Naval lockdown: How to live and work in a confined environment?

April 3, 2020

At 18 I ran away to sea…
Well, to be exact I joined the Royal Navy which meant I only got to go to sea after a period of intensive training. I saw service on several ships in many different theatres including the Arabian Gulf and Former Yugoslavia as it transitioned through its breakup.
My first ship was HMS York, a Type 42 Destroyer and I lived in a mess along with another 51 other lads. As you can imagine, at first this was a massive shock as I got used to eating / sleeping / relaxing / socialising and working in such confined environment.
Over the past few weeks all the talk of lockdown, isolation and distancing, has been described by a few of my old shipmates on social media as “a normal day on board ship…” The media is currently full of stories of families trying to cope with the current isolation that we are all forced to live under. This has led me to think about how we coped on board ship and if there are any parallels that we can draw.

Here are my top tips for living and working in a confined environment:
I have been accused of being able to make a routine out of anything (including our daily activities on every holiday) which directly links back to my Navy days. BUT… it is so important that we try to keep (or start) a daily routine. Try the basics first – breakfast, lunch and dinner at a similar time each day, keep bedtimes the same as you would normally (don’t get stuck into Netflix Boxsets on a weekday if that isn’t something that you would normally do!)
Even when we were working shifts / watches on board it was still extremely important to get some exercise. On board ship this could have been anything from running around the upper deck to an instructor-led circuit class on the flight deck or in the hangar. At home it is probably even more important that we make the effort to get out of the house regularly whilst we’re still able, as long as we observe the health and safety advice. This could be as simple as a 30-minute walk – you don’t even have to get sweaty. You don’t need a home gym, if that’s not something that you’re used to. There have been numerous studies by people cleverer than me about the importance of exercise for mental health and personal development. But what I do know from experience is that it massively helped me to “reset” my brain and just (legitimately) get out of my living environment.
Get Dressed
This isn’t as daft as it sounds! We didn’t have a choice in the Navy about clothing – we were told on the night before what uniform we would be wearing the following day. But as someone who has worked from home for over 12 years now it is extremely important to differentiate between “home” and “work” (even though they are now the same geographical location). If you are going to “work”, dress accordingly. It doesn’t have to be suit and tie, but what is important is that you don’t work in the same clothes that you would relax in. If in your real job you would come home and change out of your work things, then try and do the same thing when you’re working from home. This helps you mentally switch off from the work environment and keeps your home life separate.
(NOTE – there will be times you turn up for a skype call wearing pyjama bottoms and a shirt – it’s inevitable ? )

Separate Work Area
This is a picture of a standard “gulch” where the bunks and lockers are in a mess. This is actually HMS Ark Royal, but it was very, very similar to HMS York:
That’s 12 beds you can see with 2 lockers on the left. Under each bottom bunk there were 3 pull-out drawers for each of the bunks above. This was the entirety of your personal space.
On board, the only space that was your own was your bunk. With (in HMS York’s case) makeshift curtains pulled across it was sacrosanct, your place where you could read your mail, listen to your Walkman (this was the 90’s remember!), read your book or just be alone.
Working from home is slightly different in that we generally have more space. Again, what is massively important is that you have a space to go to work (conservatory / dining room table etc.) if at all possible. This will help you differentiate between your work and home life and enable you stop work at the end of the day merely by moving out of your workspace. The main thing here is that if you are used to relaxing on your sofa, don’t work on it if you can avoid doing so.
Respect each other’s space
Arguments happen in any family or relationship (especially if there’re 52 lads living in each other’s pockets). If you are living and working in the same environment it can be very hard to get away from one another and into your own space. In the Navy it was our bunks that we’d retire to for that “safe space”. At home it’s just a recognition that we are different people in our work and home life. It’s important to understand that you’ll see your loved ones react differently to how they might in a normal situation.
It’s also extremely important to recognise it in yourself… When you need your space don’t be afraid to take it – and don’t be afraid to tell your family that’s what you’re doing.
Keep in touch
In the days before email / Skype / text and instant messaging (never mind mobile phones) we only had postal mail. If we were on deployment, there could be several weeks between each “mail drop”. We’d all hang out for that letter from home with an update from the real world. In this isolation it’s important to keep in touch with your friends and family to maintain that level of sanity and those different aspects of yourself.

Dave Agutter, 3 Romeo Mess, HMS York, 1992

On board ship we were sailors, engineers, electricians, airmen and workmates. We had to work on also finding that space to be us in order to maintain sanity.
Remember, at home you’re a mum / dad / parent, but those titles don’t solely define you. You need to recognise and address all the different parts of you to maintain your sanity and be a better part of your family.

About the author
Dave Agutter
Dave is a highly experienced service delivery manager who has worked with a number of large UK clients to make their IT services successful. He is also an experienced entrepeneur, and has run and sold several businesses.
When he’s not working, Dave is most happy on the ski slopes.

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One comment on “Naval lockdown: How to live and work in a confined environment?”

  1. Dave,
    Enjoyed reading this mate.
    Insightful, thoughtfully put together, and honest, not to mention useful.

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