What a year to take the plunge into the private sector huh! It’s safe to say that there have been plenty bad and ugly moments of 2020 for all of us thanks to COVID-19. Thankfully there have been some good, joyous, heart-warming and frankly ridiculous moments as well since March; with plenty hilarious memes doing the rounds reflecting the lighter side of the global pandemic experience. For me personally, the past year has also been one which has changed my life and career. Dramatic perhaps, but the last 12 months have not exactly been without drama. So, what was the ‘new normal’ like for the newest recruit of Planning House in a year I will never forget?
Flexible homeworking has overall been great for me as I love the control and freedom it offers. This set-up has in turn helped me manage the responsibilities of my young family better. Well that is when I don’t have two kids, a cocker spaniel and husband under your feet during a national lockdown! Saying that, there has been times where I have missed being able to spin round in my chair and speak to colleagues. But I feel supported and encouraged by our little team, knowing they are always at the end of the phone if I need them for some advice, a sociable catch-up or even just to share a joke.
The three of us have a lot in common so I think we all knew pretty quickly we would not only work well together, but also get on; which was a great feeling. It was definitely an important factor for me when deciding to take the leap from the public sector. To give you an insight, before a recent team meeting, we all received a mystery package delivered with instructions not to open until our scheduled Teams meeting the next evening. It was a lovely bottle of gin and some tasty tonics, all locally-made, which we sampled together whilst chatting about anything and everything.
Even though I benefited from ‘flexi time’ in my previous job I now have a much more balanced life as a working parent. For instance, I don’t waste time commuting to a city-centre office, start my working day stressed or feel guilty for ‘finishing early’ to do the school run. I have also loved getting into planning podcasts and enjoy walking the dog whilst listening to them – I mean that’s the way to do CPD instead of in a hot stuffy conference room. Saying that, there are still moments when I need to remind myself to switch off, take some time for myself, and shut the door to my spare room office. I admit I find this hard as I feel so much more motivated having re-discovered my passion for what I do. This past year I have really relished getting involved in a wide range of projects where I was encouraged to take the lead and follow my interests. I am trying to translate this renewed energy into getting back into running during my down time. I’m not a natural runner so even my slow steady progress is an achievement for me.
There have also been some unavoidable ugly working moments to report, sadly, which many of you may have experienced first-hand. The dodgy haircuts, re-arranging mess around you so it is just out of shot for a virtual planning committee, people forgetting to unmute themselves and other technical difficulties on video calls, inappropriate disruptions from children and interesting outfit combinations (smart top half/ casual bottom half) – I could go on. I will remember some of these fondly, and for me, there are definitely benefits to working from home in my slippers and activewear! When I am comfortable, I find it so much easier to just focus on my work without worrying about anything else. I would challenge anyone who claims you cannot be productive or client-responsive when home working.
Talking to clients and networking to bring in new business was a completely new part of my job this year and one I felt I was just getting into the swing of when we were told to ‘stay home, stay safe’ by Boris. Not being able to physically meet and interact with people presented difficulties for me starting out in the private sector and I did worry what the future held for me during the first lock down – I was not naïve to my new commercial reality. However, my determination and ability to strengthen the working relationships I had established in those early months, combined with the understanding and support of my colleagues enabled me to contribute to the growing strength of Planning House. A proud personal achievement during difficult times.
Despite the bad and ugly moments of the last year when my anxiety got the best of me, accepting this job was still one of the best decisions I ever made for me and my family. The warmer months when I discovered new walks near my house, camped in the garden, had water fights with the kids and realised I was actually quite a good hairdresser seem a distant memory now. Yet I will cherish the quality family time and the simpler life we had for a while just in our bubble of five. The pace of life has sped back up and competing priorities have pushed back in, but I am determined not to lose the good parts of the new work-life balance I found during the rollercoaster of 2020. On that note, it’s time to put on my trainers and head out…