Working from home is a bit like having dinner with a long-lost friend who has got back in touch through Facebook.
It looks like a lovely opportunity to catch up and reconnect, but in reality it almost always winds up being fiendishly difficult, with you quickly realising why you lost touch in the first place.
Many office workers think that “working from home” is a euphemism for “having a long nap”, “catching up on long neglected household admin” and “bunking off from responsibilities so everyone else has to pick up the slack for you”. This is why so many have been quietly thrilled at the prospect of being sent home en masse because of the spread of the coronavirus. They see lie-ins and days spent in pyjamas binge-watching Love is Blind on Netflix. What I see, as a home worker, is a professional population in for a big shock.
Working from home – or ‘WfH’ as the cool kids like to call it – is hard, far harder than working in an office, where there are photocopiers and water coolers and people with whom you can gossip around them. You only have to look at the growing popularity of co-working spaces to see how much we dread the thought of being left at home with nothing for company but ourselves. Arggh, anything but that!
WfH requires laser-like focus, discipline and a willingness to buy your own biros. You don’t know how much you’ll miss Mike from Accounts until he is gone, and you are forced to strike up conversations with pot plants. When I worked in an office, my closest confidante was Ellie, who sat next to me. Now it is Katie the guinea pig. And I knew I had to get out more when I started concocting an elaborate fantasy life for the couple in the house opposite, who I watch like some sad stalker every time I can’t find the inspiration to write another chapter of a book, which as you can imagine is quite often.
I am still in a WhatsApp group from my office working days. Every now and then, in between messages about rotas and early morning ideas, someone will check in and ask how I am, in a tone that suggests I am lying on a chaise longue in a silk robe smoking cigarettes and painting my nails. Naturally, it amused me to witness the complete chaos that ensued when they were all made to WfH this week.
I decided to message them my guide to getting the most of out home working, which I share here for wider attention. We’re all home workers now, after all.
- Wash your hands (and the rest of your body, too). When you work from home, it’s tempting to dispense with all those annoying pleasantries such as washing, dressing, and standing up to get out of bed. But these are the key to successful home working, and will help you in your quest to feel motivated. Don’t be downcast about this – remember, now you’re working from the privacy of your own home, you can wear whatever you want! (I am writing this column in a sequinned ballgown with my daughter’s flamingo hair clips on, because I can).
- Try to create a work space. Some people with big houses and lots of money have studies and “writing rooms” (see J.K. Rowling). I have what I like to call a “writing dressing table”. Sure, my laptop may be fighting for space with cans of dry shampoo, bottles of contact lens solution and boxes of Calpol, but does that take away from the fact that this is the place where I make all the magic happen? I mean, I think my fearlessly high-brow columns speak for themselves.
- Take regular tea breaks. Do not be tempted to carry out household chores during them. Just because you can dust the skirting boards, doesn’t mean you should. Resist rising to the bait when your other half, still working in an office, returns home to exactly the same chaos he left ten hours ago – his unwashed cereal bowl, dirty laundry etc. You’re working from home, not taking on a new role as his slave.
- Remember that you can now listen to the 2pm airing of The Archers. Result!
- Stay in touch with your colleagues to let them know that you are working VERY HARD INDEED. But not too much – this can end up being counter productive. Finally, marvel at how much more work you have managed to get done now that you are not stopping every five minutes to discuss your theories about the coronavirus. Wonder why you don’t do this more often, and remember it’s because you’d have nobody to discuss your theories about the coronavirus.