Personal upsides to work from home set-up for Stephen

The saying goes that a change is as good as a holiday and working from home has certainly changed daily life for Healthy Coorong Healthy Basin Senior Project Officer Stephen Madigan. But sometimes the best part about a holiday is returning to what you left behind. 

Healthy Coorong Healthy Basin Senior Project Officer Stephen Madigan

1. Describe your work from home set up?

My work from home ‘office’ is in our bedroom and it’s only got one small monitor. My wife is a nurse and works shift work, so when she’s on night shift she sleeps during the day, which means that I have to work at the kitchen table on a laptop. I have found that limiting because I’m used to having two large screens.

I have three kids, but they’re aged 17, 15 and 13 and past the high dependency phase, so they haven’t been a problem at all. It’s like living with three other adults who are constantly on their devices. Instead of just three on their devices, there was a fourth one with a laptop in the kitchen space occasionally.

2. How have you managed the transition from working in the office to working at home?

I did know what would be involved with working from home because I’d done consultancy work from home several years ago. However, what did take some adjustment was not being able to incorporate exercise into my daily commute. I ride to work each day, so five days a week I was cycling into work and back and I’ve missed that regular exercise.

Working from home has meant that I’ve had to change my exercise regime and schedule exercise into my day. I’m a mountain biker so it took a while to work out a nice route that would give me enough of a fix every second day. Now I go for a longer ride at lunchtime, and then I start work a little bit earlier and finish work a little bit later so that I can have a gap in the middle.

For me exercise also serves as valuable transition time between work and home. At times it has been difficult to make that adjustment without the transition time that travel and exercise provides. I live in Blackwood, so the ride home is quite meditative because you have to disengage and go somewhere else in your brain to forget about the pain of the cycle. And while I’m exhausted when I arrive home, I’m also happily reset and ready to be Dad when I walk through the front door.

However, when you’re working from home as soon as you step out of the ‘home office’ aka the bedroom and greet someone who’s come from school at 3:30pm, you’ve got to let go of the work meeting that you’ve just had and become ‘Dad’. Yes, they’re your kids and you love them of course, and it’s not that hard, but it’s still a mental switch that you need to make. It’s almost putting on two different personas.

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

Working on projects as I do, it’s largely tactical, it’s about keeping processes moving. However, I’ve had to change thinking about communication from that tactical way of moving things forward through quick face-to-face catchups and incidental conversations to having to strategically think about issues that I need to tackle and resolve.

Having done some work from home several years ago, I knew from the get go that I would have to make this shift and that there was going to be more meetings. In one sense it has simplified things because it has forced me to think further ahead and act more strategically and singularly.

Before making a meeting I now ask myself ‘who are the absolute critical people that I need to speak with?’ and ‘what is it exactly that I need to speak with them about?’ Has this new approach been successful? I think it has been, I’ve got to the same ends but I’ve certainly had to take a different route.

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

I’ve missed two things, one is pretty frivolous and the other is more meaningful. The frivolous one is that there’s a fabulous Rancilio single shot Italian coffee machine on level 5 in the small kitchenette and, and I’ve missed making myself a coffee on that machine each morning.

The other thing I miss is those quick face-to-face conversations which enable you to keep processes moving. I’ve been to a lot more meetings since working from home, and my calendar is full. I’ve had more meetings since COVID-19 broke out than I have had for a long time, just simply to communicate really.

It’s become a more structured way of working and I don’t mind it but nothing beats seeing a team member or someone else that you need to speak with in passing, in order to keep multiple components of a project moving. I think Microsoft Teams is fabulous but I do miss the ability to have those quick conversations. 

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

The upsides of working from home have mostly been personal. The great plus is being at home when the kids come home from school. Being at home over this period has made me keenly aware of how much I miss of their day to day lives. Obviously at the weekends we’re completely immersed in each other’s lives but I didn’t realise how much I wasn’t in their lives during the week.

What used to be the norm before COVID-19 was their Dad leaving for work in the dark before they got up and getting home in the dark, by which time they were already an hour and a half deep into their devices.

Now, I’m still up before them but I’m making them breakfast and they’re seeing and having a lot more communication with me. I guess in a way it’s corny, but I’ve connected with my family more throughout the COVID-19 period.

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

What I’ll take away professionally is how important face-to-face meetings are and how important incidental conversations are for driving a project forward. When you’re deep in a project and there’s complex parallel processes that you need to keep running, nothing beats that ability to have a quick word to someone to keep things moving.

And while I’ve loved seeing my kids more, throughout lockdown they did spend more time on their devices and complain about being bored. I’ve enjoyed spending time around them, but if you were to ask them I don’t think they’d say, ‘I’m glad Dad’s working from home’.

And the truth is I’ve realised that a clear division between work and home works best for me, and I think it works best for all of the family, so I will return to working in the office full time when I can. I’ve been married for nearly 20 years now, and we’ve got a well-established daily routine and it suits us.