Working from home is life-changing for Karen

Water Licensing Finance Officer Karen Bickley has suffered from crippling migraines for years – that is until she started working from home full-time. Since then she hasn’t had a single migraine and she’s reclaimed her life in the process.

Water Licensing Finance Officer Karen Bickley

1. Describe your work from home set up?

I’m in my kitchen and use my kitchen table as my desk. I use my laptop, my ergonomic keyboard from work and I have an office chair. My printer is nearby and I have a number of files stored under the table. I’m really happy with the arrangement, plus it’s close to the kettle.

I have three cats, one of them is in charge of the printer, and I’ve actually had to set up a cat bed on my table for the other two cats to try and keep them off of the keyboard and falling asleep on my arms.

I brought some paperwork home with me knowing that I would need it for reference. Since then I’ve got myself some folders, so everything is in its own labelled folder which makes it easy for me to find what I need to find quickly.

I could have gone into the spare room but there’s nice natural light in the kitchen. I suffer from severe cluster migraines, so the kitchen is the perfect place to work just because the light in here is so good.

2. How did you manage the transition from working in the office to working at home?

I transitioned into working from home pretty easily because I was already working one day a week from home. I used to have a lot of medical appointments so it was easier to work from home and work around them.

My team is the best team ever. We have a great team dynamic and that’s continued since we’ve been working from home. In the office we would go out for a drink or out for lunch and now we just do it virtually. Once a month we have drinks on Teams where we get together to chat and I’ve had a few lunches with girls from work over Teams.

The communication with my immediate manager is great as well, we either email, have Teams meetings or ring each other daily.

3. Has working from home changed the way you work?

I’ve just had the strangest end of financial year (EOFY) because it was actually easy. Typically EOFY is a heavy migraine period for me. And again, nothing.

I think EOFY was manageable this year because I could do the longer hours from home rather than the office, which in winter is much nicer.

Plus it was easier to get information from key contacts through video calls. They have totally changed the way that I engage with regional staff who I have worked with for years. In high stress situations, you might send an email which is usually not what somebody wants to get at that time. But if you can have a quick video call and you smile, it makes a huge difference to how people react to you and respond to your request.

I’ve also been able to devote more time to solving complex issues, like how to factor in levy payments to the new landscape boards, because they have so many implications.

Also, in finance many things have to be signed off but since working from home I have cut my printing down by about 60-70 per cent. I’m hoping these new practices will continue when we all return to the office. 

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

I miss my team, just having them there to talk about everyday things with. You know you come in on Monday and everybody’s grumpy but excited about what they did on the weekend, and it’s just great to catch up.

I also miss having two screens, particularly when I’m working on spreadsheets as the laptop doesn’t really like that situation very much.

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

For me working from home has been spectacularly life changing. I had years of chronic issues with migraines and five years ago I had a pulse-generated implant put in, just to help control them. I used to get two a month but since I’ve been working from home I’ve actually turned that machine off for the first time ever and I haven’t had a single migraine, which is beyond amazing for me.

I didn’t think that working under fluorescent lights was having such a big impact because I’ve never had more than two weeks away from the office at any one time. This is the first sustained period I’ve not worked under fluoro lights for 20 years.

My migraines would build up during the week so my weekends were generally spent feeling bad even if they weren’t full blown migraines, but I’ve had eight weeks with no constant buzzing in my head and no migraines. I can’t believe it.

So, from that I’m much happier in myself. It means I’ve been able to focus more clearly on work. My sleep pattern is much better. I’m eating better because in the evening I’m not exhausted, so I’ve got time to cook.

I have weekends now. I can go out in the garden. I can go and visit a friend. I’m not just waiting to see how bad my migraine is going to become.

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

Working from home at least some of the time is my preference going forward, for my health more than anything else, but I also really enjoy it. And work-wise it’s all been positive.

I think for me this is my preferred way of life. I understand that for people with kids it would have been really difficult but I think a lot of people who didn’t like it to begin with have come round to it now.

People talk about work-life balance, but it’s such a big thing getting to and from work every day. Regardless of how far it is, you know you get up, shower, do your hair, get dressed for work, travel, but when you work from home nearly all that stuff is taken away (I still shower!). For me it’s just life-changing working from home.

Professionally, I would also like to find a way to keep using Teams and engaging with regional colleagues face-to-face because for my role that’s been really important and beneficial. It’s just a nicer working environment.