deal with was the change in energy levels. A combination of both furlough and restarting work with a new covid-regime (3 times over with each lockdown) was really difficult. Once my energy went it was difficult to motivate myself to stay sat down for most of the day. 

The perks of my WFH situation were… I was still able to meet new people and have interesting conversations about things other than covid. I also started to question my job in new ways, asking what helps us to connect with people from far away? This improved my work significantly and I became more motivated than ever because it felt like progress during lockdown. It wasn’t until lockdown 3 that I found my best coping method; 8am workouts with my sister via Zoom. In January my sister found a fitness trainer offering a free 28 day challenge, with the ethos to just show up and move at your own pace. It’s great to see her regularly and puts me in a much better mood to start the day.

Some entries have been edited for clarity.

If you need help or advice, please reach out -to professionals, to friends and to family. Talking always helps.


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