Reflections – Starting work in a Pandemic

Published on 2nd June 2021 by Collette Raine

“It’s not wrong to be passionate about your career. When you love what you do, you bring that stimulation back to your family.” – Allison Pearson -

Starting with PAD studio has been a momentous occasion: This is more than a new job. This is returning to work as a new mother, in a new part-time role, in lockdown in a global pandemic – at a practice I have admired for years!

My maternity leave was not what I anticipated. Bookended by lockdowns, there was no travelling the globe, no baby swimming lessons and no baby cuddles with older generations of family. But with all these restrictions were opportunities – otherwise inaccessible courses became remote learning. With a lot of juggling of a small baby, I was able to undertake the PassivHaus Designer course and exam.

PassivHaus is a valuable methodology and design standard for providing low energy buildings, with high standards of occupant comfort and health, as well as reducing energy use and carbon emissions. By introducing this modelling technique early in the design stages of projects and working on the post occupancy evaluation programme, the intention is that I should assist the already very knowledgeable practice to better understand building performance. Environmental considerations already core to the values and the very heart of PAD studio’s ethos, I was eager to have the opportunity to put Passivhaus into practice.

I had not imagined my return to work would coincide with another lockdown. I am so fortunate to already know everyone at PAD studio, however, it has not been without its challenges. Remote and flexible working clearly has its benefits, especially when making the adjustment from family life to working. But like most people, working from home isn’t always particularly easy. Starting in a new job means learning new processes and programmes – techniques that are absorbed in a studio environment just by passive observation. Simple things like how to answer the phone; the names of projects, clients and consultants that would be picked up in overheard conversation are a mystery in the isolation of the home. The physical disconnect from my colleagues has highlighted the importance of the organic conversations that make work a social escapism from home…especially when the previous months have been so focused on being at home with a baby for company!

Nursery has been another new experience. Although babies are very adaptable – this pandemic baby has not been left with other people, or at other locations. Nursery was a bit of a shock. Settling in took longer than expected, with the first few weeks / months waiting on tenterhooks for a phone call to pick him up in the middle of the day. And once we finally thought we were there, a case of COVID struck the nursery. With the nursery closed our family had to isolate for two weeks and do what we could to balance childcare and work between us. Managing expectations and communication was key during this time – not only between family members, but also with client commitments. It’s not unusual working as an architect for there to be last minute changes, and juggling multiple situations – only there’s not usually the challenge of a baby on site!

It’s not been the easiest of starts for a new job, but the support from everyone at PAD studio has been overwhelming; the long Zoom chats (which I am still learning to navigate and taken for granted by those grown accustomed in the lockdown) of shared screens assisting me with new programmes, systems and project delivery, the time given to talk and the flying email queries. What had seemed to be a daunting task, consolidating and incorporating the new Passivhaus skills, the  return to practice, has all been made so much easier than my expectations by the enthusiasm and existing high environmental knowledge of the PAD studio team.

With lockdown restrictions lifting, the chance to come into the office and be with colleagues feels like escapism; the projects and client contact are a delight.  I have been made to feel so at home, and, as the situation allows, am eager to be heading into the office regularly to see people.

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In addition to becoming our dedicated Passivhaus Designer, Jen is a member of the post-occupancy research team evaluating the studios built projects studying their environmental performance and the positive contribution to the well-being of the owners. Since joining PAD studio Jen has delivered several feasibility studies and planning applications within the New Forest National Park. Jen is currently collaborating with a returning client – The Water Tower (completed 2015). The project involves extending and refurbishing The Water Tower’s associated cottage building and converting several stables for ancillary use.

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