Find yourself unexpectedly working from home? Worried about being lonely? Here’s why I think there are more pros than cons to swapping the office for your spare room
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“Oh, I couldn’t work from home.”
I often get this line when I tell people I work from home and it completely baffles me. These aren’t doctors, teachers, train drivers or those in hospitality – people who need to be physically present to do their jobs. These are folk with office jobs.
Why can’t you work from home? Have you heard of the internet? Can you not pop your bum on a seat and concentrate for a couple of hours? Of course you can. You’re not a child. And if we’re all as busy as we like to make out, you’ll find the need to get stuff done means that you Get. Stuff. Done. And is the office banter that brilliant that you can’t live without it?
Sure, I’m fortunate that I work in an industry where working from home is complication-free. I create content. I can create content from anywhere. I just need a laptop and decent wifi (nothing bugs me more than patchy wifi, which is why I don’t do the coffee shop thing, but more on that later).
‘Is the office banter that brilliant that you can’t live without it?’
And sure, I make a lot of cups of tea and raid the biscuit jar more than I ought to, but I also don’t have to get up early to sort my hair out, put my face on and then cram onto a packed, germ-infested tube. The stress I used to feel from cancelled trains and delayed tubes – that one day you really need to get in early but the District Line has packed up again – is blissfully now all gone!
Nor do I have to deal with the office nuisance that lurks by your desk for 20 minutes rattling on about the minutiae of their family dramas and somehow completely failing to take your less-than-subtle hints that you have rather a lot to get on with, actually.
Nor do I have to wear a scarf and gloves at my desk because the air con is inexplicably set to below freezing (yep, I legit used to do that).
Instead, I get up around 7.30am, feed the cat and fuss him for longer than he cares for, do 20-30 minutes of yoga (Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube is my go-to, or Boho Beautiful if I’m feeling invincible), brew the coffee, eat some toast, watch the news, fire up the laptop, get talk radio on (Nick Ferrari followed by James O’Brien on LBC are my top two), and away I go.
Nick Ferrari, as it happens, refers to working from home as ‘shirking from home’, and you can see why it’s an easy conclusion to leap to – 24/7 access to Netflix and snacks, the ability to pop out for a walk, pop to the shops, pop here and there on errands, go to the gym ‘off peak’, and maybe just tidy up the kitchen…
But the bottom line is, work needs to be done, and when work isn’t done, people notice, and then you get hauled over the coals. So work gets done. I have a lot to do. The internet is a hungry beast that constantly requires feeding. And the more I feed it, the better my KPIs look. So, for me, being able to sit quietly and just get on with it, is brilliant.
Freelance friends, when I first started working from home (which came about after the closure of a satellite office), would say to me, “just make sure you get out the house once a day, even if it is just to buy a pint of milk”.
But in the winter, that doesn’t happen, and that doesn’t bother me one bit. I’ve never had a problem keeping my own company (I was one of those kids who loved to sit for hours and make things – like Boris and his buses), and perhaps I’m fortunate there, perhaps that’s not a common trait. But I simply don’t go ‘stir crazy’ from a lack of human company.
I have a cat (he’s not really mine, just a temporary addition to the home while a friend’s new house is being built), and while he’s pretty rubbish company, sleeping all day, I do enjoy a little chat and a fuss with him now and then. Even if he doesn’t. So if this is a long-term plan for you, I’d highly recommend getting a cat (preferably from a rescue centre).
This one keeps me company when working from home:
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And when the sun comes out unexpectedly and I do decide to treat myself to a stroll? Or maybe opt into that lunchtime gym class that keeps me from my desk for more than an hour? Well, so what? I can just tag on an extra hour at the end of the day. I usually do anyway, so you won’t catch me feeling guilty about that.
Plus, when the other half gets home, knackered from the battle to get in and out of Westminster every day, as well as the actual work stuff, I usually have dinner ready, despite the fact I’ve put in some overtime.
Nobody’s an island, and I do still work closely with colleagues. It’s shockingly easy to communicate. Microsoft Teams is brilliant for a quick question (and the answers tend to come with a giff, which is jolly). The boss calls when there’s anything to discuss (but I’m not micro-managed, which is pretty essential for successful working from home), and then there are conference calls for the rest (audio only please, I don’t bother to put make up on!)
‘Nobody’s an island, and I do still work closely with colleagues. It’s shockingly easy to communicate’
If we need to meet, we meet – in our main London office, in a coffee shop in Soho; wherever’s easiest for everyone. And I go to at least two work-related evening events a week (restaurant launches, industry showcases), plus the odd coffee with a PR or marketing contact so I’m hardly ‘social distancing’.
As for working in a coffee shop – that dreamy idyll sold to freelancers – it’s a nightmare. It’s usually cold. The seats are always too low and my shoulders ache from trying to reach my keyboard. The coffee machine is irritatingly loud. There are only so many teas and coffees you can drink (and two quid for a cup of tea – a splash of hot water on a tea bag – is an insult).
Plus, when you need the loo, you have to decide whether to ask the stranger next to you to watch your laptop for two minutes, or pack everything up and take it to the loo with you. Neither are ideal. The whole thing is just not for me.
And when something like Coronavirus hits, I’m already where I need to be – at home. Self-isolating, if you will. Face-to-face meetings aren’t a necessity – they can easily be scaled back, rescheduled or replaced with a conference call.
And I’m certainly not worried about being stuck at home all day every day. My home is my castle and I love it.
7 tips for Working from home
Stick to the 9-5: The temptation when you first start to work from home is to work whenever the hell you feel like it. Start at midday and finish at 9pm? Why not? Two reasons: 1) Because people still need to get in touch with you, and going off the grid will not stand you in good stead with colleagues, clients or your boss; 2) Because blurring the boundaries between work and relaxation is not good. You want to be able to switch off when family and friends around you are switched off, and that low-level anxiety really starts to creep in if you feel the need to be ‘switched on’ out of office hours.
Exercise: Despite the above, a lunchtime gym class, if it keeps you away from your desk for more than your allocated hour, won’t hurt anyone. Quite the opposite, in fact, it’ll get the juices flowing and motivate you for the rest of the afternoon so you’ll actually work more efficiently. Plus, you can always tag on half an hour at the end of the working day. If you’re lucky enough to be one of those who can get up and do a 45-minute HIIT class at 6am, then all the better. I can’t. But a lunchtime gym class works well for me.
Listen to the radio: Talk radio is my saviour in the morning. I get the news and I get some level of human interaction – sure, I’m not participating, but listening to a radio phone in is somewhat akin to office chitter chatter. All-day silence can be deafening. I listen in the morning while I’m doing a bit of admin and responding to emails, then, when I really need to concentrate, the radio goes off. Later in the afternoon I find a little Kisstory picks me up. You’ll soon wear out your own favourite playlists if you go down that route.
Get some fresh air: I don’t feel the need to get out of the house for the sake of it, but every now and then the brain fog will descend, in which case a brisk stroll will perk you up. I was always used to dash for the train in the morning, and while I don’t miss the stressful commute, my Fitbit will tell me that I am missing those steps. Fortunately, I live on the eighth floor of a block of flats, so if I feel I’ve been too sedentary, on my way home from a walk or trip to the shops, I’ll take the stairs. Plus, I have the ol’ standing desk.
Talk to your colleagues: You can lose sight of what you’re doing when you don’t see your teammates every day, and it can often feel like you’re in it alone. But you’re not. There is a reason you’re doing what you’re doing. So pick up the phone and check in. Or just ping a message out on something like Microsoft Teams. “Anyone else having issues with xxxx?” usually elicits some helpful suggestions and, if not, at least some support and encouragement.
The snack cupboard: The chocolate digestives really took a hit when I started working from home, so I got some healthier snack options in. Dates, figs, nuts and cereal bars (Eat Natural and Nakd bars are my fave) hit that 3pm spot nicely, and are for the most part pretty healthy (I’m talking nutritional value rather than calories, just in case this comes across as any kind of diet advice – it’s not!).
Create a beautiful home office: I haven’t done this, but it is on the to-do list. Create a space that you’re happy to work in. A good chair is important, to keep your posture in check. And get a desk with plenty of leg space underneath – drawers can restrict your movement. Get a notice board on the wall for those bits of paper and post-its that start to crowd your desk. Oh and get a good plant – one that takes in carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, like an areca palm or snake plant, to help keep the brain ticking over nicely.