When I was initially approached about being placed on the furlough scheme in March it seemed a little daunting but I was happy to help my company in the hopes that business would return to normal as quickly as possible. After all, people around the country, in many different industries, were being made redundant. Anything that would help prevent this outcome seemed like a worthy sacrifice!
Very soon after, I learnt that what initially seemed like a sacrifice, turned out to be a unique and never to be had again opportunity!
Here are just some of the things I’ve learnt during my furlough experience:
1. Furlough was a great opportunity for career development
Having joined the Marketing team as a Marketing Executive literally a month before the pandemic broke out, I was already undergoing on the job training and developing my knowledge and experience when the furlough scheme was put into place. While I couldn’t do any work for the company during this time, I was still able to further my knowledge by doing a number of courses, attending online webinars and zoom calls with experienced professionals (thank you Google Digital Garage and Hootsuite)! This was an opportunity to really go back to the basics of Digital Marketing and Social Media to come back stronger in my role, full to the brim with new ideas!
2. Now’s the time to find a hobby
How many banana breads and cupcakes did you see on your Instagram feed during the first few months of lockdown? Suddenly everyone was Mary Berry. Being stuck at home meant most people tried new hobbies and developed new interests to keep themselves occupied. It was a time to say hello to all the home bakers, new nail technicians and home workout gurus! Personally, I’ve never had an affinity for baking and am much more comfortable with pasta (boil water – add pasta – can’t go wrong).
But I didn’t want to be left out, so I started to learn the art of modern calligraphy and teach myself the basics of Adobe Photoshop and digital art. And while I’ve certainly got a long way to go to consider myself an expert, it was a great way to take myself away from the stress of the world and stay creative while keeping my mind active.
3. Having a routine in place will help with lockdown fever
For the first week (or two!) of my furlough experience, I made sure to lay in, using the time to unwind and relax. But it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t productive and only made me feel worse about the situation I (and the rest of the world) were in. I realised that I needed some structure to my days to keep myself from going stir-crazy.
From then on I structured each day mostly the same: get up early and make sure to have breakfast, do some online learning, have a healthy(ish) lunch, go out for the allowed one hour exercise, do some housework, have the daily phone call to friends/family and try our best to cook dinner from scratch. This helped to combat the occasional down days and helped me to feel less helpless.
4. Looking after your mental health has never been so important
While I had a structure in place for my days, it was important to see every day as a new day. Some days I’d wake up with a ton of energy and set my lockdown routine into motion but there were also days I felt like I couldn’t move and that the idea of having to get up and relive the same day in this strange time almost felt too much to cope with. It was on these days that I reminded myself that it’s okay to sometimes take a step back and take a day if you need it. To take a day to do whatever will help heal your mind. Whether this was by having that lie in, reading a book, taking a hot bubble bath, or binge watching my favourite show ( ) for a couple of hours. This helped me regain the positivity I needed throughout the months of uncertainty and helped me start the next day with renewed vigour.
It was important to me to reach out to those around me to make sure they were okay as well. It’s very easy to feel on your own and not okay, so reaching out to those who weren’t necessarily voicing their concerns was critical.
5. The importance of staying in touch
I’m a big family person and am lucky to have a large network of family and friends, all within a 10-minute drive of my house. So, in the beginning, it was very painful to have to avoid everyone I loved, in fear of passing on a virus that could be life threatening. But this strange time only brought us closer together. With weekly Zoom quizzes, online parties and one on one calls with family, I’ve never felt closer to them. And while it hurt to have that temporary absence, it made it even more special when the ‘social bubbles’ came into place and allowed me to see them in person. I realised how important it was to always check in with each other and to pick each other up when someone was feeling particularly low, or to reassure them if their anxiety was higher than usual.
Similarly, it was important to stay in touch with my manager and the company. Whether through team meetings, or direct one on one chats with my manger and directors, I was always kept in the loop regarding what was happening with the company, kept updated with any changes or extensions to my furlough and got involved in virtual group activities. At a time where it’s very easy to feel anxious and insecure about your job security, this helped me feel reassured and still an integral part of the company despite being on furlough.
6. Furlough is not a bad word!
For a while, it had felt that being on Furlough was a negative and something to be ashamed of – there was a stigma from people online who were still working as usual. This couldn’t be further from the truth – I was lucky to be reassured from everyone around me that this was a positive thing to be able to support the company and would allow me (and others on furlough within the company) to return when business levels picked up .
7. Be ready to return to the ‘new normal’
It was exciting to be told that after five months of being on furlough, I would be returning to work – even if it was only part time to begin with! Finally, after months of online learning and personal development, I’ll be able to put it back into practice again!
I was very aware that I’d need to be ready to adjust back to working, both from home and in an office environment, so I kept in touch with my team to find out all the new protocols and what this new way of working would look like.
The week leading up to returning to work, I found myself dreaming about returning to school and not knowing where to go or what my uniform was – clearly there was a part of me that was nervous! But after completing my first day back, it was uplifting to slip back into my role comfortably, ready to tackle the rest of the year feeling refreshed and with new purpose!