We like to keep our English listening lessons contemporary and interesting. There is no point learning English vocabulary from a book that’s five years old, everyday English language is always changing, and the vocabulary in use today is very different to that being used even a few years ago.
So today we talk about a very modern problem, which many of us face with lockdown restrictions being put in place, and that's having to work from home. This idea came from a suggestion made to us on YouTube, although it may have been an email, my memory fails me, but I know one of our English language student listeners made this suggestion for a podcast lesson and I added it to the ideas list we keep for new English podcast lessons.
Which as a reminder, any of you can recommend or suggest an idea for an English lesson. You never know it might well be your idea in the next podcast you listen to. We cannot guarantee we will use the ideas you give us, but we really try to use them all.
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Enthusiasm Productive Routine Distraction
|At The Moment||4|
|If You Want||3|
|A Huge Experiment||2|
|On The Roads||2|
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Well, we are in the middle of an accidental social experiment at the moment. The situation we are in with the virus is currently meaning all kinds of changes to our lives, particularly at the moment in places like the UK and much of Europe, where we are in another lockdown. It’s interesting because it doesn’t feel the same as the first lockdown that started in March. In March, April and May this year, when you went out on the roads, riding your bike or going for a walk, it was strangely quiet.
There were roads which were normally busy, which back then had no cars on them. And you could sit in the garden and not hear any traffic – which is unusual for the south east of England - it’s always busy here. But in this lockdown, you go out – and things on the roads look normal – it’s busy. But what’s affected more fundamentally is our normal social connections, our normal ways of being with people.
So at the moment in the UK, although you could go to a restaurant or a pub in the summer and early autumn, albeit with restrictions, you can’t do that at all. You can only go out to ‘essential shops’ so it feels fairly normal in the supermarket and the garden centre and the petrol station, though everyone wears a face mask. But people’s habits are at the moment different and one of the biggest changes is of course, the number of people ‘working from home’ or ‘wfh’ as it gets shortened to.
This has been a huge experiment. An experiment for businesses that are able to transfer their work online, but also a huge experiment for employees. Can people be as productive as normal? ‘Productive’, P-R-O-D-U-C-T-I-V-E is an adjective meaning ‘producing a large amount of work’, ‘doing a large amount of work’. So do you get your work done quickly and effectively – are you productive? It’s also been a social and a psychological experiment too. What’s it like for people working from home? Do they feel better or worse? What are the advantages and disadvantages, the pros and cons?
Well, I guess this lockdown situation seems to divide businesses into those who cannot operate in the current conditions at all, who’ve had to close completely or who’re very much compromised and those businesses who can carry on in lockdown. So these industries are the ones employing people who do the ‘work from home’. Clearly worst off here are those who can’t work at all. But for anyone in technology service industries or in financial services jobs, working from home is perfectly possible.
My eldest daughter is a Graphic Designer – and she’s doing pretty much the same work. She’s just doing it remotely, at home – as are all her friends in the same industry. And I’ve known people have interviews online and accept new jobs remotely and begin their new jobs remotely, without having ever been face-to-face with someone from the company. It’s a strange situation, but it does seem to be working in some ways.
So that are the effects of so much remote working?
Well, there are some positives. I think maybe people are less stressed in some ways. There’s no getting up early to sit in traffic, dash for your train or have to stand on a busy commuter train for the whole journey. The stress of the journey to and from work is removed. Also the cost of the journey to and from work is removed. So that seems like a win. Also, if you have any breaks in your day – you can go and put on some washing, watch a bit of TV, catch up with the news.
When the weather was nice, you could sit outside, maybe do a bit of gardening, go for a walk, lie on your bed and read a book, all as a break in your normal working day. You also get to eat your lunch at home – which could have pros or cons. Apparently, when school-aged children were questioned about what they liked most about lockdown, many replied that the best thing about lockdown was having cooked meals at lunchtime!
A photograph female teacher with group of high school students eating lunch.
So for adult workers, some of the elements of a normal working day which are most stressful may be removed. It’s a bit like teleporting into work. You just switch on your computer and you’re there. But what are the difficulties? What are the downsides?
Well, people’s homes vary in terms of whether there is an appropriate location, a suitable place for work from home. Apparently sales of desks and office chairs have increased massively. People are spending money setting up home offices. But there may be issues over this. Whether a people’s desk and seating is suitable for long hours. It’s easy to get problems with your back for example if you’re not sitting in the right position. I know - this happened to me for a time because I worked at the dining table! It took about a week to recover. My back hurt! So I’m now back to doing most of my work in my room, not at a desk but on a sofa, because bizarrely this doesn’t seems to be bad for my back. But what are the other problems in working from home?
Well, frustrations with technology are one of the common issues. Is your wifi reliable enough? Do you have a good connection, or do you get into a meeting and then you find that you or other people are ‘freezing’ on screen and that you can’t hear each other properly? ‘To freeze’ just means you stop, you’re ‘frozen’, because your connection is not good. And if everyone else in the house is also using wifi or doing ‘work from home’, then you might have more problems.
People also haven’t taken much holiday this year, certainly not as much as they normally would. There seems to be little point, if you can’t travel, in taking your holiday, your annual leave. So many people have stayed home and not taken time off work. But there is another consideration here.
We need that downtime, we need those breaks for our mental and physical well-being. But it might seem a bit pointless to take a week’s holiday in November, when the weather isn’t necessarily good and you can’t really go anywhere. But we may find we need it to de-stress ourselves. Many people arrive at the end of this year, with lots of annual leave days left, lots of holiday left, unused, which probably isn’t good for them.
While I’m saying that some of the advantages of working from home involve having more choice how you spend your break times, that can also be a bad thing. There are many more distractions. A ‘distraction’, D-I-S-T-R-A-C-T-I-O-N - that’s something which pulls your attention away from what you should be doing. A distraction. Some people find that if they’re working from home, it’s much harder to focus on their work. They get distracted by things in their home and perhaps spend too much time doing other things and not enough time on their work.
Another problem people report – two things really – time seems to go really quickly. The week ‘flies by’ and it’s the weekend again. I think that’s because we’re not doing many of the usual things that we would do in a normal week. We’re not ‘breaking up the week’, we’re not going to the same places and doing the same activities or seeing the same people. One day blends into another. There’s also a problem in deciding when our working day ends.
If you’re working from home, it’s harder to make a difference between the times when you’re working and the times when you’re not, your own time. And what’s worse, some bosses have a problem here too – because everyone’s working from home, they seem to be expecting people who work for them to be available all the time. They schedule meetings at strange times of day. ‘What else are you doing? Of course you can come to this meeting!’ Some people aren’t necessarily better off for not having the journey to work – if the boss expects you to be working that time instead!
But the biggest negative that people report, is around social considerations. Most people are motivated by being around other people. They get energy, enthusiasm – E-N-T-H-U-S-I-A-S-M. ‘Enthusiasm’ means your ‘want to do things’, your ‘want to get things done’, your inspiration. So not feeling as much enthusiasm is a problem. It affects motivation and whether or not you’re productive.
People in teams benefit from working together. They swap ideas, share enthusiasm, work well. All of that is more difficult if you’re not in the office, you’re not in the same room. And on a personal level, if your job, your career is important to you, it’s probably meeting lots of needs on a social level. ‘Social’, S-O-C-I-A-L is the adjective we use in English when we mean ‘to do with other people’, to do with ‘friendly relationships or companionship’. So most people working from home are not really getting these needs met in the same way.
What can you do? Well, here are my suggestions.
- Firstly have a routine. That’s R-O-U-T-I-N-E – and a ‘routine’ is your habits, what you do every day. So if you have a routine, it means that you keep the same start and finish times for your work. You might eat lunch around the same time every day. You sleep at the same times. Keep some structure, some routine.
- Secondly, don’t over-work. It’s easy to work too much in this situation, so keep a log, record how many hours you’ve worked a week. And make sure you switch off and spend time doing some things. Make a clear distinction between ‘wfh’ and just ‘being at home’. You need downtime.
- Thirdly, get out, go for a walk, a run, a drive. A change of scene can give you a change of perspective, if it’s all getting too much.
- Fourthly – speak to your friends, your family online, over the phone. We can’t see people we love or people we like spending time with at the moment. But there are more ways now to keep in touch with other people than every before. So Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Whatsapp – whatever you use. Just try to stay in touch with other people. Make sure you get your social needs met too.
- And just another idea – why not sign up to a language exchange website? There are numerous websites where you can do this - find someone else who’s learning English, just like you, meet new people, talk to them online, and improve your English at the same time! What could be better than that?
Well, there are some suggestions for you. Don’t forget to go to adeptenglish.com if you would like more English podcast lessons. But enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.