Pre-Covid, I held the impression that working from home was a luxury of the suburban homeowner. Mature folk who start the day with freshly squeezed juice followed by a relaxing morning at the helm of a mahogany desk. When I occasionally worked from home, I used to feel like an imposter and the stress of over-working, to prove I was actually working, often made it easier to just go in the office. I also admit to viewing the life of a suburban commuter with a thin veil of superiority. Walking home to my city centre pad, after a book launch or town event, I struggled to understand how a bus journey or drive out to the sticks could be worth it for the extra square footage.
But honestly, what do I know? Very little it seems. Apartments can be poky at the best of times and the sudden reassignment from downtime zone to full-time ‘holding pen’ wasn’t without its challenges. The commuter belt ‘sorry I’m driving’ stick-in-the-muds proved to have the last laugh during the early summer heatwave—firing up the BBQ on a vibrant lawn as I lay on the patch of concrete balcony actively visualising quality time ‘outdoors’. I’m still a city slicker at heart but when there’s nothing in the city to ‘slick’ per se I find myself dreaming of a homebuilt pizza oven and a utility room with alarming intensity.
My reading habits under lockdown have followed the same patterns as the affectionately nicknamed ‘Rona’— peaks and lulls. Some weeks I cannot stop languishing in the other world in my hands, but in the not-so-brilliant days I own my guilty pleasure in the world of "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills". My book pile sighs and judges me from the corner but needs must.
My favourite routine change under lockdown has been the option to read in bed before work. It is a decadent feeling to see the clock hit ‘leaving for work’ time and know that I have another 30 minutes to read and will still be early for work. My optimism is a constant source of lateness, and a major benefit of working virtually is that I now maintain a respectable level of punctuality. Yet somehow, it is still possible to be late when all you have to do is hit a button – it’s that last minute dash for tea at 10.58am... (but without elevenses, what is left for us??).
As a small team we have gradually adapted and found ways to stay in touch with each other and our work. Our regular Monday morning coffee call offers the chance to check in after the weekend and hope to God somebody has some news or excitement, but even if it’s just exchanging walking routes we try to avoid talking about work on this call.
Using live chat functions has helped to maintain a more informal and friendly line of communication, and I can see us maintaining a hybrid of office time and working from home when the world eventually reopens, but everyone is missing the interaction of colleagues and friends. Some days it is hard to muster the energy and I occasionally find myself staring blankly at the screen which if in an office environment would be the time to walk over to a colleague for a chat or make a pot of coffee.
It is hard getting to know authors and new contacts without the prerequisite coffee meeting in town, and the loss of live events and festivals has been significant. We have invested more time in our online marketing and communications which has paid off and while we are dreaming of the days when things go back to ‘normal’, we will definitely take some of the positive changes and lessons learnt under lockdown with us.
Caoimhe Fox is the marketing and publicity manager at New Island Books. She is also on the programming committee for the Dublin Book Festival, is a board member for education charity 80:20, and is a Bookseller 2020 Rising Star.