Life was very busy and exciting, in March I moved into my first job as a Product Manager for HDX Graphics. An amazing learning curve getting to know completely new teams and products, I’d just come back from my first Synergy and then a trip out to Germany the following week.
I’d had a few twinges of back ache on the flights, but nothing concerning and then BLAM: overnight, I suddenly developed consistent excruciating pain and ended up in the emergency room in the middle of the night diagnosed with acute Sciatica. Basically nerve inflammation stretching from my back to my right foot and the most painful aggravating thing I was suddenly unable to do: SIT ON A CHAIR.
Oh blimey, a dozen weeks into a new job based at an office 40 miles away at a desk and I can’t sit down let alone drive. In my last company as a CAD engineer tied to a workstation with very slow VPN access I’d have forced to take long term sick leave, but I work for Citrix; a company that makes software to help mobile and flexible work-styles. With open-minded management and colleagues and the right software, I’ve been able to carry on working full time for the last 5 weeks (although a lot of that has been lying on the floor).
It’s been a very enlightening and humbling experience. I’ve enthused about the potential of the technologies I’m working on for freeing designers from workstations, enabling home working to cut out commuting nightmares, to have the choice of device you work on, but this wasn’t about choice. This was sheer (albeit temporary) disability. Nothing wrong with my brain but for a while my body physically can’t use certain devices, like a desktop computer or A CHAIR! Standing is ok, lying down ok… but not sitting….
So here are my top tips for strategies to deal with back pain and things you should ask your employer about:
1) Decent tele- and video-conferencing software: Citrix GoToMeeting has been even more indispensable. Having reliable Freephone software to keep in contact with customers, partners and colleagues has been invaluable. I actually shudder when I get sent a meeting from other conferencing systems as they are generally a lot less reliable and often can’t cope with attendees outside of the US.
2) Flexible hours: Some of the drugs I took in the first few weeks turned me into a zombie! The pain was also a lot worse in the mornings. I also couldn’t sleep for longer than 4 hours without walking around for a couple of hours. In practice this meant in the acute stage I ended up shifting my day working around pain relief. I’ve actually taken on a lot more evening US calls in the last few weeks so there have been benefits for Citrix too!
3) Result driven goals and structured management contact: My manager sets task and deliverable focussed goals. If you are planning on working remotely or flexible hours I think this is key to maintaining that trust with your employer… does it often matter when exactly something is done as long as everyone is clear what is agreed to be done and that happens. Regular weekly reports and one-on-one calls are a must.
4) BYOD (Bring your own device): at my worst I couldn’t manage a laptop lying on my back or wandering around but my own iPad filled the gap. Being able to use Citrix Receiver and Worx Mobile, means I can have full access to my email and intranet.
5) Meeting rooms: On the better days I’ve recently been making it back into offices, having spaces where I can have conference call lying on the floor has been very useful, although I do suspect some of my colleagues just think I’m a bit odd (a few of the office have glass walls 😀 ).
6) Clued up HR and facilities: I’m pretty certain my condition has absolutely nothing to do with my regular desk environment (I’d been traveling the two weeks prior to my attack). However when I did let HR know about the problems, I was immediately offered an ergonomics assessment to see if there is anything that can be changed to help stop it reoccurring. Plus information on the Citrix options for stand-up desks, which you can see some of here.
7) Fully wifi-d offices and funky chairs: Citrix spends a lot of money on their offices, with a variety of chill-out zones, sofas and a wide array of funky chair designs. Sitting is still very uncomfortable but being able to pick up my laptop, change chair design, find a sofa, and lie-down whilst still remaining connected has been an utter god-send.
8) Healthcare: Citrix does provide its UK staff with private healthcare options and having the option to have the option of private treatment was reassuring. As it is, the UK free National Health physiotherapy came through fast and has been incredibly effective but knowing there are other options was reassuring.
9) Collaboration and work tracking tools: There are lots of tools out there such as Podio, jira, Trello, email, powerpoint that can help you track your work transparently and contact with others and help you work with others and explain technicalities remotely. It’s not even about the quality of the tools, more about getting everyone to use the same tools and willingness to do so!
10) Well-trained colleagues and a company-wide remote working policy: Everyone in Citrix uses a lot of our products. This has been the most important factor in making this weird interim arrangement work. I’m not an anomaly; working with people thousands s of miles away is normal and I’m not trying to fit into a culture that sees flexible working as “scary.”
Luckily I am well on the road to recovery but I do wonder how many talented staff companies lose or end up on unnecessary sick-leave because of a lack of flexibility. I’ve also suddenly really understood how many people there are who have restricted mobility or options because of a requirement to travel to a fixed workstation in a fixed office location. All of a sudden when people realise you might understand what they’re going through, they reveal their own ways of adapting to obstacles (and you start thinking surely other employers could be a bit more flexible and HOW MUCH wasted talent):
- A partially sighted developer, unable to drive, who actually works in user interface sign-off. Ff someone partially sighted can use the interface, its simple enough!
- Parents who can’t get childcare, who can perfectly listen in on seminars at home (on mute of course!)
- An epileptic friend who is restricted by being unable to drive and has had their career options opened by lift-sharing websites.
I can’t imagine being able to have kept most jobs with my injury, let alone a brand new one in most companies, so this blog is a thank you to my colleagues and the developers who design our products. However it is also an apology / explanation to those colleagues who have had to make the odd adjustment and also turned a blind eye to having someone lying on the floor or standing up through a meeting! I’m actually puzzled by how few people have been un-perturbed by it!
And after 5 weeks of staring at my lounge carpet, I’d be VERY grateful for a recommendation of a good carpet cleaner in West Suffolk!