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Today’s Office: Rania Robinson on how boundaries blur working from home with your husband

“I miss the people and the buzz of the office, the excuse to get dressed up, the personal interaction”

Leaving work at the office has always been difficult for Quiet Storm chief exec Rania Robinson and husband Trevor, and even more so when that ‘office’ is their kitchen table. Here she tells us how she is managing to maintain a sense of structure and divide between work and home.

My primary working spot is my kitchen table and has been since the beginning of the first lockdown. This is the working space that my husband and I usually end up competing for because it has the best light. Our other working space is the dining room, which is more of a formal set-up and quite dark, so not ideal for meetings. We usually end up negotiating working spots depending on who’s up first (it’s almost always me), and who has the most important meeting (that varies on a day-to-day basis between us)!

We’ve got floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall glass doors, so I have a beautiful view of the garden. There’s a serenity to feeling like you’re working outside from within, which is why it’s the most popular spot. Straight in front of me is our living space which is open plan and a contrast to the kitchen, which is a very white, stark space. The living area is colourful, opulent and warm. I have family photos behind me, so they’ve become a feature in my video calls.

Working with my husband under normal circumstances can be challenging enough, let alone working in the same house too. We’re being thrust together a lot more, so the work/home boundaries that we would’ve had in the office are more blurred. The kids are at home too, but they’re at an age where they’re pretty independent so can fix themselves something to eat and get on with schoolwork without the need for supervision.

I miss the people and the buzz of the office, the excuse to get dressed up, the personal interaction, the face-to-face collaboration. While you can get stuff done on Zoom and Teams, its very task orientated so you lose the spontaneous chat you have in the office or bouncing ideas around. I wonder about the missed opportunity from not having those moments in the kitchen or on the sofas while having lunch. Fundamentally our work hasn’t suffered, but it’s less fun and the process is definitely not as enjoyable. We’ll never really know what the lost potential is. I’m an extrovert so I thrive through external stimulus. Our more introverted members of the team are definitely enjoying this set up a lot more.

I try to recreate as much of my previous routine as possible so I can maintain a sense of structure and divide between work and home. I’m an early riser, so usually I’m up between 4am and 6am. I’ll make a coffee and sit with my dog and do an hour or two of work. I find this is the best time to do work that requires long stretches of concentration because there are no distractions. I used to walk to the office, which would take about an hour and a quarter. Now, at a similar time, I walk around our local park.

I’ll come home and make myself breakfast like I would when I’d arrive at the office. I sit down at my desk (kitchen table) with my breakfast and start work, as I would in the office. That sense of going out the door for my walk and then coming back to start my day is, for me, really psychologically important. Otherwise, I struggle to focus and make that distinction between being at home or work.

Lunchtimes aren’t dissimilar to office days in terms of grabbing lunch while I can and eating at my desk. Ideally, when we’re all at home we’d sit and have lunch together, but that’s hard with everyone having different schedules. The afternoon is usually back-to-back Zooms.

I think we’ve adapted really easily. In a way, that’s surprised me – if someone said to me a year ago that we’d be able to function in this set-up I wouldn’t have thought so, let alone have been able to create such incredible work. This is great, but I haven’t enjoyed it as much. The opportunities we have had to come together and meet up with clients when restrictions were eased, I’ve enjoyed and appreciated that much more.

I make sure I have a lot of inputs from varied sources to keep me inspired, so podcasts, TED Talks, articles and blogs. I need regular and fresh stimulus. Also doing things like panels, committee groups, mentoring, Create Not Hate – all the extra-curricular – keeps me inspired because you have exposure to people you may not normally have any interaction with. Whether it’s people setting up their own initiatives, inspiring young talent, current and future leaders or mentees, I always feel like I gain something from talking to them. With mentoring especially – as a mentor, you get as much out of it as you’d hope the mentee does. Also, taking the time to introspect in response to an article that you’re writing or a panel you’re featuring on can be enlightening.

As I said, I try and maintain a routine. I do my walks every day and then I try to do yoga two or three times a week depending on my schedule. They’re virtual classes, which I’ve actually found easier as there are fewer barriers. I’ve kept to more of a consistent yoga routine than usual and have been disciplined in making sure no one interferes with those slots. I’ve set clear boundaries around that, which I’m usually not very good at. But I know I need it to stay sane.

When it comes to keeping work and real life separate, working with my husband makes it particularly difficult. He’s a constant reminder of work! We have that anyway, but we’re usually able to psychologically leave it at the office. It’s much harder to do that when working from home. It’s refreshing when one of us does go into the office. It feels like we have something new to talk about on our return and we get a chance to miss each other. Or to feel like an ordinary couple, asking “how was your day?”

Rania Robinson is co-owner of the ad agency Quiet Storm and co-director of Create Not Hate, a community company that aims to bring diverse young talent into the creative industries.

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