Due to the strict lockdown imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, more of us than ever before are now working from home, with the ‘home office’ becoming the new norm. But what is it really like to work remotely? Here, Daisy Buchanan, a freelance writer and author who has worked from home for the past eight years, shares her hard-earned advice.
The first thing I need to tell you is that I am writing this piece in bed.
Sensible people will say that the very first rule of working from home is that you Do. Not. Work. In. Bed. Ever. It is a sign that the boundaries between your personal and professional life have dissolved entirely. It means that you will never have a good night’s sleep again.
Heaven help you if you try to have sex later. If you’ve worked in that bed, you’ll reach a critical moment and yell “I’ll have it with you at close of PLAY!”
Instead, a good homeworker gets up as soon as they wake up, and after showering and eating a nutritionally rich, protein-filled breakfast they put on some sort of power suit and go and sit in their stylish home office. The idea is not only that your boss might come over and check up on you at any point during the day, but the boss is travelling to you via 1958, and will shout at you for slouching.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, a number of global companies, including Twitter and Google, have asked their staff to work from home. In the last 48 hours, I’ve been sent more tips about how to work from home than I have in my eight years of actually doing it every day.
“Airplane mode can be a way of life,” is a slogan that comes up on Twitter, with several users urging newly minted homeworkers to turn off their wifi. (I’m not sure how they managed to publish that information online.) A slightly more relatable tweet came from a user who said that the best thing about home working is that “During team meetings I no longer need to scream internally. I can scream out loud.”
There really is no universal way to work from home, just as there really is no universal way to work in an office. If you’re the sort of person who has created an impenetrable desk jungle of ferns and succulents, or if you always use the loo with the dodgy lock before a big meeting, in the hope that you might accidentally-on-purpose get stuck, then you’re going to thrive.
If you’re on any kind of social committee, or find genuine empowerment through PowerPoint, this period might be quite testing. Although I suspect you’ll think you’re losing your mind on day one, but by the end of day three you will have created your own version of Skype.
On a good day, this is what typically happens when I work from home: I wake up at 7ish, and I write nonsense in my journal, read a book, and embark on the sort of semi-elaborate skincare routine that a 35-year-old woman feels obliged to undertake. I attempt to stay off social media until 9AM, when I check my emails and work until around midday.
Then I walk to the gym, picking up a salad for lunch on the way home. I check my emails again, then I have a late afternoon bath and do some more reading. I get dressed and work until 7pm. I start the day with Radio Three, and finish with The Simpsons.
On a bad day – and I reckon I have one or two real stinkers a month – this is my routine. I wake up, then try and fail to resist the urge to check my phone. I spend a couple of hours reading Twitter and complaining about Twitter on WhatsApp. I feel tense, distracted and unfocused, I can’t get into the flow of work, I don’t do any exercise, and suddenly it’s 3pm and I’m hangry. I can usually fix things by going for a gentle, food-sourcing walk. If I’m beyond fresh air, I go back to bed for a nap, often self-soothing with series three of Parks And Recreation.
I believe that every one of us needs at least one working day a month where we stay horizontal, in pyjamas, maybe keeping half a sleepy eye on emails while napping intermittently. Depending on your job, I suspect most people could nap for a week and still get four or five times as much work done in a month as they would do in an office.
My occasional forays into the “real” office world have shocked me. For every hour of work that gets done, four or five hours are spent discussing when and how the work will happen. It’s like an episode of Made In Chelsea, where the characters spend an entire series discussing one party, but with Excel spreadsheets.
It’s understandable that brand new homeworkers are anxious about leaving the office. Will they work if there is no one around to make them do it? Will they eventually forget how to operate a zip or a button, and be found in their bathroom naked, feral and clutching an empty jar of peanut butter? By the end of the second day, it’s a possibility.
But before the end of the first week, everyone finds their groove. When I worked in an office, I had very little motivation to finish my work, because it only ever led to more work. Now that I work from home, I never miss a deadline because if I work fast I get to go home early. And guess what? I’m already there!
If you’re currently self-isolating and new to homeworking, treat this period as an opportunity for an experiment. You have the chance to discover whether you work best in shoulder pads, or a festive onesie, or a towel. Try working in bed. Then try converting an Ikea Billy bookcase into an executive desk. Find your perfect power lunch! Is it an organic kale salad with toasted sesame seeds, or stuffed crust Catalan chicken Domino’s for one?
There’s only one rule: if part of your routine doesn’t feel right, change it up. And if it still doesn’t feel right, ask yourself when you last ate, slept or washed. Nearly every professional drama and disaster that I have encountered over the last few years hasn’t seemed nearly so bad after a hair wash, a walk, a nap or a banana.
Remember: working from home is all about making the most of the fact that you are right by your bathroom, bedroom, kitchen and front door.