College Life at Home: Julia Simpson, Learning and Development Officer

As lockdown continues we speak to a member of the college support staff to see how they are adapting to working from home. Learning and Development Officer Julia Simpson takes us through her new way of life.

Starting off

When word started to filter out that the college was to be closed, to students initially, and staff by March 20, priority within the Quality and Learning Services area was to whether we had the resources to work from home and what communication mechanisms were in place.

The workplace to me is more than somewhere I go to work; it is a community that I feel proud to be part of. I thrive on social interactions and the thought of moving from an open plan, very sociable office to being at home within four walls (albeit with my husband, 15-year-old son and dog named Yoda) filled me with dread.

After a bit of a bumpy ride at the start and adjusting to my new working environment (the dining chair just didn’t cut it as a replacement for my office one which was quickly changed) I have adjusted well. My husband is in one part of the house working full time as a software developer and is incredibly busy – his set up is perfect, two screen office chair, you get the picture! My son was due to take his National 5 exams and has felt a bit like the rug has been pulled out from under him, but I’m just focussing on him being mentally ok and he is, it is amazing how resilient teenagers can be. I, on the other hand was surprised how affected I’ve been. I’m not ashamed to say I cried, a lot, the first few weeks, over anything and everything which I know was a just a wobble and completely acceptable. I’m now in a much better headspace.

A new routine

I’ve found routine has helped to keep me focussed. I have blocked out my calendar to be ‘busy’ over my lunchtime period which forces me to take a break and means I’m not disturbed by anyone trying to get in touch. As much as I love to chat I need to get a break from work. I have also started to plan my working day in advance to ensure that when I’m ready to work I know what I need to focus on for the day.

Just after Easter, myself and the wider Quality and Admin team helped prepare templates for curriculum staff to use to support them in the process for SQA marking. As a team it was good to muck in and help support the wider college community at a time when everyone is going over and above to help students to achieve their qualifications.

For me personally, there have been priority changes, for example, normally at this time of year I’d be busy planning the college’s Celebrate Success event but circumstances mean that there will need to be changes and instead of planning for the short term I’m working on longer term goals.

Keeping up with colleagues

Julia and Yoda

I’ve very quick realised that Yoda now recognises the ringing of incoming videocalls or wants to see who all the strange voices belong too when I’m on a video chat. He’s quickly introduced and once satisfied off he goes back to snoozing! When I need to focus the headphones get plugged in so I don’t need to tolerate his demands.

Going back to needing social interactions, a Microsoft Teams group has been established called the ‘Beverage Room’ for all college staff which is a place for people to offload, have some fun with a weekly quiz thrown in the mix by a member of the HR team.

I think this area has, along with regular ‘virtual’ coffee catch ups with colleagues, massively helped my mental health. I’m also fortunate that away from work I’m a member of a very active and sociable netball group, West Lothian Netters. We have managed to keep in touch by having a weekly zoom quiz and have a closed Facebook group where we talk all sorts of nonsense and try to maintain a bit of normality in this crazy new world.

Working and studying

And finally, to add to the mix, I’m currently a third year BA Business Management degree student through the college’s degree partnership with Napier University. It has been interesting to experience things from a student’s perspective and not surprisingly, how well we are being looked after, communication has been excellent from our lecturers based at West Lothian College and also at Napier.

Life is never dull in the Simpson household at the best of times but even less so now. Although we are making the most of being in lockdown, I really look forward to the day when we are all back at the college in whatever form the new norm looks like, when the time is right to be.

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