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Lockdown lessons and the confessions of a Business Analyst

Imagine it is your 35th Birthday, you are at home, alone. You have been considering how best to celebrate 35 years of being an amazing individual, but there’s a catch: You’re in isolation!

Boris Johnson has announced to the world the UK is in Lockdown. You can’t leave your home, you can’t go to work, can’t socialise and the realisation hits: Corona virus has completely struck down any hopes you ever had of having a big 35th Birthday bash.

That is exactly how Lockdown started for me.

At the beginning of isolation, amid starting my laptop and checking my temperature and wondering whether my throat feels a bit funny, I clung to the silver lining, I am working from home indefinitely. This is what we have all dreamed of right? Business up top with a white shirt and comfort on the bottom, sweatpants and fluffy slippers, not having to do my hair…!

I now know that I totally underestimated how much I would miss the streets and office blocks of Croydon, I was so used to visiting for work on a daily basis. Social interactions at work never seemed as important to me as it does to me today.

Not only do I now realise that spending all day inside of my home by myself isn’t as fun as I had previously deceived myself into believing but, I also had to teach myself new ways of working to achieve my daily goals as a business analyst.

As an analyst it’s easy to believe that you are an independent member of a team who can get most of the job done alone. Collaboration is a big part of the role in terms of workshops, interviews and other techniques of gathering requirements but, in my mind, doing this via video or conference call would be just as easy, if not easier than the face to face meetings we were all used to. However, none of this had taken into consideration how intense the isolation period would be on my mind, my personal wellbeing and sense of underachievement.

Talking to my colleagues and getting direct confirmation that the user journey that has taken me 2 weeks to understand is right not only by the sound of the ‘yes’ but also by seeing the agreement and comfortability on their face. Trying my best to hold back frustrations over the phone, colleagues trying to do exactly the same thing and everyone just feeling a tad overwhelmed.

Having to work from home is the only thing that has kept me sane, it’s the only reason I know what day it is to be quite honest. Does anyone remember what a normal day is like?

To keep me in tune with being an effective business analyst during the Coronavirus isolation period, I’ve come up with 5 things I wish I considered before Lockdown and how I have overcome them:

 

1 – How much do I rely on body language as a business analyst and, how do I plan to overcome this whilst working from home?

It is just as important as listening, reading and writing in my humble, but justified opinion. I miss the non-verbal cues that I would normally look for in the body language of my stakeholders to see if they are comfortable with the decisions being made. Normally, they would prompt me to give them space to say more and express any concerns. Where I would usually drive out concerns by using a flow chart on a piece of paper or looking at stakeholders’ faces to ascertain if my understanding is correct is no longer an option.

Where business analysts could previously rely on building rapport, we now have to come up with other methods to get the same benefit. I now have an extensive list of open questions in my mind, which I use to gather meaningful information. I am more accepting and comfortable with silence on video/conference calls, allowing people time to think about how they will answer my probing questions.

 

2 – Pressure, stress and anxiety manifest differently for different people

Working on a programme, with a few hundred people all working from home, has shown me more than ever that when we are under pressure sometimes people are unable to control their emotions, which can lead to an instinctive fight or flight mentality. This can manifest for some people by showing aggression, frustration, anxiety and many other negative emotions. I have had to shift how I react to situations and remind myself to be kind, show compassion and understanding that there are other external pressures my colleagues maybe under on top of the Coronavirus crisis.

For me personally, it was also key to have a team lead that I can talk to and offload on. I found a way to let my frustrations out in an appropriate forum, in order to look for a better approach going forward and without any negative impact on others.

 

3 – Why are boundaries and routines so important? Side note: Is it ok to chop onions whilst on a conference call?

In the first few weeks of isolation, I found myself sitting at my laptop from 9-5:30. I didn’t eat breakfast or lunch. All my project work was ramping up and various project stakeholders need my time and input (developers, technical architects, testers etc).

This made me an unhappy, tired, angry and hungry business analyst.

Scheduling time for my normal life routines has never been something I have had to do. I’d always thought that routines were really just to help my sleeping pattern. Having a routine set of breaks during the day, blocking out diary space to focus on important tasks and general setting time for some self-care has given me the ability to start motivating myself to get involved in other areas of business, as I’m able to manage my time even more effectively than I did whilst in the office.

 

4 – Have a separate place to work in your home that is not your room & dress to impress

Working and sleeping in the same room means you spend at least 16 hours of your day in a single air pocket. Moving my desk out of the bedroom helped me to feel like I have gone to work and can put myself in the right frame of mind to start and engage with work.

For the first 3 weeks of isolation I didn’t get dressed until lunchtime. That was a mistake. I learnt quickly that if I didn’t dress well, I didn’t feel good about myself and it wasn’t a great way to start my day. It doesn’t help when you jump on a call and everyone has their camera on, but you feel too embarrassed to show your pyjamas and headscarf because you were too lazy to get up and dressed for the day before 12pm… I needed my work mindset; if I dress for work, I will be ready for work.

 

5 – Don’t forget about your personal development!!!!!!!!

At a time like this, when we have so much extra time on our hands, use it to see how you can develop your own personal skills and your capabilities within your company. Put yourself out there!!! You never know what might happen…

Isolation has been a learning curve in all aspects in my life. In terms of being a business analyst, I was originally concerned that this would have a negative impact on my progression but, like any other challenge we face as business analysts, we do what we always do best; assess the situation and apply different methods until we get the intended result. In the world that we live in today, being kind, compassionate and understanding is something we shouldn’t have to impress upon each other, but we should all be making a conscious effort to make our lives and our colleagues lives as stress-free as possible. I don’t think there has ever been a time where this is more important to take care of each other. I’m lucky to work with a team who strive to be better and do better whatever obstacles come our way and to do it with kindness.

Finally, it’s ok to miss those 5 minute conversations with colleagues about absolutely nothing, and it’s ok to feel overwhelmed and it’s ok not to be ok. But, if there is anything that you take away from this small confession of how I have coped with isolation, I hope it’s that we can and will all get through this by assessing, addressing and facing these things head-on.

On a brighter note… I think it’s totally ok to chop onions during a conference call, what do you think?

 

Makeda La Touche, Consultant at Triad Group Plc

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