I used to get up around 5.45am, basically to make sure the house was in order, I was ready to face the world and I got a car park space! How times have changed.  I now get up 6.45am (still managing to make my husband a cuppa), get ready for a brisk 20-minute walk around the block and then get back to my makeshift office in the dining room. I’ve been working at home for over a month now and managed to set up two monitors, so essentially replicating my desk at work. Since lockdown has been extended, I think I’ll revise my morning routine and set my alarm for 6.15 next week.

Day one, week one. The alarm went off and it was like another working morning, except it wasn’t. This was day one of working from home as advised by the UK government. It was not a bad dream, it was the new norm.

When I first heard the social distancing news at work, I was emotional and just about held it together. I was coaching students at the time and have that ability to multitask and listen to several conversations at once. Dangerous I know. Seeing me looking wobbly, my lovely colleagues were quick to comfort me, saying “but you are usually so happy!”

After working part-time for 16 years to accommodate and nurture my gorgeous family I made the decision to work full time 18 months ago. A decision that completely radicalised my life. I love my job and what I do, the inspirational people I work with, and being part of the future. Every day I am fortunate enough to interact with people who can and do make a difference in so many ways. I have thrown myself completely into my work. I’m suddenly valued, respected and encouraged. I am me! I’m not ‘just’ a mum or a housewife.

I got home that evening and burst into tears. Tears of shock and uncertainty. I didn’t want to be the old me. Rewind, pause and breathe. Rechannel energies. I’m one of the most positive, optimistic people I know. And that’s always been my outlook.

Fast-forward to my first Skype call at 8.45am the next day. I’d overcome the tech issues, had applied a full face of glamour (for me) and my lippy was on. Why was I even nervous? Scared? Or uncertain? Immediately the rapport was there. My first student told me that I radiated positively, she loved my makeup and was delighted I’d made an effort. We laughed at this! It’s funny what now makes us smile! Five virtual coaching appointments later, I’d learned a lot about day-to-day life and Covid-19 in Greece, Lebanon, Italy, and Ghana.

I can honestly say I felt like a new person. I was there doing what I loved. Helping, listening and supporting bright young talent. Empowering Cranfield University’s postgraduate students to reach their potential. The engineers, scientists and business brains of tomorrow.

So, five weeks in and I know I am lucky. Navigating Skype and Microsoft Office Teams and Wi-Fi connections, I am taken on a global adventure each day. Learning all the time about lockdown and isolation worldwide: Morocco, Singapore, Peru, India and France. Of course, not forgetting our students who have chosen to stay at Cranfield, with 1000s of miles between them and their family and loved ones back in their home countries. We are getting to see another side of each other as we glimpse into each other’s living space – usually a very personal and private zone. But times are different, and we all need to embrace the new approach. 

Katrina Armstrong and Diane Blything
Katrina Armstrong and Diane Blything, Cranfield University Careers Service

I have daily virtual catch-ups with my colleagues, and we have settled into our new roles and our relationships are now remotely redefined. But we are still as focused as ever on recreating our positive team spirit, environment, and dynamics.

I grew up on post-apocalyptic films; The Day of The Triffids, The Tripods, War of The Worlds… Little did I realise that if I fast-forwarded 30 years, I’d be playing a role in one. One of my favourite feel good films, where there is hope for us all, is Spielberg’s Empire of The Sun. A beautiful, moving story, showing the best of humankind, resilience and that there is always a tomorrow.

There are positives to gain from this experience, the snatched 20 minutes bike ride with my younger son, the reflection on life with my eldest, cooking with my foster child and walking with my husband. The evening family meals together, the treks in the woods and the holiday games of cards recreated. I’m also enjoying the headspace that now exists by stepping off the treadmill of life. We are all going to emerge more resilient with life and priorities redefined.

So, for me it’s about reinventing yourself – thinking differently, working differently and embracing the new norm. And that definition is going to keep changing. Be strong, be positive and never give up. So, when normality returns – whatever the new normality is – I’ll be ready.

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