With many of us expected to work from home over the coming weeks, Hollie Richardson shares the realities of working alongside your flatmates – the good and the bad.
I’ve been in denial. For the last few weeks, I have pranced around with my eyes closed and fingers in my ears, refusing to acknowledge the surrounding coronavirus panic.
I have no intention of cancelling my holiday to Bologna in July. I won’t be ordering 600 rolls of loo roll on Amazon. And there are certain news sites that absolutely won’t make me falter with their sensationalist headlines. “Everything is totally normal and fine,” I’ve muttered to myself.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware that Italy is on lockdown. And I’ve seen the rising numbers that prove just how contagious this virus is. I’m taking extra care to wash my hands, I’m staying clear of older people and I’m choosing to cycle over taking crowded buses and trains. It would also be very helpful if our prime minister could give us some direction on what the hell to do right now, but we shouldn’t ask for too much in this life.
But this very British “keep calm and carry on” mantra is something I have inherited from the older generations of women in my family. For better or for worse, this is how I handle a crisis (good for you to know if that zombie apocalypse ever comes).
One thing I can’t avoid, however, is the reality that I might be told to work from home for a while. You’ve probably received a similar email to the one in my inbox, giving instructions on how to work on the company programmes remotely. With businesses such as Google advising their employees to stay away from the office, people around the country are waiting to be told the same thing.
Working from the comfort of your own surroundings might sound like a dream scenario for many. But as someone who freelanced for two years, and continues to work from home in the mornings and at weekends, I can confirm that it isn’t just a life of morning Frasier reruns playing in the background while tapping away at your laptop and slouching around in silk pyjamas.
The reality is ensuring you shower and dress just like you would for a day in the office, to get into a productive state of mind. Talking to yourself in lieu of chatting (read: moaning) to your office desk buddies is also a regular occurrence. And not having a proper desk and chair set up can make you realise just how precious the office chair is in your life.
I can also tell you that the idyllic illusion of working from home is further ruined when you live in a flatshare. But, with more of us – Generation Rent – housesharing into our 30s than ever before, it’s likely that you’ll have to work alongside flatmates if asked to stay at home over the next few weeks.
Full disclosure: I am very lucky to have two lovely, respectful, fun housemates who I count as friends. But there are a few small fears I have about the idea of using the flat as an office with them for a two-week period, and they’re making me break out in a cold sweat that has nothing to do with coronavirus.
Just recently, I interviewed a very prominent politician over the phone in my living room, while trying to ignore the fact that one flatmate’s sister was banging around in the bedroom above me. There have also been plentiful times when a flatmate has struck up conversation about their recent Hinge date, and I’ve spent about ten minutes trying to politely work out how to say, “Erm, I’m actually working right now, sooo…”.
And I cannot count the amount of times the low-level sounds of 6 Music or Radio 4, that I’ve purposely put on the radio for a bit of calm, have been disrupted by Stormzy or a Skype call on speakerphone. Let me tell you, it’s quite difficult to write a balanced news piece when “fuck the government and fuck Boris” is being shouted at you from the kitchen.
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Then there are the practical things to think about. Who gets to use the only desk in the flat – aka: the most optimal place for getting shit done on your laptop? (Technically it is my desk, but I’d be just as insufferable as the people clearing our shelves of toilet roll if I pointed that out, right?) And who gets priority in the kitchen at lunchtime? Considering we only have one decent frying pan between us and an ever-dwindling selection of forks (where do they go?), this is a serious issue. And there is the very real fear of… well, just getting a bit sick of each other.
It’s not like when you can escape office politics and annoying colleagues by going home; you’re already home. And it’s different to living with a partner, a family member, or a very close friend – I wouldn’t ever tell my flatmate to “shut up!” if they distract me, or to “move out of my way!” by the kitchen sink.
But of course, despite my moaning, there are some good reasons to welcome working from home with flatmates, too. I’ll never forget the time one flatmate calmed me down, put things into perspective and later laughed with me about a mistake I made during a shift. Those annoying quirks are often comforting when I’ve felt a bit lonely while working those first few hours with just my laptop for company. And, on very rare but much-appreciated occasions, my flatmate has been known to cook my some incredible breakfasts during a long shift (a big improvement on my usual cereal).
The trick is to remember to take breaks and use them wisely. I often do this by treating myself to a delicious lunch from the nearby market or going along to a gym class. Also, remember that they’re probably just as frustrated as you are, so find a way to laugh about it. After all, that’s what us Generation Renters do best: laugh in the face of the bad hand we’ve been dealt. Coronavirus is just another one of those things for us to tackle together.
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…