Where I Work is our daily mini series taking a look at people’s home offices – as the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown measures mean more of us have to work from home.
We’ve already nosed around a working space on a houseboat, gone inside a jewellery designer’s garden shed, and met a barefoot athlete who doesn’t have any chairs in his home.
Today we’re (virtually) meeting Joanne Storey, a scientist who works as the research and development programme lead for James Cropper Paper.
As a chemist, Joanne’s research involves developing alternatives to plastic packaging – a job that needs a lot of adjustments when forced to work remotely.
Since lockdown began Joanne has been working from a makeshift science hub from the home in Cumbria she shares with her husband and their dog, a cockapoo called Maggie.
Hi, Joanne! What does your job involve doing?
I am a Research & Development Programme Leader at the speciality papermaker, James Cropper. My role is to help maintain the company’s position as experts in fibre and colour; constantly driving to innovate beautiful, sustainable solutions for paper. I specifically focus on developing new innovations from waste streams. A great example of this is our CupCycling™ innovation which is the world’s first process dedicated to upcycling take-away coffee cups.
I help deliver the concepts for new innovations from idea, to feasibility through to market requirement. I’m the one to ask the business the trickier questions such as whether we have the technology available to create the idea, whether there’s a need for the solution we’re proposing and if there’s a market out there for it. Once we have those answers myself and my team then build a strong business case.
How has coronavirus changed the way you work?
I have never worked from home before…. because I never thought I could!!! My job involves a great deal of project management, including coordinating and evaluating trials, collaborating with my team and analysing data on the paper machines that are located at the mill in Kendal.
The current situation has changed our normal way of working, and now I know with great communication anything is possible!
I am able to access the machines and monitor trials remotely, which is great. I am liaising with my team via video calls and team messaging so actually, while I miss being surrounded by people in the flesh, it’s amazing what I am able to do from my dining table.
What are your personal rules for working from home?
It’s been a pretty big adjustment but thankfully I managed to get myself into a rhythm fairly quickly.
I have kept to my normal work routine as much as I can. I get up at the same time I normally do, and ensure I do something that transitions my morning routine to starting the working day. That could be sitting outside for 15 minutes, for example.
I also have lunch at around the same time and finish at the same time. This has definitely helped me maintain focus and avoid distraction.
Talk us through your at-home workspace
I base myself at the dining table, which looks out onto the garden.
I have a laptop and an iPad open on my desk throughout the day. This enables me to access and monitor all of the machines that are running research trials at the mill.
At any given time, we could have around 10 research projects that we are working through, spanning from the very short-term that may require tests on a regular basis to long-term projects involving new chemistries or technologies that might apply.
With a high level of remote access, I am able to coordinate and track what’s happening in real-time which informs me if something is working well, or not as effectively as we’d planned.
Having technology like this, and access to the right information at my fingertips, means I can coordinate and progress research trials from my dining room – it’s fantastic!
Have you found working from home challenging?
It has been a bit of a culture shock. I am used to being surrounded by creative minds. That’s something I probably took for granted.
While I am in constant dialogue with colleagues I do miss those adhoc conversations that would happen throughout the day. It’s amazing how much information you can gather from those chats. My dog doesn’t give me quite the same level of conversation while I am making a coffee!
That said, Skype has helped overcome that particular challenge. Although it isn’t the same as a face-to-face in person, the instant messaging function is a great way to bounce ideas off of one another.
What’s a working day like for you?
I am a bit of an early bird, and feel I work better in the morning, so I typically start work at around 7.30am, checking emails and looking at anything that’s come in overnight. A huge part of my role is identifying potential research and development projects so I need to ensure I am across what’s happening in our key markets and have insight on what’s being discussed so I can think about and consider future opportunities.
We have a daily team catch up every morning at 9am which helps all of us focus on the work in progress and helps us all to understand each other’s workloads.
At around 10am I liaise with various key stakeholders of different projects and we go through a checklist of where we are up to with the project, any lab work that needs to be progressed or if any trials are running on the paper machines. During this meeting, we’ll prepare trial plans for lab work or machines, identify next steps and trouble shoot any issues.
It’s also my responsibility to engage with stakeholders in the business and update them on the research and development projects in progress – again all done via Skype and conference calls. Some of the projects may be in the theoretical stage and require in depth discussion while others may be near completion and we’ll use the time to evaluate.
What advice do you have for other people newly working from home during the pandemic?
Never underestimate what you can do!
My team and I were due to fly out to Finland this month to present the findings of a research and development project. In light of the current situation we conducted this presentation over Skype.
There was a total of 10 of us on the call, all in different locations, and it definitely wasn’t easy trying to present detailed findings and analytics, but we did it and we finished the call all very clear on the project and the next steps
My dog could occasionally be heard playing with a toy but that’s all part of this different way of life we’re experiencing, isn’t it!
Do you have a workspace you fancy sharing? Get involved in Where I Work by emailing [email protected]
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