Living on park is a real perk for Brent

Forget working from home. Belair National Park Senior Ranger and new dad Brent Lores lives at work and during COVID-19 it took his job flexibility to a whole new level.

Belair National Park Senior Ranger Brent Lores

1. Describe your work from home set up?

I actually live in one of the houses on park in Belair, so my home office is actually in the park. I already had a music room as I play drums in a two-piece ‘Smoke No Fire’ – although we haven’t performed since the Fringe so it’s now become more of a study. Initially I set up my laptop on the desk there, however after a couple of weeks I moved the laptop to a table in the sunroom which is a much nicer spot to work in as it looks out into the park.

2. How have you managed the transition from working in the office and ‘on park’ to working at home?

Before COVID-19 hit, I hadn’t really worked from home before. However, one of the big drivers for me to start working from home was that I had a newborn at home, a little girl, and she was only one month old when lockdown started. We were told by our GP that with a young newborn you don’t know if they’re immuno-compromised at that early stage so we were advised that we were high risk.

I had a conversation with my line manager about how we could adapt some of my role to working from home and it ended up being about 50 per cent working from home and 50 per cent out in the field. Meetings are usually on a Monday or Tuesday so I was more or less working from home on those days.

I was still working in the field but limiting my interactions with people by not working in the office. Ironically when I’m at my home office I’m actually closer to the park I work at, than I am when I’m at my office, which is based at Cleland.

3. Has the way you work changed since the onset of COVID-19?

What I changed was to have more of a structure to my week; I’d try and get on top of all admin and emails at the beginning of the week and then on Wednesday or Thursday I’d book in field work, for example a trail audit out in the park.

What’s also changed is we haven’t had any big events at the park. Belair hosts a lot of large events, from weddings to trail running events to corporate events with over 1000 people. It’s allowed us to focus on some different things, but it’s been an unusual situation not having large events but still having lots of people here.

The trails are just packed, full of people, which from my point of view is good because it’s all good to visit Belair and come to the playground and kick the footy on the grass. However some people don’t realise how much good bush there is to explore. So there are some on ground challenges with that and we’re having to audit trails more to make sure they’re safe.

4. What have you missed about working in the office?

If you’re at home all the time there’s the risk of becoming disconnected from the team. One of the best things about our team is that we do get along really well and everyone has different levels of experience, so having everyone together at times is valuable.

If we’re all in our own silos locked away from each other then we really miss out on benefiting from each other’s experiences. And even just that social intelligence, we’re a public facing role, we deal with people all the time as well so there’s benefits from that exposure to each other as well.

We’ve got a Central Lofty Chat on Microsoft Teams so the team will write messages in there. We’re still making an effort to stay connected but it’s not quite the same as seeing people face to face. In particular, during Easter the Teams chat was good for organising logistics as everyone was in one big group chat.

5. What have been the upsides of working flexibly and working from home?

I was more productive working from home than working in the office because I didn’t have any distractions, especially in the initial hours of the day. Although I had the little one at home I still found that I was able to sit down for hours at a time and work uninterrupted, whereas at the office there are a lot more interactions happening between staff.

Now I can just fire up the laptop at home which has been really good. It’s great to have that flexibility, being able to spend a couple of hours at home doing admin first thing in the morning before going out and doing field work.

6. What will you take away from this whole experience – professionally and personally?

Professionally I’ve learnt that working from home some of the time is an effective, viable option for me. This experience has probably legitimised working from home because so many people are continuing to do it and it’s proved to be quite effective.

Personally, it’s been really good as Harper my daughter was so young, and it was great to be supported and have the option to work from home and be around her a little bit more.

In terms of what I take out of it, well we’ve definitely witnessed an increase in visitation during the height of COVID-19. I think it’s a big positive if people are exposed to parks and start using them, especially children, because then they’ll hopefully grow up to become advocates for them.

If you never see it and you never go there, you don’t care about it, but if you’re out among it, witnessing it and enjoying it then hopefully they will become passionate about it. And this will then all tie into climate change and preserving the environment as a whole.