Health is everything. This one should be obvious. But it’s easily forgotten amid a focus on money and hustle. There’s nothing quite like a pandemic to make you realize how unimportant the money, the clients, the possessions — all those things — really are. You forget them all in a heartbeat when one of your children develops a fever and you have to jump online to book a COVID test. Like many people, I spent the first lockdown drinking plenty of alcohol and comfort eating my way through the disorientation. But midway through last year, I decided enough was enough. I’ve made great strides with health and fitness, and don’t intend to go backward in the future.
With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life.
As a part of this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic”, I had the pleasure to interview Ben Taylor.
Ben Taylor is the Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com, a global portal providing advice and ideas for freelancers and remote workers. He’s been a freelancer himself for nearly 20 years, and started the site in 2017 to help people “work to live, not live to work.”
The COVID19 pandemic was an interesting and unexpected curveball for Ben and his business. Almost overnight, the whole world became interested in home working — and every media outlet was suddenly muscling in on “his” niche!
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
Starting with geography, I was born in the UK, and that’s also where I live now. However, I spent five years living in (and working freelance from) Portugal, and that was definitely an experience that had a profound impact on both my business and personal life.
After leaving school at just 16, I did various jobs but quickly found myself in IT. I’d been a techie from a very young age, so it was a natural progression. I quickly moved from support to heading up the technical team for a government department.
I never liked company politics and I was also not a fan of having a boss and a fixed schedule. In 2004 I quit my Head of IT job without much of a plan and set up an IT consultancy in London. I was very busy doing freelance IT and it paid well, but I also found the work very high-pressured and stressful — my phone never stopped.
In late 2009, after a LOT of planning, my wife and I moved to Portugal, where we stayed for five years. I sold off most of the business, keeping just a few clients I could reliably look after from a distance — and on occasional trips back to the UK.
It was there that everything changed. I had to start from scratch with new freelance work — mostly around writing and blogging. In turn, it was that experience that led to me starting my HomeWorkingClub site, helping others to live the same kind of free and flexible lifestyle I enjoy.
Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?
I am, but in my case, it’s nothing new because I’ve been doing it for years!
That said, the whole Covid situation made things VERY different. For much of the past year, we’ve had our two young children at home with us full-time, and we’ve been in lockdown. My wife is also a busy freelancer, so the amount of juggling with Zoom calls and homeschooling has been rather monumental.
I’m very fortunate to have a purpose-built office at the end of the garden — a place that’s helped keep everybody sane over the past year!
What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?
The beauty of the working life I have is the ability to work from anywhere, and I used to take full advantage of it. That could mean walks around unfamiliar cities to spark inspiration, or semi-working beach breaks while I was setting goals and priorities for the coming quarter.
I used to get away like this about four times per year, and it would also help to get me some sunshine during the UK’s grey winter.
I managed a week in an Airbnb just 20 minutes from my home between the lockdowns last year. It was hardly Valencia, one of my favorite working holiday destinations, but it was still a valued break.
The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?
I’d like to see the companies and politicians who oppose remote working for no good reason shown up as the dinosaurs they are.
I know that sounds harsh, but forcing people to waste valuable time and pollute the environment with needless commuting is really dumb. Businesses that do it just because it’s “the way things have always been done” will lose good talent to more progressive firms and deserve to.
Similarly, governments keen to save chain stores and commercial property landlords should instead be looking to innovate and do things differently. Failing to learn from the pandemic shows such a lack of imagination.
What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.
It’s very pleasing to see smaller towns and businesses thriving despite such adversity. As an example, many businesses in my town have started to offer delivery services, helped by a local entrepreneur who set up a website and social presence to put them all in one place. I can get twice as many things delivered to my door now than I could pre-Covid.
Instead of seeing businesses close, we’ve seen lots of new ones pop up in the area, based on this delivery model. Many are doing very well — despite not even being able to open their door to the public for prolonged periods.
How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?
While lockdown has certainly had its moments, I can honestly say that I’ve not been bored many times! Having to juggle work and childcare has meant I’ve generally felt short of time rather than having too much of it.
That said, I have thrown myself right into various hobbies. I’ve done more gaming than I have since my early teens, and I’ve been doing music production and DJing, including starting a radio show. My wife and I also self-published a children’s book based on a character created by my six-year-old son.
Most significantly, I’ve done a huge amount of work on “Project Me!” In the past eight months, I’ve quit drinking alcohol, got plenty of exercise, and lost over 30lbs.
Looking back, it’s no wonder I’ve not been bored!
Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?
The hardest thing by far has been seeing and managing the impact of all of this on my children. Such social isolation is really unnatural, and I think it’s especially hard for children going through such important, formative years. My eldest is about to have his second year with no birthday party, and breaking news like that is horrible.
It’s certainly better since they’ve been back at school and nursery, but my son is a notably more anxious person now. I am hopeful that with more time and distractions they will bounce back from it.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You can find your tribe online. I’ve met some great people online during the pandemic — both in my business and personal life. In fact, they’re the kind of people I always struggled to meet in “real” life! I’ve shared lovely moments watching DJs on Twitch with people who are into the same music as me, guested on podcasts and made great connections, and chatted about my interests on Reddit. In many ways, I’ve felt more connected and less adrift during this period than I have at plenty of other points in my life.
- You have to learn to keep yourself sane and happy. I’m fortunate to have a tight and supportive family unit. I have no doubt that these tricky times have exposed plenty of fault lines and wobbly foundations in some relationships, and I’m thankful that that hasn’t applied in our household. HOWEVER, I’ve also learned that the buck very much stops with me. There’s always stress — COVID or no COVID — and people don’t always have the bandwidth for you that you’d like them to have. Nobody else is going to ensure you eat well, get enough exercise and sleep, and do the things you need to take care of your own mental health. This isn’t about looking after number one above all other things, it’s about putting your own gas mask on before you become unable to help the others around you.
- Health is everything. This one should be obvious. But it’s easily forgotten amid a focus on money and hustle. There’s nothing quite like a pandemic to make you realize how unimportant the money, the clients, the possessions — all those things — really are. You forget them all in a heartbeat when one of your children develops a fever and you have to jump online to book a COVID test. Like many people, I spent the first lockdown drinking plenty of alcohol and comfort eating my way through the disorientation. But midway through last year, I decided enough was enough. I’ve made great strides with health and fitness, and don’t intend to go backward in the future.
- Some people ENJOY isolation. I’ve always been an introvert at heart, despite how much I tried to fight it in my teens and twenties. This period of isolation has only served to solidify that part of my personality, and taught me it’s OK! I’m certainly looking forward to doing more social stuff, and have already enjoyed meeting up with friends, something we’ve only recently been able to do here in the UK. However, I also know I’ll be saying “no” to a lot more things in the future. I have lots of post-lockdown plans, but plenty of them involve things I’ll be doing solo, or just with my close family.
- Hobbies and creativity are crucially important. As I’ve already said, I’ve really embraced hobbies during the lockdown. Giving up alcohol helped enormously, and I found myself ticking off lots of things I’d long talked about doing but never got around to. Most importantly, I think I’ve finally learned the joy of simply being creative with no end goal in mind. Firing up the DJ decks or Ableton Live and just seeing where the mood takes me, for example. It’s almost a child-like enjoyment and better for being present and mindful than any breathing exercise.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?
It’s a really cheesy one, but it has to be “find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
I think it’s Mark Twain, but you also see it attributed to lots of other people, including Winston Churchill.
My working life isn’t perfect, but my freedom to manage my own time and choose which projects to work on makes it enjoyable more often than not. I can’t imagine how much harder the pandemic would have been, work-wise, with somebody else calling the shots.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Kylie Minogue! I’m a huge fan, much to the amusement to some of my friends.
During the lockdown, I saw a documentary about her and was really blown away by her work ethic and attention to detail. I’m also aware that she recorded and edited all the vocals for her latest album at home in lockdown, learning all the technical side as she went along.
So I’d like to geek out with Kylie about music tech — ideally while eating sashimi. I’d have to take my youngest son with me, as he’s a big Kylie fan too!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.