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Chris Rayner is a father of six and one of the leads of the parents network at insurance giant Hiscox. He shares his experience of lockdown.
Chris Rayner is a father of six and a senior insights analyst at insurance giants Hiscox. He’s also co-lead of the company’s parents network.
With such a raft of personal and professional responsibilities you might expect his experience of lockdown to have been a bit more hectic and intense than that of other working dads. But actually, as he explains below, some similar themes emerged along with some innovative ways of tackling the challenges thrown up at work and at home.
How things have changed!!! In February, I had started working a couple of days a week from home. It was an informal arrangement rather than a flexible working agreement. To all intents and purposes, I was told I needed to take meetings face-to-face, but otherwise, work from wherever you like (as long as the work is getting done). At that point, I was travelling into London once or twice a week, working in my local office one or two days a week and working from home one or two days a week.
Our eldest was preparing for A-Levels, our eldest son was preparing for GCSEs, we were home educating our 14-, eight- and six-year-olds, and our four-year-old was attending nursery two days a week. In addition to our already large household, my mother-in-law and father-in-law moved in with us in January so as to not hold up the sale of their house. So when lockdown happened our overall household was four adults, three teenagers (one of whom had her 18th during lockdown), three children, two springer spaniels, one cat and nine koi carp! So when lockdown started, I didn’t really think there would be any difference. I was already used to being at home, and having the children around when I was.
The main difference, I quickly realised, was that prior to lockdown I very rarely needed to make phone calls, or be involved in meetings on days when I was working from home, as I always arranged my calendar such that all I would have to do on home days was get on with whatever work was outstanding. It actually seemed that my youngest had memorised my meeting calendar. Two minutes before any meeting she would climb up the back of my chair and sit my shoulders. And if it was a meeting with anyone particularly important, she would be naked!
Thankfully, everyone that I work with has been fantastic. Many of them understood as a result of first hand experience. But even those that didn’t have the first hand experience, were understanding and able to see the humour in my predicament. As lockdown has progressed and everyone has found their new ‘normal’, including the children, I have mostly been able to have any meetings in relative solitude, with occasional requests such as ‘Daddy, can I have your phone?’, or ‘Daddy, can you put Rio on?’.
For my wife and I, it has actually been quite a nice experience for several reasons. Firstly, it means that my wife is now able to get a drinkable cup of tea at any time – previously this wasn’t possible as she can’t make a cup of tea for herself that she actually enjoys drinking! Secondly, it has improved both mine and my wife’s mental health. We have both had issues with anxiety and depression, and being at home so much more has made it far easier for us to help and support each other through our low points. And finally, I have been able to spend more time with my family, whilst getting more done at work as well.
I have spent slightly longer most days working than I had before, but still much less time out of the house. The role that I perform, mostly does not require certain hours. I am able to start early, and finish late, so that I can go for a long walk or a bike ride with my wife and children. As long as the work is getting done, and I attend any meetings that I have scheduled, the hours that I work do not really matter. In that regard, I am aware that I am very fortunate, and it has afforded me the option of being far more involved in my children’s day-time lives than otherwise would have been possible. And I have been at home and available to help with the education work that otherwise my wife would have been undertaking alone.
And as we moved through the summer, all of the children said that they wanted to re-enrol at school for the new year. So, as I write this, we have begun trying to find yet another new ‘normal’ for the school runs. Once everyone starts back we will have one looking for full time employment, one in college, one starting her GCSE courses, two returning to primary school, and one starting primary school for the first time.
The three at primary school are also presenting a new set of challenges, in that the ‘staggered’ start times for each year group, mean that whichever of us is doing the school run (and it is actually an option for us to both do it, or take turns as we see fit – another wonderful thing for me!!), we have to stand around for around 20 minutes from when the first one goes in or comes out, until the time the last one can go in or come out. Whilst this situation is somewhat frustrating, I do have to keep reminding myself that this is also new territory for the schools, and they are trying to find the right way to balance their new normal, just like the rest of us.
I actually look forward to being more involved in school runs at both ends of the day, and getting the kids ready for school in the mornings. For a long time either was impossible for me, as most days I was leaving the house before any of them had even got out of bed!
In terms of where things are going within my company, the offices are beginning to open, with new ways of working and new layouts. We have been told that no-one is under any pressure to return to the office. They are being opened only for those that are comfortable with returning. And there are no immediate plans to enforce a full return. In fact, there are several workstreams looking into how to improve people’s ability to work from home still further, and what the ‘new’ office working culture might be.
At this time, it actually looks as though, for my company at least, a full time return to the office is not going to happen. All job roles have been categorised into bands ranging from five days a week in the office, to one day a month, with everything in between.
The way the wind seems to be blowing, is that, if you can work from home as effectively as in the office, then do so, and come into the office for team building and collaboration. I have heard several people ask the question ‘Why come into the office to do something that you can do from home?’ That seems to be way this company will approach the future working styles dilemma.