Blog post

Shielding, home working and new ways of working

Dawn Matthews from Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust shares her experience of shielding and working from home during the pandemic.

26 March 2021


  • Dawn Matthews
    Dawn Matthews Trainer at Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust

Dawn Matthews is a trainer in the Education and Training Department at Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust, she is also a disability network buddy and a mental health first aider. In this blog Dawn shares her experience of shielding and working from home through the pandemic.

I left hospital on 25 January 2020 after my third major surgery in less than three years. This was following an acute collapse and critical illness in late summer 2017, and I’d survived despite the odds, thanks to the care and expertise of NHS staff. Who could possibly have known what was to come?!

The World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic on 11 March, followed by a government directive on 23 March for everyone to stay at home. Like many, I struggled to comprehend the enormity of it all. I dreaded the unknown, feared for loved ones, suffered anxieties, disturbed sleep and frequent nightmares.

By mid-April I had recovered sufficiently post-op for my return to work whilst shielding. My partner and I at first attempted to share the kitchen to work in, which proved totally unworkable! Plan B was setting up in the bedroom, with my dressing table as a desk, a purchased headset and a pre-loved office chair. These two essential bits of kit were important for a proper home-working ninja!

Line manager and organisational support

The support received from my manager and wider trust wellbeing has been invaluable, these included regular virtual meetings with my immediate team and informal settings to share common concerns and experiences. It was so good to just chat together in that safe space. 

We have also enjoyed various themed ‘back to base’ meetings which included wider human resource and organisational development colleagues. In some of those we had fun themed quizzes, challenges and team members stepping up to showcase their considerable talents! We also have TeamTalk news and an ongoing Twitter feed of staff profiles highlighting our careers and contributions.

Our weekly message updates from our chief executive officer, informed us of important news affecting our trust and wider NHS, with updates on our contribution to the ongoing mass vaccination programme. The ability to hold MS Team meetings with colleagues has showcased how the use of technology can play an important part in future workforce planning.  

The benefits of home working

As someone with several hidden disabilities, words cannot express the positive physical and mental benefits of working from home. Having extra time to get ready in the morning and working a day without the stress of coping with traffic jams has been a revelation. I find I concentrate better, am more productive and definitely more creative. In contrast, of course not having the normal ‘buzz’ of the office environment and missing proper chats with colleagues are certainly disadvantages of home working for the long-term.

With the promise of an updated digitally enhanced NHS, we can look forward to being connected to one another as never before. It would be encouraging to have conversations around flexibility of home/office working where possible. This would in my experience improve overall wellbeing and work-life balance and would also be important when considering the environmental impact of our carbon footprint. It may have been a year of unprecedented demand but as an organisation we have adapted and supported countless individuals, families, and communities in ways we could not have foreseen.

Looking after my personal wellbeing

Although I had work to occupy my mind during the day, I realised that for my personal wellbeing I needed to constantly find distractions to keep me focussed. Keeping busy is my preferred therapy especially when I have varying levels of pain. So we came up with the idea of creating a vegetable plot in our small garden. By the end of July, we were harvesting our first tomatoes, courgettes and salad – a grow-your-own victory!

We had often talked about owning a dog but working full time had always prevented that reality. In October, we welcomed a three-year old Beagle-Staffie cross, a dear sensitive little soul rescued via the Freedom Project at the Dog's Trust.

Thanks to completing the Mental Health First Aid course, I have been able to increase my knowledge and understanding of mental health issues. Recognising the signs of mental health difficulties has enhanced my abilities to sense more often when a conversation might be needed. I felt compelled to complete this training for personal reasons and my own resilience has definitely been galvanised as a result during the period of shielding.

The important aspect of my role as a buddy in our disability network supports the work being undertaken via the Workforce Disability Equality Standard, wider inclusion initiatives and relies on the ability to support colleagues.

Hopefully I can receive a second COVID-19 vaccination at the end of April, then look forward to a gradual return to work. The transition to the new normal may prove to be a challenge, but will be crucially important for me to fully reconnect. From my experience of shielding and working from home, every kindness has been healing set in motion.

“We are stronger, gentler, more resilient, and more beautiful than any of us imagine.” Mark Nepo

Further information

Access guidance on supporting disabled staff and making reasonable adjustments in the workplace.