Family & Work

Returning to the office after a relaxing and recharging break (or just some time away from the daily grind) doesn’t have to mean you return automatically to how you were working previously. With some consideration and thought, here are some practical tips to keep the holiday vibe alive back at the office.

#1 Re-evaluate or change your routine

On holiday one of the things we often appreciate most is the change in routine. Try to avoid falling back into your old routines by being intentional – schedule walking meetings where appropriate, get up and talk to colleagues if you can rather than firing off one sentence emails, and look into techniques like the Pomodoro Technique to keep focus when carrying out mundane tasks.

Experts say that the “best way to modify habits is to replace them with a new habit”. If you regularly drink your morning coffee whilst reading emails, try instead to invite a colleague to drink your coffee together to discuss the day’s tasks.

#2 Look over your reading or podcast list for the autumn / listen to a summer playlist

Summer is full of articles about the best beach reads, or the best podcasts (read ours here) but don’t forget these recommendations will still be applicable once you’re back from your holiday. If you only ever find the time to read or listen to podcasts when you’re away from work, try changing up your commute by reading – or listening to – a novel rather than scrolling through LinkedIn or a newspaper.

Not everyone works well listening to music, but if you do, consider compiling songs (like this Spotify list of songs for lawyers) that remind you of your holiday on Spotify and listening to it when doing more admin-related tasks to lift your mood.

#3 Take your full lunch-break (and use it to be a tourist)

According to research carried out by Mastercard and Ipsos MORI in 2016, only 17% of British workers take an hour for lunch, with the average lunch-break lasting only 28 minutes.

Yet on holiday, we spend a great deal of time lingering over meals and exploring new places. Keep this vibe going by stopping work when you can to take a proper break, and use it to really explore the places surrounding your work. 

If you work in a city and enjoy culture, there are galleries, churches and public spaces which you can spend half an hour exploring and learning about the history of the areas or being inspired. There are often lunchtime concerts and talks.

If you work more remotely or from home, try finding new footpaths and exploring your immediate surrounds on foot.

#4 Get outside

On holiday, we often spend a huge amount more time outside and consequently we feel much better for it. The effects of Vitamin D on our mood as well as our health is well documented. A lack of Vitamin D can cause fatigue, tiredness and depression as well as making us more susceptible to colds and other illnesses commonly making the rounds in offices and public transport.

Keep this wellness feeling going on your return and fortify your immune system for the winter months by getting outside to absorb Vitamin D. NHS advice is to spend short periods outside between 11am and 3pm without sun-cream and with forearms, hands and lower legs exposed between March and the end of September.

#5 Practice optimism/gratitude

“When we take time to notice the things we are grateful for we raise our energy levels and become more happy and optimistic,” says Laura Walker, a mental health nurse and happiness coach. 

Take inspiration from Walker’s ‘gratitude stone’ (hers is a stone she painted with Mandela but it doesn’t need to be something so monumental) by keeping a stone or shell that you found on your holiday in your pocket or bag. 

“Whenever I see the stone I stop and consciously think of something I feel grateful for. I love this because it takes me by surprise as it often turns up on top of the washing machine or other random places”.

She is a firm believer in a daily gratitude practice; it doesn’t need to be a stone or shell, it could be a daily journal, or just taking time to notice and reflect upon the things you’re thankful for experiencing or that bring you pleasure, such as looking up and noticing the sunlight on your walk to the station or enjoying the smell of your hot coffee.

#6 Set boundaries for tech use

Our brains are not designed to be constantly in use. We need to spend time idling in order to let our brains re-charge and work more efficiently but an ever-present screen with a never-ending list of tasks to complete prevents this from happening. 

On holiday we naturally spend more time doing things away from a screen or technology, such as reading, playing sports, or sight-seeing, which gives us an added benefit that our brains have had more time to switch off more fully.

Try continuing this back in the office by actively setting realistic boundaries with technology. Try setting yourself screen time limits, reading or listening to podcasts on your commute and stepping away from your screen during breaks (see #1 above).

#7 Be more present

Experts advise that the key to a balanced life is one in accordance with your values. If you are very clear on your values and work to your strengths, you will feel more fulfilled, more engaged, more consciously in control, less stressed and more present. Presence really is the key to keeping the ‘holiday vibe’ alive. 

Try consciously reducing multi-tasking and focus on one thing at a time.

#8 Consider your holiday epiphanies and schedule your diary accordingly

Ellen Price, Founder and Coach at Think Feel Do says we make the best decisions about what needs to change or be given priority once we’ve had a holiday break. “The best gift you can give yourself to carry forward the benefits of the holiday is to schedule your diary in accordance with your values,” she says. 

“If being home for your kids bath time 3 times a week is important to you, block the time, make it non-negotiable and then make sure you turn your phone off and stay present with it”. 

“If getting promoted this year is important to you, work out what you need to do to achieve that and prioritise your diary for those things and be really present with them.”

#9 Replicate the scent of your holiday

“There is lots of buzz at the moment around the idea of ‘functional fragrances’, which are scents explicitly designed to lift or shift your mood – think aromatherapy with added neuroscience,” says Lizzie Ostrom, founder of Odette Toilette, who create experiences that invite feeling, thinking and exploring through scent. 

“But actually, any perfume or smell can do this, and it’s within our power to build that association. One easy way to do this is to choose a particular or new perfume to wear on holiday. You can then wear it when you’re back if you want to snap out of a stressful situation and feel emotionally reconnected with that languorous feeling of being on holiday.” 

You could also do the same thing by using up your holiday sun-cream once you return to the office, or by using a shower gel after you cycle or run to work which has a similar scent.

Using a new scent on holiday does come with a warning though. Lizzie says that “I once used this technique on a trip to the US and felt so grim the first two days, my perfume made me feel a bit queasy thereafter. So hold-off spraying on your travels until you feel a bit more settled and in a restful mood!”

#10 Swap your mid-afternoon fizzy drink for an ice-cream

If all of the above seems too much, this one is super easy. Instead of reaching for a can of something cold and fizzy during the mid-afternoon slump, combine getting outside with a change in routine and walk to the nearest shop to pick up your ice-cream of choice.

Making Work, Work

Around 2013, a new kind of flexible worker emerged on the photo-sharing social media platform, Instagram. Taking the concept of flexible (and indeed worker, although that is another article) to an entirely new level, accounts such as @wheresmyofficenow waved goodbye to the more static based notion of flexible working. They became part of a movement sweeping across the mindset of the millennial generation: the flexible worker with no fixed home base, often living out of a van.

Questioning everything from the concept of work right down to the notion that we should remain in one place to do it, these nomadic individuals began documenting life and work from the road and posting photos to Instagram, in answer to the question where’s my office now.

Fast forward to 2019 and this way of life is a growing movement – a sub-culture of people on the move, many of which are embracing minimalism and attempting to reassess what is truly important for a happy and balanced life. All of which is documented for envy and inspiration through the hashtag #vanlife, which currently includes more than five million photos on Instagram.

Where millennial influencers lead, others are sure to follow.

Technology and flexible working

Back in the legal world, flexible working as a concept is growing. “As more companies are working agile policies into their contracts, the legal market as a whole is thriving, with even more talented individuals either entering or returning to the workforce” we noted back in December 2018.

For too long, the concept of lawyers working from the beach, forest or up a mountain has been a reaction to technology in the worst way – overworked city lawyers never switching off, accessing email and responding to client requests from their holidays as efficiently as from their desks, perpetuating a ‘always on’ approach.

The legal market is generally waking up to the idea that flexible working can and should mean “finding hours that suit your life and how you best work” (Anna Whitehouse, Flexible working campaign) which in time will no doubt mean that we will see lawyers and those working in legal markets working from remote locations.

As Louisa Van Eeden-Smit commented in her piece for The Attic last year, “flexible working is just one of the ways the modern legal workforce can work smarter, rather than harder”. In theory, the van life way of life should be able to include lawyers, facilitated largely of course by the advance of technology.

“Taken at its most basic, laptops and smartphones mean that lawyers can be online and contactable 24/7, no matter where they are in the world… add to that the plethora of cutting-edge legal tools, such as case management software, and it’s clear that legal professionals can remain connected to both their clients and colleagues without being physically present in the office. They can execute tasks, securely access shared files, issue and review contracts, send out invoices, and much more.”

Are lawyers working flexibly on a remote global scale?

Search Instagram for #travellinglawyer and you’ll find over a thousand photos mainly from exotic-looking locations, with the occasional British city / county court thrown in for good measure. This is an improvement on the landscape of five years ago, but it seems that at present the majority of travelling lawyers are fitting in their wanderlust lifestyle around their legal career rather than it forming an integral part.

For some, frequent travel from a fixed base is the basis of their current story. They use their Instagram profiles to highlight the places that they visit outside of client boardrooms and the causes that they represent.

Juanita Ingram, a US attorney, author and actress based in the US and London (who founded the Greater London branch of Dress For Success, a charitable organisation that “helps disadvantaged women become economically independent by providing them with free professional clothing and styling and interview coaching, as well as on-going support after they’ve re-joined the workplace”) uses her Instagram and other social media channels to showcase her international travels where she speaks on various topics regarding female empowerment and self-worth.

© iamjuanitaingram

The Legal Eagle Mummy is a lawyer and disability rights advocate whose daughter’s heart condition means she has had to travel abroad for treatment. Anonymous on Instagram, she has been able to work remotely whilst also using her photographs to raise awareness.

© The Legal Eagle Mummy

For others, every spare moment away from the office is spent travelling. They do not yet appear to be working in the same way that those embracing #vanlife are but they are helping build the vision that being a dedicated and brilliant lawyer does not mean remaining in the office 365 days a year.

Kathy Kass is a New York Attorney who spends weekends and holidays travelling and taking part in marathons, documenting her travels online

The anonymous Caffelawyer is a lawyer working for a magic circle firm in London, splitting his time between London and Milan.

© Caffelawyer

When is a travelling lawyer not a lawyer?

On the flip side, the #travellinglawyer hashtag also reveals those for whom the call of remote travel has proved lucrative enough to take a break from law altogether. Prominent #vanlife contributor Lisa Jacobs was a lawyer, as was Felipe Villegas Múnera

© Vacayvans

Both Lisa and Filipe now spend their lives travelling and posting scenes of their travels and methods of transport, providing inspiration of where others could work, monetising their travels in a different way entirely.

Interestingly, many of these ex-lawyers are still happy to share that they were lawyers, which may well encourage others to consider whether they can both travel and work in the legal market.

More soberingly though, for some van life is more of a necessity than a chosen way of life. Liam Seward is not a lawyer, but others in his position could be. Some are teachers, others charity workers. They live remotely because they have to, because they can’t afford to work and rent and living in a van affords them the ability to continue working. 

Where is the future of flexible working?

It is becoming accepted across the board that not everyone seeks to be a partner in the traditional model and a better balance in life is sought right across the profession, from trainees right the way up to experienced partners. Magic circle firms are bringing in flexible working policies allowing all staff to request to work from home. Big law firms are setting up offshoots to address specific types of legal issues staffed entirely by lawyers who choose where and when to work. And of course, there are employers like at Obelisk who make the most of legal talent with a uniquely flexible and remote workforce.

The more that this occurs and people talk about it, or photograph it and share it on social media, the more others will start to listen and follow suit. The mere presence of any lawyers on Instagram showcasing life outside of work and the office is positive, even if as yet the realisation of the dream of truly remote flexible working as a lawyer on the road is perhaps more few and far between.

In another five years, we look forward to the #vanlife concept having evolved more fully. We hope that it will include lawyers and others who have up until now been restrained by increasingly outdated models of working.

Making Work, Work

In an increasingly connected world, why are we hearing that people feel increasingly more alone? Whether in the office, at home with the baby, or working remotely, more people are experiencing feelings of loneliness. As the majority of our lawyers at Obelisk work flexibly, many remotely, we look at some of the data and causes, and how we can tackle this creeping sense of isolation.

Working Life and Loneliness

Our modern working culture has changed the way we socialise – spending the majority of our time in the office, often commuting far from our local area, means our social life often revolves around colleagues and peers who have a similar working day to socialise around. We move to where the work and schools are, rather than stay within the communities our families once grew up through generations in, so we are less likely to form a bond with our neighbours.

So, once our lives change and we suddenly find ourselves outside of the work circle, through maternity leave, a career break or a change to remote flexible working, we can start to feel isolated.

New parents are understandably one of the most susceptible groups to feelings of loneliness – 80% of mothers surveyed by Mush admitted as much.  Much like retirees, the sudden displacement from work routine and social life can leave them feeling they are removed from their usual support circle.

It’s not just those who choose to stop working for an extended period. Both office and remote workers are experiencing similar level of loneliness. Buffer’s 2018 State of Remote Work found 21% of remote workers see loneliness as their biggest struggle.

Office workers also struggle. Though they might meet and speak with dozens of people a day through their profession, time pressures and work culture may mean they aren’t able to form a personal bond with many people they work with. A long-hours culture – working through break times, skipping the after work socialising due to having to catch a train to make it home for the kid’s bedtime – reduces the opportunities to connect with colleagues and associates.

A Growing Concern

This all shows that loneliness is not confined to certain groups; both workplace and general loneliness are a growing condition of our existence.

Life is increasingly busy both at work and at home – a recent report found that the amount of unpaid household tasks we are doing in the UK has increased by 80% since 2005. We get so bogged down with things we must do, we lose appreciation of the simple pleasure of having nothing in our schedule, and using that time to reconnect with others.

Loneliness is having a profoundly negative effect on our wellbeing and how we work. A Gallup study, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, found 30% of respondents with a ‘best friend’ at work were 7 times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. Loneliness can affect our ability to self-regulate, and impact on physical aspects of our wellbeing including blood pressure, the immune system and cognitive ability.

The Paradox of Social Technology

Social media and communication apps that are meant to bring people closer are perhaps encouraging complacency. We have all the ways and means in the world to send a quick message and see people’s public updates, but this means we don’t think to stop and check in properly on how someone’s life is going behind the scenes. We see others sharing photos of group holidays and work events, and it seems like we are even more alone with our lonely feelings.

Of course, we should know deep down what we see isn’t the whole truth.  In a world of keeping up appearances, no one wants to admit they are feeling lonely, for fear of coming across vulnerable – we are fine; we are living the dream of doing what we want when we want! Thanks to pluralistic ignorance, no one wants to admit they are struggling because they believe they are the only ones feeling that way, and so the cycle continues.

How to Combat Feelings of Loneliness

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others

As hard as it may be, try to resist comparing yourself to the outside view of other people. Choose to follow more warts-and-all social media accounts that aren’t afraid to show vulnerability and the other side of the picture. This will help when sharing feelings of your own to others, as it serves to prove that there are many people out there in the same boat.

  1. Do some good in your community

Positive action, even if you’re starting out alone, will soon attract other likeminded people. Find a local community club, cause or online group for something you are passionate about. Not only will you be contributing something worthwhile, it will boost your own confidence and help you get outside of your own head for a while.

  1. Take time to say ‘hello’

Not every conversation has to be deep and personal to give you a little boost for the day. Slow down and take the time to talk to people you may see regularly but never interact with for more than a couple of seconds. Be it in a park, at the shop, or on public transport, the longer you sit or stay somewhere, you’ll be surprised at how many friendly conversations can take place – yes, even in London!

Advice for New Parents

Join local online communities – It’s hard to get out and about with a new baby, and there’s very little time or energy to put into much else, so you may need to find other ways to combat loneliness. Local online support groups and parenting forums can go a long way to help.

Be neighbourly – If you live near other houses, try to get to know some neighbours. Stay at home mothers, retirees, self-employed people who may be home in the daytime can be a huge help and provide a range of different insights and experiences.

Advice for Remote Workers

Make more phone calls – It’s all too easy to send a message when time poor, and especially so when you’re finding it hard to pick up the phone due to feeling vulnerable. Taking that first deep breath and talking to people on a regular basis really does work wonders. A message about one thing starts and ends on that subject alone, whereas with a conversation, you never know where it might lead, making the interaction altogether more stimulating and valuable.

Schedule the time – If you are not good at keeping in touch, put contacting and meeting people into your diary as you would with work deadlines and conference calls.

Choose clients carefully as a freelancer – If you can, try to choose to work with teams who value communication and human connection, and understand the challenges of remote working and the need to be connected to the organisation on a deeper level.

Advice for Office Workers

Ask others how they are feeling – The chances are that you are not the only one feeling this way, so look out for other people too. Ask them how they are doing, how they are getting on with their current caseload or particular clients. We all need an opportunity to vent at work from time to time and (as long as it’s kept professional!) can help us bond with colleagues.

Address the office culture – Feelings of isolation are likely to be due to something wrong with the organisational culture. There may be a lack of investment in social events and team cohesion, so focus on addressing the problem by suggesting events and activities that encourage better collaboration and interaction with colleagues.

At Obelisk Support we all have had experience of feeling isolated in our working lives. With a flexible core team and network of remote consultants we work tirelessly to keep in touch, organise events and create a culture that helps individuals feel continually supported and cared for. If you have any thoughts on tackling loneliness as a consultant or lawyer on a career break, we want to hear from you.