The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought tragedy to many people and has disrupted all of our lives one way or another. I realise that I am in a very fortunate position. The nature of my job has meant that I have been able to work from home.
However, with two young children in the house, this undoubtedly brings many challenges.
Our oldest, Liam, turned two earlier this month, and Rory is just three months old. Thankfully, my wife, Amy, is still on maternity leave, so she has been able to look after the boys during the day and allow me to get my work done. I’m very grateful that working from home has allowed me to spend more time with the boys – something that was often more of a struggle before all of this.
Role: Developer on Dynamic Signal’s mobile app team
Family: Wife Amy; sons Liam and Rory
I work in an upstairs office at our house in Derriaghy, Northern Ireland, which is just a tiny dot on a map a few miles outside of Belfast. Although I worked in our Belfast office, my work is predominantly with a team located in the States. So, in that sense, I had already been working remotely. That made the transition to our new working model less difficult.
What I definitely do miss, though, is the daily contact with my Belfast colleagues and the sense of team spirit that comes from the office environment. As a relatively new and growing team, there’s a great sense of camaraderie among colleagues.
We work from a shared space in a beautiful building called River House, located in the centre of Belfast. We were in the process of constructing our own dedicated space on a different floor when the virus struck, and lockdown started. This has obviously been delayed due to the circumstances. It’s a big disappointment because we had really been looking forward to the move. However, the team has been great at keeping in touch remotely, and we’ve organized regular lunchtime Zoom calls where we can all check in with each other on a social basis rather than just during work-related meetings.
I’m trying to maintain a good routine while working from home.
I find this really helps with motivation and mood. We typically get up at the normal time of half-past 6. (Whether we want to or not!) But since I no longer have the commute or nursery drop-off, I’m able to spend a lot more time with the kids in the morning. I head upstairs before 9 a.m. each day, work until around noon, and then take an early lunch to help out with getting the boys fed and down for their naps. After that, I’ll work on until about 5 p.m. before logging off for a few hours.
We usually go out for a walk together, and then there’s the normal family stuff to keep me busy – dinner, bath time, stories, and bed. I’ll get back online around 8 p.m. to check in with my colleagues in the States because there’s an eight-hour time difference with our home office in California. My goal is always to make sure that I’m not blocking them on our projects.
The biggest challenge for me is managing the line between work and home life and striking the right balance. Having two children in the house while working can be tricky!
Liam has mastered the stairs, and if I forget to close the gate before coming up to start work, I could be on a conference call with colleagues when he bursts through the door to say hello. We’re also in the middle of attempting potty training. So, he’s sometimes not dressed in entirely work-appropriate clothes when he comes charging into the room. Thankfully my colleagues have seen the funny side of it.
It’s also easy to lose the distinction between home and work life, particularly when everything is happening under one roof, and my working day is split between the two. That’s something I’m aware of, and I try to have at least an hour’s downtime before bed each day.
But let me finish where I started. I’m well aware that I am in a privileged position, and there’s a much bigger picture to all of this. I’m particularly reminded of this every Thursday evening. People across Ireland are encouraged to come together to pay tribute to all the front-line healthcare and essential workers who are continuing to go to work each day to help defeat this terrible virus. At 8 o’clock, we stand outside to applaud them alongside our neighbours.
It gives you that community spirit and makes you think about what’s really important through all of this.
Five Questions with Michael
What social distancing technology are you using?
It’s a mixture of Zoom and Slack. I’m looking for the ability to have quick interactions with people. Preferably, I want to see someone’s face and be able to talk back and forth. Slack helps keep everyone informed in quick bursts about the progress of projects. In my personal life, we’re spending a lot of time on FaceTime with our families, so that the grandparents can see the kids. It’s tough right now for mine and Amy’s mum in particular. They only got to see Rory for about two months before lockdown, and they missed Liam’s birthday earlier this month. But hopefully, restrictions will ease soon.
What’s something that you’ve learned about working from home?
It’s difficult being away from my Belfast colleagues. One of my friends, Randall Quinn, and I would go to the gym and definitely would have far too many lunches out together. I definitely miss that. But we’ve all done virtual lunches, quizzes, and things like that to keep connected.
What’s something that keeps you sane?
I would definitely say sticking to a good routine helps. It’s also been important to keep up interactions with other people and use Zoom to keep connected with my co-workers. But the time being around my wife and my kids has been so important for me. Just doing things like going on regular walks have been brilliant. The coronavirus has been difficult. But as a result of this, I do think people will feel much closer to their families.
What’s your new work attire?
Normally, it would be a nice jumper (sweatshirt) and jeans, but I’ve settled into wearing comfortable clothes now. I’m just relying on tracksuit bottoms and T-shirts. I do get dressed up if it’s a more important call.
What makes your new workspace unique?
The only additional thing is now I have a baby monitor!