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A fine balance - qualifying as a surveyor while working from home

The work, life and study balancing act of completing the RICS (Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) exams is something all surveyors have experienced. However, come the 23rd March 2020 a new working, living and studying model was confirmed as Scotland was declared ‘locked down’, and working from  home was the instruction for the foreseeable future.

As a final year graduate, with five  months to the submission date, the initial reaction was that COVID-19 would have blown over and life would be back to ‘normal’ by APC submission time. Fast forward six months and we now understand the naivety of those early lockdown predictions. These six months of working from home have presented a range of challenges and also benefits which have affected the way in which we work, live and study.   

The initially striking realisation was the free time created when my 30 minute commute twice daily was removed from my day. In an instant, I had an additional five hours a week, time that I could spend focussing on APC prep, granted some days more efficiently than others. This reduced my carbon footprint, alongside the financial benefit of spending little to no money on fuel. So on first reflection, working from home was going to be super, and a huge help to completing my APC.

Many of us APC graduates headed home to parents’ houses when deemed safe to do so, quickly reassuming the family dynamic of years gone by. Home comforts included a ready supply of home baking which would be placed beside me quietly if on a Teams call, much to the dismay of my colleagues on the other end of the call! Lunchtime runs became part of my working day, as I did not need to worry about changing back into workwear for the office. A burst of fresh air that benefitted my afternoon of work, something not always possible in the office environment. 

It is often stated that working from home provides a quieter and more focused work environment, certainly for us graduates this I think is true. Setting out your plan for the day, and getting your head down to focus is much easier when there are no distractions or colleagues popping in to discuss new jobs or updates. As a result, I could set my mind to one task, and complete it efficiently and thoroughly. This proved to be beneficial on days when a deadline is fast approaching and I found my productivity pick up as a result. 

As the months ticked over, the disadvantages of working from home whilst working towards the APC became more apparent. The general hubbub of the office environment is hugely informative. I have learnt a great deal from being part of quick 5 minute discussions with colleagues in the office, and listening to colleagues dealing with issues and conundrums. On reflection, this is an element of office life that provided me with updates to knowledge and understanding which has now been removed. In addition to this, I can no longer turn and ask a colleague a quick 30 second question, although all available by a phone call or via Teams video calls, it is not the same as in person.

The same is true of the conversations and information that I gain from site visits with colleagues. The practical nature of this job is a hugely important aspect, indeed you must demonstrate in the APC your experience of on-site practical learning, something that was completely halted at the commencement of lockdown. In addition to the site visit itself, car journeys with senior colleagues can be hugely informative. They allow us time to discuss the job at hand, and other topical rural issues often related to the environment and businesses we pass on the car journey. 

To return to the ‘home’ of working from home, as graduates we did not choose our flats and houses with any thought that we might need a home office. This has meant that many are working, living and studying in one room. The volume of work that is required for the APC is rather daunting, and the prospect of finishing your working day and then returning to the same desk to study in the evening is not one that fills most with joy. 

As restrictions lifted through the phases, we have been able to carry out site visits and pick up the crucial experience that these bring. While the APC submissions are now in, and the final push of preparing for the interview is upon us, the socially distanced theme continues. The RICS has stated that all future APC exams are to be conducted over Teams which has become the communication tool of our profession, and one we are all well versed in by now!