When I began my role with Porter Novelli earlier this year, I had four weeks in the office with my new colleagues. It was a fast start with the PN team. I enjoyed the vertical learning curve, working on a range of projects and learning the art and science of communications.

However, our office ‘normal’ was then turned on its head as we were asked to work from home. As someone entering a new career, saying goodbye to our office after 20 days wasn’t exactly the start I had expected!

Before Melbourne’s second lockdown was announced in July, I had one day in our office. For the first time in 16 weeks (who’s counting?), I got dressed in my, now old, ‘new work’ clothes, grabbed a coffee from my favourite café downstairs and had my temperature checked as I entered.

As I sat at my physically-distant desk in the office and attempted to reconnect my laptop to eight different cords, the sudden ‘old normal’ made me reflect on the great things and not-so-great things I experienced working from home.

On the personal front, I’ve enjoyed having more time to focus on myself, my family and my partner. But on the professional front, starting a new job from home presented its challenges, and some valuable lessons.

Work, eat, sleep. Repeat.

I have always thrived on routine. But with nothing to do except stay home and work, sleep and eat, I struggled to find a balance between work life and home life. As they say, it’s not really working from home. It’s living at work.

The best tip I learned from a colleague was to start my morning and finish my evenings at the same time every working day. Sounds simple, but it made a huge difference. Each morning, I go for a one- hour walk and get my morning almond latte. In the evening, I turn off all devices and read (sometimes I only last five minutes) before I go to sleep. By creating this routine, it sets me up for productive days and helps to create separation between my work-home and home-home. 

What digital age?

Ironically, one of the most useful habits I picked up while working virtually is the writing of a daily to-do-list. As in, with a pen and paper. When I was in the office, I never found the need for a daily list, as just seeing my colleagues would act as a subconscious reminder for my tasks or jobs throughout the day. However, without these visual triggers – and with growing responsibility over time – I found it harder to remember all the items on my to-do-list. Now I write down a daily list in a diary and it has become a ritual that only increases my daily productivity and helps me deliver smart, creative and effective work for our clients. 

Zoom is no substitute for the real thing

In the end, what I miss the most was the human connections with my colleagues. While we were probably chatting more regularly online at home, I was missing the short, “coffee room” or “elevator” conversations that were lost when you ended a client call or meeting.

One way we have tried to change that is to replicate these interactions in a “cab chat” – a five-minute video call immediately following the meeting to make sure we can ask questions, assign actions and have a few laughs together. Trivia nights and e-beers have also been fruitful connection points while physically apart.

Looking back on the past few months, the lessons learned in overcoming the early challenges of working from home has been one of those career-shaping experiences that you don’t necessarily enjoy at the time.

And, with an increase in COVID-19 cases in Victoria and a second lockdown now in front of us, it seems the daily routine of living at work will continue for now. But while I miss the office and my colleagues, this time around I’m excited about the next set of challenges experiences this #WFH life will bring.