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A flexible employer is a lifeline

Jill Twigger reflects on the pluses and minuses of working at home through the pandemic with chronic fatigue syndrome – and what it will mean to go back to work at the office

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Pets are welcome on video calls at Home Group (picture: Getty)
Pets are welcome on video calls at Home Group (picture: Getty)
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Jill Twigger from @homegroup reflects on the pluses and minuses of working at home through the pandemic with chronic fatigue syndrome – and what it will mean to go back to work at the office #UKhousing

It’s 2019 and, as I drive home for Christmas, I think about the year ahead: shows, holidays, weekends away, day trips and spa days. I had no idea then that I wouldn’t be seeing my family again any time soon.

In total it would be nine months before I saw them, followed by a Christmas on my own for the first time in 41 years. The only holiday I would get was a four-night all-inclusive stay at Leeds General Infirmary.

Mum and dad are in their early 70s and at the start of 2020 I had three main diagnoses: hypothyroidism, depression and anxiety, and CFS/ME (chronic fatigue syndrome). For all of us, this meant that it was best not to go out, to meet, to mingle, to live our lives.

“I’ve appreciated the flexible approach Home Group has in supporting colleagues. We were encouraged to take our leave but, for me, taking it would have been an incredibly bad idea”

My anxiety at the start of all this was sky high: obsessively watching the news, terrified my parents would catch COVID-19 and I wouldn’t be able to see them. Terrified I would catch it and I would die alone.

The spike in anxiety made me exhausted, so my CFS/ME was affected. That settled down and working from home has really helped. I can take naps throughout the day if needed, I get up five minutes before I start work and I’m at home straight away after work, with no commute.


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Going back to the office and having to get up earlier will be a difficult change. One of my reasonable adjustments at Home Group is a later start time, but it will still take more than my current five minutes!

I live on my own and I’m more than happy in my own company but, even for me, this past year has been difficult. All the things I take joy from either can’t happen or have so many restrictions in place that they’re no longer enjoyable.

Like meandering around the shops, stopping for lunch and a cake along the way. I usually spent my Saturdays letting out my frustrations pitch-side at the rugby club, but with no community rugby since March it hasn’t been an option.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to work anywhere else throughout all of this”

And holidays, oh how I miss holidays! I only took two days leave in 2020 – one for my birthday and one for when I finally got to see my parents.

This is where I’ve appreciated the flexible approach Home Group has in supporting colleagues. We were encouraged to take our leave but, for me, taking it would have been an incredibly bad idea.

Weekends have felt like torture, dragging out like a sea of nothingness. Unable to go anywhere, do anything or see anyone, stuck at home with only the TV for company. Even in a job I enjoy I’ve never looked forward to a Monday, yet here I was wishing the weekend away.

The thought of taking a week off filled me with dread, nausea and panic. I knew it would send my mental health spiralling. What’s good for one person’s well-being is not necessarily good for another’s.

I was bullied in my old job, which led to my diagnosis of depression and anxiety. I remember when I came into the office and spoke to my manager about it, he looked at me like a creature from out of space.

When I came to Home Group it was a very different story. I spoke to my manager and straight away was asked what could be done to help, what would make life easier for me; an offer to work from home should I need to. The difference was startling.

Home Group have put so much in place. Right from day one of the pandemic we’ve had the IT equipment we need, our executive team has taken part in a lip sync battle to entertain us, and there are more resources and links to support organisations than you can shake a stick at.

“I do know that whatever I want to do, I’ll be able to talk to my manager and we’ll come to a flexible decision together”

We also get weekly update emails and videos from our chief executive, free flu jab vouchers, encouragement to work flexibly, no meetings between 12pm and 2pm, children and pets welcome on calls, face masks sent to every colleague… the list goes on. I wouldn’t have wanted to work anywhere else throughout all of this.

I’m nervous about going back to the office – I think most people are if they’re honest – but I know that Home Group will have put everything in place to keep us safe, as they have done for the past year. I might start back a few hours at a time to begin with, easing myself into it.

I just don’t know yet, but I do know that whatever I want to do, I’ll be able to talk to my manager and we’ll come to a flexible decision together.

Jill Twigger, admin team leader, Home Group

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