Dementia UK home working: Rachel Johnstone, Business Development Officer

October 22, 2020

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown in March 2020, many people have been working differently to normal. Replacing face-to-face meetings, travelling, and office working are makeshift desks in living rooms, Zoom calls and a more virtual way of working. With the recent Government guidance advising office workers to work from home over the winter if they are able to, it looks as though for many of us, this will be the ‘new normal’ until at least Spring 2021.

We decided to speak to some of the staff at Dementia UK to find out more about their role, how they have adjusted to this new way of working over the past six months, and what they see the future of office working to be. We spoke to Rachel Johnstone, Business Development Officer for South West and South/West Wales.

How long have you been working at Dementia UK?

I’ve had the pleasure of working at Dementia UK for almost five years. I started in November 2015.

Rachel Johnstone working from home setup

Why did you want to work for Dementia UK?

First and foremost, I was attracted to the role due to a passion for improving dementia care. In particular, from my own first-hand experience, I know just how important it is for family carers to have the dedicated support from someone not just with the expertise in dementia care but with an abundance of compassion. I had also been involved, as a volunteer, with fundraising for an Admiral Nurse where I live so I was well aware of the charity’s mission and just what an Admiral Nurse can do for families facing the difficult everyday reality of dementia. I wanted to be a part of this and work for a charity where I could make my mark on a cause which is so hugely important to me.

I remember reading the job description for the Business Development Officer role and being taken by how the role chimed so well with my somewhat eclectic skills mix. The role blends everything from service development to contract management. I knew that no two days would ever be the same in this role!

I was also struck by just how much I felt, as a person, that I ‘fitted’ the organisation. This was clear as soon as I stepped into the office for my interview and met my colleagues who interviewed me. I had never wanted a role so much – and I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I received the call telling me that I had been successful!

What is a typical working day for you like?

I can honestly say that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ working day! I tend to start work early – sometimes as early as 6:30am – as I like to use the time first thing in the morning (before all the emails start flooding in) for reading and reflection. Part of my role involves ‘designing’ Admiral Nursing services in collaboration with our Host Organisations and this means ensuring that I am up-to-date with the latest guidelines regarding dementia care and that I am aware, and working to, local strategies and policies. So, the day will usually start with some ‘creative space’ for service development or writing business cases before the rest of the day unfolds. Throughout the day, I can be doing online interviews, chairing the Steering Groups we run for each of our services, taking part in team planning meetings, negotiating our Service Collaboration Agreements, delivering presentations on Admiral Nursing to commissioners and speaking to family carers about the impact that an Admiral Nurse has had on their life. There really is so much variety to the role, which is one of the many things I love!

What is your favourite part about working for Dementia UK?

Aside from the part I get to play in our vision, providing specialist and compassionate dementia care for all families that need it, I would say that it’s genuinely the people I work with. This includes leaders within the Health and Social Care field, our Admiral Nurses, families affected by dementia, our Volunteer Ambassadors and, of course, the Dementia UK staff team. From day one, I have always felt so valued for what I bring to the organisation and everyone’s contribution is recognised and appreciated. The Covid-19 pandemic has accentuated this even further in my eyes, and there has never been such a sense of ‘team spirit’ across the different functions in our organisation. Although we have a clear organisational structure, everyone supports each other and there are no hierarchical barriers. I work as part of a really creative and positive team – and I love the autonomy of my role and the fact that I am ‘trusted’ to try new things when developing services. However, there are also processes in place that ensures the quality of each and every service, and I am so fortunate to have fantastic colleagues to discuss ideas and possibilities with.

Before coronavirus, how often were you working in the office?

I have Admiral Nursing services throughout the South West and South and West Wales, so I have never had what you would call an ‘office job’. Before coronavirus, I was travelling a lot – usually by train so I could work on my laptop whilst getting from A to B. I probably spent one day, on average, working from home when I wasn’t on the road, and then as a Business Development Team, we tended to meet up in the London office once a month.

How are you working now?

I am working full-time from home and have been throughout the pandemic.

What do you enjoy about working from home?

I am very fortunate that I live right by the sea, so I’m really lucky that I have the most amazing view when I peer over the top of my laptop! I think my work-life balance has improved, even though I’m busier than ever. At lunchtime today, I was able to go for a long walk and I will then adjust my hours so that I work longer into the evening.

How do you stay motivated while working from home?

Time management is absolutely key, especially as I am juggling a part-time Masters in Healthcare Management, Leadership and Innovation alongside my full-time role. I have also learnt that I need to take screen breaks, although this doesn’t always happen! I plan out each day every morning and will block time out in my diary for discrete pieces of work that I need to complete – otherwise the day will be overrun with meetings. I endeavour to vary the pace of my day, starting with the high-intensity tasks in the morning and interspersing meetings with emails, phone calls and working on key documents. It’s important to strike a balance between collaboration and reflection and lone working time. I also make a conscious effort to pack everything work-related away on a Friday evening, which signals the start of my ‘down time’ away from work.

Do you live with anyone else and does this impact you working from home?

I live with my mum, who is very quiet and well behaved! I have commandeered an area in the sitting room as my ‘home office’ so it does mean mum is banished from the room (where the main television is!) during the day.

What do you miss most about working in the office?

In all honesty, there isn’t a huge amount I miss, aside from spending face-to-face time with the team. Sometimes it’s easier to discuss tricky subjects when you are physically together and use more creative problem-solving skills, involving props and pen and paper. We’re even learning to adjust to this with the use of some online apps. I am thankful for video calls, so that we can still see each other and we make sure we start and end each team meeting with something more ‘social’.

How has your team worked together throughout the pandemic?

When the pandemic hit, our initial focus wasn’t just on working practices but how we could keep morale up during a time of uncertainty and greater isolation away from our colleagues, Admiral Nurses and those we work closely with in health and social care organisations. One of the first things we implemented was a Thursday lunch-time Teams call where we took it in turns to come up with a different dressing-up theme for the call. For example, during our Time for a Cuppa fundraiser the theme was ‘afternoon tea at the Ritz’ and we all dressed up in our best gear and enjoyed our own tea, cakes and cucumber sandwiches! Many of us commented that it was the first time we had worn proper shoes for quite some time! We also organised team socials in the evening.

We used to have monthly day-long meetings in London, but we now have more regular, shorter meetings which are more productive. We have used Microsoft Teams to our advantage to collaborate on different tasks. At the start of the pandemic, we naively thought we might have a bit more time on our hands and we drew up a list of tasks that we’ve ‘always wanted to complete but never had the time’. However, we have ended up being busier than ever, which is testament to just how much the work of the charity is needed at this time.

At first, we were apprehensive about chairing large meetings on line, interviewing and having some of the more difficult conversations, virtually, but everyone is in the same boat and we have all adapted.

Do you have any tips or funny stories about working from home?

A colleague, who shall remain nameless, conducted a meeting with two commissioners from her bed, in her pyjamas! I should point out that she had a blurred background so we were unaware of her location and had thought to accessorise her pyjama top with a statement, beaded necklace so, to the untrained eye, it looked like any other outfit. I should also say that the reason why she was in bed in the first place was because she was signed off work, having been taken to hospital the day before. This is just one example of the dedication to the cause that my colleagues share!

What do you see the future of office working being?

I certainly cannot see us returning to the extensive travel that we did before. Working virtually is much more cost effective, time efficient and environmentally friendly. This can only be a good thing.

Get in touch with the Business Development team

The Business Development team has a dual role: to develop new and sustainable Admiral Nurse services and to maintain current services by fostering positive partnerships with host organisations and by supporting the Admiral Nurses who work with them

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Why commission or host an Admiral Nurse service?

Dementia UK has built the infrastructure to support specialist nursing in dementia care and takes a personal approach to case management so that families have someone truly expert by their side when things get challenging or difficult

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