In the pre-Covid world, working from home – or anywhere that’s not a ‘regular’ office – was often seen as the ideal answer to any number of questions. Many of us were forced to do it over the summer but now that our options are opening up again, is it really a long-term solution? You’ll need to think hard before making the leap.
With most children back at school and the extra demands of being teacher, playground monitor and lunch supervisor now (please, please) a thing of the past, the benefits might seem obvious: flexibility and control being top of the list.
On a dull drizzly winter’s day who wants to battle the daily commute, whether on the roads or rails, tube, car or bike? The concept of moving seamlessly from living space to working space – in no time at all – surrounded by all the comforts of home seems like the perfect existence. Doesn’t it?
As we’ve no doubt discovered, there are definitely joys to working from home; the lack of commute is certainly one of them. The winter months bring relief at not having to wrap up and battle the elements while the summer heat, mask wearing and fear of any form of crush on public transport is enough to make anyone want to resign.
And there’s the flexibility and comfort. On a sunny day, what could be better than taking your laptop into the park or garden? (Although the reality never quite lives up to the ideal here – think sun glare, bugs, footballs…) On those cold and miserable days, why not put on a few extra layers and drape a blanket less-than-stylishly around your shoulders – who’s going to know?
But if the lockdown experience didn’t put you off and you’re thinking of making the transition from office to home a permanent solution, make sure you consider some of the downsides.
You might have colleagues who make you want to poke your eyes out at times but human interaction is important. The isolation of home working is not to be underestimated.
A day is a long time to go without conversation or human contact. Multiply that by five days in a week and 20 in a month and you’ll soon start to feel like Tom Hanks in Cast Away. Or you’ll find yourself more often than not shouting at the radio during a phone-in.
If you share your living space with someone who does work outside the home, be prepared to find a balance between one of you wanting peace, quiet and down time in the evening and the other desperate to use up all those words that have been accumulating, unspoken, over the last eight hours.
People think you don’t have a ‘proper’ job
It’s difficult to put a finger on why, but by working from home people seem to assume that whatever it is you’re doing you’re not quite as serious as if you commuted to work.
You’ll have requests from people with ‘proper’ jobs to run errands; to “just” pick up the dry cleaning; or to “pop” to the post office. Your neighbour may ask you to wait in for the plumber or to take in deliveries for them. You’re home all day anyway, aren’t you?
Your breaks aren’t really breaks
If you work outside the home, your breaks are likely to be quite definite – even in these post-Covid times. They might be defined ones, like going for lunch for an hour, or more informal just ‘hanging out’ moments where you take five minutes to get up from your desk, stretch your legs and listen to another hilarious Zoom dating story from Kirsty in finance.
Chances are, if you work from home you may not even remember to take a break. If you do it’ll be because you need to clean the toilet, empty the dishwasher or dash to the shops as there’s nothing for dinner. You might as well get another load of washing through as well…. Yes, all things that commuting workers have to do too but if you’re not careful they’ll fill the precious time away from your desk during the day.
The line between home and work gets very blurred
While cracking on with the day still in your jimjams is the fantasy of many a weary commuter, it’s not a good idea in the long run.
Working at the kitchen table during the day and just pushing your paperwork aside to serve dinner makes it very hard to switch off. At busy times the temptation to pick up where you left off once you’ve eaten (or worse, after a couple of glasses of wine) is strong. It’s particularly hard to resist if you live on your own.
Even though modern technology means that working from home is, for most of us, technically no different from working at the office, while the daily commute may be the stuff of horrors for many it does create a defined space between home and work.
But, before you change your mind and decide that masking up and enduring a miserable twice-daily commute is a price worth paying, hang on.
By creating a few simple rules for your own workspace at home, you really can get the best of both worlds.
Make time for adult interaction
Don’t let work get in the way of other activities. Whether it’s in real life or online, a book club, sports club, volunteering or just a social, making it a priority will address your work-life balance. How about committing to your local BWI meet-up?
Differentiate your space
If you have the room, create a separate work space. Even if you don’t have an office or shed at the bottom of the garden, pack your things up at the end of the day and put them away.
Define your hours and work time
Appreciating that most jobs require a certain amount of flexibility, pick a start time, a stop time, and stick to it. Whether you’re free to choose your hours or are bounded by school times etc. it’s important to keep those lines defined between work time and home time.
Define your work self
However tempting it is, resist the urge to hang out in your pyjamas. Getting dressed and ready for work creates a mental and physical distinction between home and work. I’ve even heard of someone who puts on her coat, leaves the house, walks round the block and then ‘arrives’ at work. Whatever it takes to put you in a different frame of mind.
Give yourself proper breaks
Use a timer if you have to. Leave your workspace and use at least some of your break to… well, do nothing, it’s a break. Or at least do something you enjoy. Don’t see it as a chance to crack on with other jobs.
With just a bit of thought and a few self-imposed rules, working from home in the long term really can be a choice rather than a government-directed imposition.