Actuaries Working from Home
For some, working from home for long periods is bread-and-butter. For others, though, this is a whole new challenge. Whatever the case, the current COVID-19 outbreak and the government’s lockdown measures mean that more of us are having to do it than ever before.
For this article we interviewed three APR staff on their experiences, followed by some further brief insights from the wider team, to find out how they’ve been dealing with working from home, what tips they can offer, and what they’ve found to be the benefits and challenges of working in this way.
Rob Givens (London)
I’ve worked from home on many occasions in the past, but never for more than a day at a time. I live in a flat in London with my wife, which means that we don’t have a garden. We do have an east-facing balcony so it’s nice to start the day with breakfast on the balcony in the sunshine (weather permitting). At lunchtime we listen to the World at One on Radio 4 together – a bit depressing but has become part of our daily routine.
I like to save my outside / exercise time for the end of the working day, partly because I’m not a morning person and partly because it gives you something to look forward to. The sunsets have been awesome recently, so I like to make the most of the weather while it lasts by going for a jog as the sun goes down.
I think that a big challenge with working from home is with doing remote work where face-to-face discussions with someone a few metres away in the office would be more natural. Unfortunately these often tend to be replaced by long e-mail chains and impromptu phone calls.
I find that one way of keeping the collaborative, human feel is to start off a task with an introductory e-mail which is as concise as possible – but keeping all of the relevant detail. It’s a good idea to attach screenshots where appropriate, and then use a conference call with screen-sharing to have useful discussions with your team.
People will take longer to get back to you on the work you are doing because everything is happening a little slower, so it’s good to have a list of various different tasks – ideally for various different people – to make sure you’re not short of work and not always waiting for a response from the same person. IT will sometimes break, and files download / upload much more slowly than normal.
Some tips which I think are helpful would be:
- Definitely get a monitor and separate keyboard as soon as possible so that you’re not hunched over a small laptop screen for hours. Your neck and back will be eternally grateful.
- Get outside every day and try to exercise as much as you would normally.
- Don’t ever stay at the computer for more than an hour or two before getting up and walking around, having a snack, phoning someone or some other quick distraction you can fit into a break.
Caroline Blackley (Edinburgh)
The best word to describe our house last week is chaos. A week last Wednesday, we voluntarily kept our two girls, aged 3.5 and 1.5, out of nursery as the youngest had a slight cold. By Friday evening we’d been informed that, of course, the nursery would be shut alongside all Scottish schools for the foreseeable future. Luckily, my husband and I can both work from home, equally luckily our employers have both been understanding of the fact that we now have two rampaging toddlers in an Edinburgh flat. Unfortunately, we had to figure out how either of us could get any work done amidst the constant chanting of: “Mummy, Daddy, I’m hungry” and “Pleaaase can we go to the park?” After a weekend of pondering our options, we created a makeshift office in our bedroom and proceeded to take turns “hiding” in the office, whilst the other parent juggled video-conferencing, snacks, naptime, and cuddles.
Work-wise, moving to a working from home arrangement was relatively easy for me, although I’ve never worked from home before. Our project’s IT team spent the week before lockdown setting everything up so the transition to home-working would run as smoothly as possible. We ran most of our to-do lists and tasks through dedicated project management software already, and we’ve moved all of our meetings onto video conferencing software (including morning and afternoon coffee chats for anyone who wants to join in). Our manager has also pencilled-in a “meeting free” 90 minutes around lunch-time so that everyone has the option of maximising sunshine hours for their daily exercise. Relatively simple tasks can definitely take a bit longer, e-mail conversations have a longer delay than face to face conversations, and occasionally the home internet has a wobble and sends me into panic but overall, my work can go in much the same manner as before.
This week we’re hoping to settle into more of a rhythm. We’ve managed to move (most) meetings around so that we have “working” and “non-working” days. The girls are starting to get used to the concept of the “office” and it’s lovely being able to finish up a work task and then quickly read a story to the girls while grabbing a new cup of coffee. Hopefully we’ll continue to settle in as the weeks go by, and we’ll definitely continue to be grateful that we are all happy, healthy and able to keep working.
Jack Foley (London)
Having joined APR six months ago, I hadn’t much experience of working from home, so quickly becoming accustomed to this new way of working has been challenging. Getting responses to queries or asking colleagues for help with work can take longer when working from home and I’ve needed to be more proactive in my work.
The main challenge I have faced is managing to work successfully in a household of six where there are four of us working from home at the same time! Ensuring that each of us has our own workspace to set up our laptops and equipment has been very important. I find that having a designated workspace helps me to be more productive, particularly when we’re all likely to be working from home for an extended period of time.
Online meetings and video calls are very good ways of keeping in touch with colleagues while working from home, both for discussions about work and for socialising. I find a daily conference call a great way to keep up to date with everyone on my team. At home we try to let each other know when we have calls scheduled, both to avoid interrupting one another in meetings and also because taking multiple video calls places a strain on our internet service.
Striking the right balance between work and leisure can be difficult with several people working from home. There are laptops, monitors and keyboards all over the house, making it more difficult to fully get away from work. I find it helpful to clear away my laptop and equipment each evening to clearly mark the end of the working day. Changing my environment and moving work out of view helps me to switch off and unwind on an evening.
Being lucky enough to be in a house with five other people, I find socialising on an evening an effective way to relax. Planning activities for an evening is great for giving some structure to the week; our Monday night virtual pub quiz is a particular favourite of mine. However, being with the same people for a long period of time can be challenging and it is important to respect each others’ need for some space every now and then as well as taking some time out for myself.
Some wider insights
Doreen Legge (Oxfordshire)
- I always start the day by getting up, showered and dressed and ready for the office – no PJs in front of the computer for me. I find this focuses the mind and gets you ready to tackle the day.
- Never feel guilty about not doing enough in a day. You’re far more efficient at home than at the office where you will always have interruptions and distractions.
- Separate work time from home time – resist that temptation to keep looking at your e-mails once you’ve done your work for the day!
Jack Davies (London)
- I have only very rarely worked from home in the past. I’ve moved back to my parents’ house as my flat wasn’t really suitable for spending extended periods indoors.
- I’ve found that keeping a solid structure to the day is a challenge, but that taking a long lunch break to exercise is a good way of keeping that structure.
Carianne Wilson (London)
- The biggest challenge for me is getting my exercise for the day. When commuting, I’d be walking between home, the train station and work every day. With all of that travel removed, it seems like I only manage around 100 steps before 6pm! I’ve been trying to go for long walks in the evenings and do at least three workout videos a week.
- Avoid being on your phone or social media all day. Without anyone watching, it’s easy to pick up the phone and endlessly scroll. I recommend setting timers on certain apps so they can’t be used for too long each day.
- If you can, make the most of extra time in the mornings by going for a nice run or fitting in 15 minutes of reading.
Chris Nash (London)
- In general, we’ve found it to be a positive; the kids have responded really well to having me around. Things that I’ve found helpful working from home with kids are:
- Have a dedicated space for me to work. I keep the door open unless I’m on a call, so the kids know I’m there and they can come in and speak to me if they need me, but they know that if I’m in there I’m working, so they generally shouldn’t come and disturb.
- Offer targeted family time. Working in the kids’ presence (on the laptop in the living room while they play or watch a film) wasn’t very successful, but targeted family time has been really helpful. Instead of being ‘generally around’, giving each of the kids 15 minutes targeted attention doing something together, like a game or a puzzle, has gone a long way to them then giving me hours later in the day to work.
Michael Scanlon (Edinburgh)
- On a previous client project, I travelled from Edinburgh to Birmingham each week, and I worked remotely for two days a week so that I’d have a bit more time at home. That means I’m used to the idea of working from home, but it’s still strange doing so indefinitely!
- One thing I’ve found, especially living alone, is that it’s useful to have a routine and stick to it. This helps keep me focused, and it also makes sure that I can separate my working time and non-working time more effectively.
So what were the common themes?
Judging by the variety of comments from our staff, it’s clear that our work-from-home routines and preferences are down to personal taste – what works for one person may be the least productive way of working for someone else. However, a few recurring themes did show up:
- It’s more important than ever to make a clear distinction between working time and non-working time. How you go about this completely depends on what works for you.
- Take plenty of breaks! You’re not chatting to anybody at the coffee machine anymore, so make sure you get a couple of minutes here and there to reboot.
- Find how you can best structure your day and try to stick to that routine.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting the most out of remote working, but hopefully these reflections can shed some light on what APR staff are doing to get through these unusual times.