by Year 3 Fellow Michaela Clayton
How working from home has changed my life for the better.
It’s been almost five years since I did the Fellowship with Cause4. It was an overwhelming experience at the time, but it gave me the basis to secure my first employment in fundraising for the arts and cultural sector.
I started working at Cardboard Citizens in January 2017 as Trusts and Foundations officer, and now I am operating as Development Manager. Cardboard Citizens (Citz) is a theatre company creating work by, with and for people who have experienced homelessness. I have always felt lucky to be part of Citz, as it felt unlike other organisations I had worked for: the aspirations and wellbeing of the staff came first.
On March 17 Citz closed its doors due to the Covid-19 government recommendations. I remember tuning in at 5pm to the government’s announcement and hearing those words asking for restaurants to close, offices to close. Quickly I rounded up the staff, and silence fell on the office as we listened. Senior Management called an emergency meeting and that was it: we were closed. Over the next few weeks it was all about getting the staff what they needed to work from home: laptops, chairs, screens etc. Citz supports some of the most vulnerable people in society, and these people will continue to need our support during the pandemic.
For me, the change to home working was something I never expected to thrive at. I live on a large red boat at the edge of Tower Hamlets on the River in Trinity Buoy Wharf. We set up a little office in the now free music studio and me and my housemates made regular jokes about the ‘long commute’ – a bit of humour to lighten our moods during a global pandemic.
As our workload began to increase, two members of the Development team left the company – our Director of Development and our Corporate and Events Manager. Now, the Development team consisted of just me.
My role significantly changed over these few months – I started to learn about individual giving and corporates for the first time, looking for new ways to bring support in. Working closely with the Executive Director and CEO, we began to raise the money needed to keep Citz afloat which resulted in my promotion to Development Manager.
In July, restrictions started to lessen, and things began to feel normal. I, an avid rock climber, started to go climbing every weekend in the countryside. In a city I didn’t feel safe in, the countryside was a beautiful break from it all and I began to think… We can work from anywhere right now. This is the only opportunity I may have to work from anywhere while working for the arts and cultural sector.
Today is 11th September. I am sitting here in a beautiful, large, old house in Fontainebleau in France. Most mornings we are at the ‘crag’ (the rocks) for 7am. By 9:30am we are already exhausted. Heading home we stop by a French bakery to grab a quiche or a croissant (why is French food so good?). By 10:30am I am online (9:30am English time), ready for the morning catch up with my team.
The quality of life for me in France is far greater than that of living in London in the UK. I am able to do the hobbies I love, and I don’t feel as if I am putting myself, or the people around me in any danger. It’s like we have found a little haven from everything that is Covid-19.
Homeworking has always had a negative stigma around it, with little trust from Senior team members around the work produced. We have now shattered this misconception, showing that not only do staff work, but often excel. With no need for long and or expensive commutes to the office we have far more free time to do the things we love (just ask the new wave of Banana Bread experts.)
So far, my relationship with funders hasn’t been affected at all by the move. My hours are basically the same, and at the moment my main job consists of writing reports and attending zoom meetings, both of which are just as easy to do from France. I think many of us, the funders and myself, can do our jobs from wherever in the world now: to me that’s what this experience has shown. (This might be different to anyone working outside of London.)
I won’t be able to say what the long-term implications will be, but Covid-19 has changed the world forever and I think a change to how and where we work will be one of the lasting effects. The job of the fundraiser could continue to place less emphasis on meeting funders at events etc. making the role permanently more accessible to those where this may have been a barrier to pursuing a career previously.
The global pandemic has taken so much from us and it has changed society – but it has pushed me to work harder, to move to a new country, and to evaluate what I need from life. Working from home has been amazing for me, and I hope to never return to working from an office in a traditional way.