Remote working is nothing new to Lydia Little who has been working for multi-national technology company Amazon from her home in Ballydehob since joining the company is 2012. Lydia, who is also a writer, works 20 hours a week in a virtual role in Amazon Selling Partner Support.
Not everyone may be aware that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (now the ‘richest man in modern history’) started off selling used books from his own back garden shed at home. “I look out at our similar space,” says Lydia “and am grateful to the man who had the courage to run with a ‘crazy’ idea and set up an online business. I am now part of that business too (albeit in a very small way) and love what my job has given me, my family, and our community. I also love the idea that I work for a massive global organisation from a little corner of my home in Ballydehob.”
Lydia now helps sellers who ‘sell’ on the Amazon UK catalogue. “Sellers need to use the platform ‘Amazon Seller Central’ to sell their goods this way and manage their on-line Amazon business,” she explains. “I help sellers to resolve any issues they experience along the way when navigating Seller Central.” This support is provided via chat, phone and email.
The head office for Amazon Selling Partner Support UK is based in Cork airport.“ When they needed to expand, someone there copped onto the wide range of skills and broadband that would be available rurally, so they came up with the idea of Working From Home as a way of meeting their business and customer needs,” says Lydia.
Following recruitment, 27 new support staff from all over West Cork, from Leap to Castletownbere, met at the eCentre Bantry in September 2012 for six weeks training. “At the end of the training we went home with our work kit and and I haven’t looked back since,” she says.
Lydia is keen to point out that lots of people mistakenly believe that Amazon is all about the big sellers and/or Amazon. “There are in fact thousands of small businesses or sellers who sell on Amazon too,” she explains.
She particularly enjoys supporting the small to medium businesses that make up the ‘handmade’ sellers. “Living in West Cork and having friends who are artisans, I appreciate the skill and time that goes into handmade products. There is great satisfaction helping a seller and/or get to the bottom of issue.” Over time Lydia has gotten to know some sellers by name and there is that ‘friendly’ human side of the job that is not lost despite the huge platform that is the case with so many online business.
With good IT support behind her, Lydia says the “cold sweat of panic’ that she experienced in the early days when something went wrong is now a thing of the past. “I used to have a complete meltdown if the Internet dropped, or if I experienced any technical issues and couldn’t log into the secure Amazon site. Then there were the family interruptions and household noises. But I soon learned that was all in my head,” she explains. “There is fab support through Amazon IT department and of course, they are very understanding if our network goes down, as it can do a lot in West Cork. There are many other associates who ‘have my back’.”
With Covid and everyone working from home, interruptions are part and parcel of the day-to-day side of working from home. “Sellers understand if they hear a dog barking or hen squawking in the background. We hear it too when a seller calls us on their side – machinery going in the back ground, door bells ringing, their dogs going frantic over a squirrel – so it is the new norm I think of working from home.”
While she admits to experiencing some loneliness in the early days, Lydia says she very quickly adjusted to having the banter or craic online through the company’s internal communication systems.
She also says that whether working from home or office-based, Amazon are very supportive of anyone wanting to progress up the ladder. “I don’t have big career aspirations but I do know that if I did want to progress, the opportunities are there for me.” Covid has shown that now more than ever there are roles that can be worked online and Amazon, among so many others, is embracing that.
Lydia’s ‘kit’ involves two monitors, a desktop hard drive and headphones for phone support, which means she does need a designated workspace designated workspace. She also finds that having a proper desk height and adjustable office chair really helps. “Amazon were great from the get-go in making us aware that we needed to set up our work space ergonomically so we wouldn’t have back or repetitive strain issues,” she shares.
A very petite 5ft 1, Lydia, more than most, finds it difficult getting all the angles right for her back, elbows and legs. “I need a foot rest and fancy-ass office chair to adjust for my desk height so that I am sitting straight and comfy.”
While many people make the mistake of thinking they will be fine working from a couch or bed, Lydia says that after a but a few days of this will result in bad back, neck/shoulder strain, headaches etc.
When you are spending 8 hours at a desk it is important to have the right equipment. A lot of people make that mistake, thinking they will be fine working from a couch or bed but a few days of this will result in bad back, neck/shoulder strain, headaches etc. This doesn’t do you or anyone else in your household/team any favours. While a good chair can be expensive, it is worth it in the long run.”
Are there advantages to working from home?
Absolutely! My commute is down stairs and with the click of a mouse my working day begins/ends. There is no stress with getting to/from work. No one steals my lunches/mug, there is no bitching/gossip at the water cooler.
I get to look out at my own garden/pets/décor and I get to choose the interior design of my office space. I can wear what I want to work – I could wear a bikini or a sleeping bag if I wanted to (I haven’t but I could)
For the family, while I am still here, and albeit working, there is a reassurance for the kids/my husband, that I am here at home for them all. Lost glasses, missing shoes, a dog that needs a belly rub – I am still here for whomever needs me.
What do you like best about working from home?
I am working, but am surrounded by everything I love – house/garden/family/pets. If I am on a stressful call or handling a difficult issue for a seller, my eyes just need to look up and watch a hen pecking in the garden, or a dog sleeping in the sun. Already I am at ease. I get to spend my breaks with family/pets or if everybody is away at school/work, I have the house to myself to dance in the kitchen with nobody watching me.
What are the disadvantages/challenges of working from home?
For me it is the tech issues. When broadband drops and/or there are too many users that are slowing my systems down.
If the kids are having an argument, or the dogs break out into a barking frenzy, that can be a bit awkard too. But I have learned how to handle those with humour when on a call and Sellers are very understanding. After-all, they are (mostly)working from their homes now and usually have their own family experiences too.
Tell the truth…do you work in your PJs?
No. I think this is a very bad idea. Actually, a great idea as long as they are not the pjs you slept in. What I mean by that, is that I think it is important to have that ‘switch-on’ for work mode so that we go through the motion of getting undressed from bed to getting dressed for work. Now, this might involve throwing on a tracksuit or similar, but it is important to go from bed head to business head! From a mental health point of view, for anyone working from home, and maybe even working from their bedroom, it is important to have that different mind set. So by all means wear your pjs, just not the ones you rolled out of bed in.
What do you do on your daily breaks?
Our shifts differ to ensure there is coverage for the sellers who are contacting us, and so we have to ‘log in’ to work at our given time and then stick to the roster schedule for breaks (15mins) and lunch (30 mins). When you log in you are pretty much ‘tied’ to your computer so I use my breaks to catch up on house stuff or walk the dogs, grab some lunch/coffee. I might get in a laundry turn around, fill the dishwasher, hang some clothes out to dry. It is amazing what you can fit into a break!
Do you have a pet and are they enjoying having you at home?
We have two dogs, a cat and 4 hens. Even the dogs at this stage understand when I sit down at my work station (as opposed to my writing/lap top) that I am working and will come in for a quiet rub or ear scratch and will tip-toe away again. On my days off the air is different and they sense that, knowing there will be a long walk. When I am working, it is lovely to look out the window and see the hens waddle and scratch about the garden (they are free range) and all of pets lounge in the sun and get on well together – there is great entertainment watching them all. So whatever about them enjoying me being at home, I certainly enjoy being at home with them.
If you had the choice would you prefer to continue working from home, work in an office fulltime, or a mix of both. Why?
My contract from day one was for working from home so I ain’t goin nowhere! Occasionally I would go up to head office for a meeting or social event but otherwise I am set up and will continue to work from home. Before COVID there was the pressure if you wanted to progress career wise that you would have to work from head office and work full time but that has changed now since COVID has shown that all roles can be worked from home. Training can be given online and upskilling too. That being said, I am very happy with my 20 hours a week allowing me to be at home for the family and also time to write.
What do you like about working for this company? Not everyone knows this, but Jeff Bezos started off selling used books from his own back garden shed at home. I look out at our similar space and am grateful to the man who had the courage to run with a crazy idea and set up an on-line business. I am now part of that business too (albeit in a very small way) and love what my job has given me, my family and our community. There are many of us who have been working for Amazon from home for years now and our money is spent locally, supporting local business and leisure, we have enjoyed stay-cations even before it became a COVID thing(why holiday abroad when you live in West Cork eh?)
Amazon’s motto is “Work hard, have fun, make history.” And we do.
Have you any tips/advice for other people working from home?
Mental and physical health is so important when working from home.
• Set up your work space so that you are sitting comfortably and if possible with a proper chair/desk etc. even if this means you have to set it up and ‘dismantle’ it every day. Your space for work should be a work space and not your downtime space too. I know some folk these days are having to use bedroom and may even be use ironing boards. If this works for you ok. Jeff Bezos was known for using a door as his desk in the early years. Just do what actually works for you that doesn’t give you any long term pain or depression.
• Your employer, as much as yourself, has a responsibility to ensure your work environment is set up in a healthy way both from a physical set up but also mental health. Talk to your employer if you are experiencing issues/pain.
• People underestimate the importance of resting your eyes, if you are looking at a screen all day. Have something to look at in the distance when you lift your eyes from your screen. If you don’t have a view out a window, make it a a landscape picture/poster on the wall of your room, looking at this can help rest your eyes.
• Make your workspace just that – not the same space used for down time. Even if you have to take a few extra minutes to set yourself up with moving a table/chair but make sure it is not the same for when you watch neflix or eat your meals.
• Get dressed. Change into something else. Even if only wear Channel No5 in bed, put on something for work. If you have a video meeting, then maybe you need to wear something work appropriate but otherwise even if it is a tracksuit, just make sure it is not the one you slept in. This will help your mind switch on for work. Better still to exercise/shower before hand to really get you work ready. I get up a bit earlier on my work days to walk the dogs or do some Yoga (very West Cork!). I always feel the better for it.
• Get up from your chair every hour or so to stretch and/or walk about. Sitting at your desk/computer for long periods is not good for the mind/body.
• If there isn’t one already, try and set up a work chat group for your team/colleagues, so that you can ‘ping’ them every so often, share knowledge, ask a question if stuck, share a bit of craic. Everybody needs a work buddy to laugh/cry with.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
As a kid/teen our family came to west Cork for holidays every year and my parents eventually retired here. I sailed, swam, played with friends, just as my son is doing now still (working it all around COVID these days). The pace/quality of life really hasn’t changed I don’t think after all this time, even with COVID.
When I want some time for myself I walk the dogs, read, or write fiction. (the first two books in my Irish boarding school teen series, ‘K-Girls’ and K-Girls Plus One have been optioned for a TV/Film) and I have just finished a crime novel that I hope to publish in the next year or so too. My job allows me to fit all that in.
Working from home can be lonely sometimes, being a writer can be lonely. COVID has been tough now too, with all the restrictions. I have forgotten how to be social, might even go so far as to say I have lost the art of ‘street side chat’. We have no news to share, no updates. Having had to ‘circle the wagons’ has made me more mindful of time with family and how precious the simple pleasures are. It might be just an ‘age and stage’ thing too, at 49 years of age I appreciate much more the ‘what I have’ as opposed to the ‘what I want.’ I am very happy with my work/life balance. That being said, I do miss sharing a G&T and music with friends in Levis’ bar in Ballydehob.