I have been on annual leave for the past week. I must say that although I had booked this holiday at the beginning of the year (a 3 week holiday) I struggled making a decision as to whether I should take the time off. I ended up taking just 6 days. My line manager has been encouraging us (the team) to look after ourselves during the lockdown by taking time off, keeping to the agreed working hours (COVID 19 policy by Human Resources) and generally not falling into the pitfalls of working from home. Despite the belief that one has a lot of time on their hands when working from home (less meetings, office appointments and home visits) I have actually been very busy. As a result, I kept postponing taking my leave hoping to finish a piece of work, then another and then another… The reality is that there will always be ‘another’ report, task or piece of work waiting to be done and that it will never be ‘a right time’ to take time off. Therefore I decided to take it.
Working from home during lockdown can be tricky. We now have a working from home flexible policy. Firstly, assuming you have no meetings during the day, you can start and finish at a time that suits you as long as you work your agreed working hours. However, it is harder to switch off when you are living and working under the same roof. Boundaries can become blurred and one is at risk of becoming vulnerable to working longer hours and at a more intense work pace. One can forget to take regular breaks and move away from the workstation. This can then lead to stress and other health and safety issues. So, it is important to remind ourselves to take regular breaks and once our working day is finished, to close down the laptop and put it out of sight in order to resist the temptation of doing ‘one more thing’ later. I continue to use my own laptop for work. The problem with this is that I cannot put it out of sight, as I need it for my own personal use. Although I have enjoyed the time off, using my laptop privately somehow did not allow me to completely switch off. It reminded me of my work, of that unfinished piece of work, of reports and other tasks. There was also the temptation of checking my emails. All these were just at a click away on my desktop.
Our team continues to be busy. We continue to receive requests for reports from SCRA and have to meet deadlines. We have increased the frequency of our garden visits and virtual meetings. These meetings are supposed to be user friendly for both professionals and families. However, the biggest challenges in relation to this are the digital connectivity, the clients’ technical ability or lack of confidence to use the technology (either not having a piece of equipment, not being able to provide an email address to get the invitation with the link, not using google chrome as a search engine and not willing/being confident to switch to this) and poor phone signal. As workers we need to be a step ahead and be able to identify these issues timely. This is where having had developed a working relationship with the family comes in handy, as they can talk to you about their anxieties or stumbling blocks in relation to attending meetings on-line. We as workers, have to be creative in order to facilitate these meetings, especially when dealing with ‘last minute hick-ups’.
IT staff have been great in providing support, especially when you cannot connect to your work desktop remotely and the problem is more complicated and beyond our capabilities. It is of course unfortunate if you get disconnected whilst writing a lengthy and detailed case note. This can get lost if you are not able to reconnect with your work desktop before you get timed out.
What I probably miss the most, work wise, is the peer support and sharing local knowledge, especially when on duty. I know I said in the previous post that we have team meetings and briefing meetings. They still happen; it’s just that nothing can replace human face to face interaction. A whole world is struggling with the impact of COVID 19 just now, being personal life or work.
The community I live in has a number of small local initiatives, including providing cooked meals and delivery of groceries and medication. For part of the day there is also a newly established telephone befriending service. This service is providing community wellbeing support to help ease lockdown loneliness. Generally everyone is trying to look after their neighbours.
On a wider scale, the Western Isles Council, NHS Western Isles and Third Sector have a number of joint projects looking to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the people of the islands. The Police have been a great support too.
Recognising the impact of COVID 19 crisis on families, The Outer Hebrides Child Protection Committee issued a poster ‘Stay Safe, Stay in Touch’. This is a reminder that services are available to support vulnerable children and young people during the COVID-19 crisis and it encourages any concerned person to contact services. ‘The well-being and protection of children and young people has remained a top priority for services in the Western Isles’. Furthermore, Chief Social Worker for the Western Isles, David Gibson advised that: ‘Social Work and Children’s Services will continue to be available, along with multi-agency partners in Police Scotland, NHS Western Isles, the Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration and the third sector. We encourage everyone in our communities to stay safe and to stay in touch as we work together to support and protect our children and young people.”’
As I have been on annual leave I am not aware of changes in our work practice. However, given that since 29 May 2020 we entered a new phase which saw a very slight easing of restrictions, there might be some slight changes pertaining to our practice.
It is now week 11, day 5 since the lockdown. We are now in Phase 1, day 9, with restrictions being slightly loosened. Here in the Western Isles there have been no new diagnosed COVID 19 cases since 10 April 2020. We have been very fortunate to only have had a total of 6 cases diagnosed with COVID 19 and this was at the early stages. No lives have been lost and some look forward to further restrictions being eased off. However, there is a general anxiety that easing off the restrictions too soon could bring turmoil to our beautiful islands.