Trainee Blog: Mental wellbeing during lockdown – a trainee's perspective

Annoyed. Bewildered. Upset. These emotions were running high when my trip to Mexico was cancelled due to COVID-19. At the time there were little, if any, known Coronavirus cases in the UK and I couldn't help but feel like my bad luck was not going to stop at last year's trip to Tokyo – yes I was one of the unlucky England Rugby fans who travelled to Japan only for Typhoon Hagibis to stop play. I quickly realised that COVID-19 was not going to simply affect my personal life, it would also have an impact on my work environment and experience as a trainee solicitor at Michelmores.

Seat changes, as detailed by my fellow trainee, Andra Hotomega in her recent article, are often challenging times for trainees. We find ourselves leaving one team, where we have (finally) got to grips with the work we are doing, to join a different department ready to develop a new set of skills and knowledge. With the global COVID-19 pandemic taking centre stage, a spotlight has been cast on mental health.

Surrounded by a strong support network of family, friends and colleagues at Michelmores, I have learnt that life will give you lemons and that some people will just get more fruit than others. By the end of my third week in my new seat in the Education team, in the interests of public health and the safety of staff, Michelmores asked for the majority of its employees to work from home.

Subsequently, in line with Government advice trainees, like many other professionals, have continued to work remotely, away from the office and their supervisors. As such, although I had a tendency for being rather pessimistic, I have taken the decision to consider the glass half full (preferably in hand) knowing that it is always refillable.

In order to stay as productive as possible during these unprecedented times, whilst also making time for my own mental wellbeing, I have compiled some best practice tips to staying productive at home as a trainee:

  • Discipline: being outside of the office and at home in an environment which is usually a place for down-time, it is important to put the effort in to keep yourself accountable. For instance, maintain an up-to-date to-do list and set targets for which tasks you want to complete in that day. I have found that including non-work related activities in my calendar such as "start the day outside" has helped me to ensure I get the exercise I need and to achieve a positive can-do mindset without blurring the lines between work and home life.
  • Routine: the little things really add up so it is important to keep a daily routine as you would normally. For instance, some will find that it can help to put on smart-casual clothes as opposed to staying in their pyjamas or dressing "down". Michemlores' trainees often have lunch together, and so enjoying a "virtual lunch" with colleagues can help you to take a break from work in good company. I have found that these face-to-face down-time sessions with colleagues also help to find out how they are coping with working from home, as it is not always possible to spot when something is wrong over email.
  • Be proactive: technology has evolved over the years, but nonetheless working remotely can sometimes feel lonely. I have found that seeking help from supervisors and reaching out to other colleagues just for a chat is not only useful for work, but also prevents you from entering into total social isolation. Videoconferencing is my preferred use of technology, as it makes me feel like I am in the same room as others, like at work. All teams at the Firm are holding meetings by videoconference for colleagues to check in with one another and some have even involved "show and tell" introducing children and pets! Furthermore, the Firm is supportive, with regular trainee meetings to answer any queries whilst providing virtual workshops such as this week's Mental Health Awareness Week webinars.
  • Communication: as annoying as it is to save up and be excited for a holiday, Mexico is not going anywhere, and so time should be better spent speaking with friends and family to check that they are well and coping with lockdown (especially those who are living alone). We are lucky enough to have a variety of virtual platforms enabling us to take our weekly dose of "family quiz" to switch off from work and benefit everyone's mental wellbeing with a "virtual change of scenery".
  • Commercial awareness: from students looking for training contracts to Partners, one key skill that is vital to the legal profession is being able to stay commercially aware. Many external factors affect law firms and their clients, as we have seen with Brexit, recessions and general elections. COVID-19 is no exception and trainees, like lawyers, must proactively recognise how daily developments of the pandemic will affect their clients. By keeping up to speed with Government guidance on COVID-19, rather than feeling helpless, I have felt some small form of control over the virus through being able to assist clients by finding solutions.

During this challenging time, it is important for everyone to pull together and support one another to achieve a healthy mindset. To help its clients Michelmores has produced a number of Coronavirus-related articles aimed at giving clear overviews of current developments.