There’s a proverb that inexplicably all Irish children are forced to learn from the age of about six – Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin. It means there’s no fireside quite like your own. Naturally, as a child and then teenager I was entirely puzzled by it – it seemed so obvious, and so old-fashioned. But, here I am, literally by my own fireside as I type this and now I understand.
To many, co-working spaces – with their wittily named meeting rooms and breakout areas galore – are a dream. For me though, they’ve always seemed just a little too much. One of my biggest anxieties as a freelancer is figuring out the lay of the land each time I work from a different magazine, newspaper or client’s office; do I have a desk? Where do they keep the caffeine? Then there is the very testing matter of connecting your seemingly incompatible laptop to yet another WiFi, server or if you’re truly cursed, printer. A desk-renting situation seems to me to be just this same nightmare, but one must pay for the privilege. I meet friends for dinner most evenings so those eight hours home alone each day are actually a real joy. In between working I’ll find time to recharge my batteries, prepare some sort of meal from scratch and not give any more oxygen to whatever Brexit, Megxit or coronavirus hysteria is the conversation of the week.
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❝ Once you shake off the part-guilty, part-sick-day feeling, it’s plain sailing
There are so many advantages to working from home that I won’t list them, but what I would advise is coming up with a strategy. There’s a common saying that when you find a job you love you’ll never work a day in your life. I’d argue that even if your job no longer sparks joy, working from home will make it feel considerably better. It isn’t always easy, and it might not come naturally, but once you shake off the part-guilty, part-sick-day feeling, and work on your motivation, it’s plain sailing.
I would like to caveat that working from home is one thing, but working from home to write your first novel is quite another. For the latter, might I suggest doing what all self-respecting deadline-nearing authors do and rent that secluded beach hut in Norfolk for February and just get your head down. No WiFi, no TV. No distractions.
For the rest of us, working from home – and communicating via Slack, Google Docs, Skype and Zoom – might soon become a reality, whether due to office closures or simply an emphasis on flexible working. For any newcomers to the WFH field, here are a few rules to live by.
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1. Do not, under any circumstances, turn on the television
That glowing seductress will lure you into her trap for the entire day. Even if you think you’re just going to watch BBC Breakfast I can assure you that – trance-like – your fingers will creep their way to the Smart Hub button and find Netflix, Amazon or, if you’re me, The Real Housewives of absolutely any city, it doesn’t matter. Just something to have on in the background, you’ll tell yourself. Next of course, nothing goes better with a TV show than a truly complicated, multi-ingredient breakfast, right? Off you trot to the kitchen for an hour. And then it’s lunch. Back to the kitchen you go. Ask a partner, flatmate or friend to hide the remote if you must. Save yourself.
2. Do get dressed
Not because it will make you feel like a powerful businessperson. And not just because it changes the mindset and fires up those professional neurological pathways. No, because when people know that you work from home, they will inevitably pop by. I learned this lesson the hard way, just this January. My good friend Liz swung by to return something I’d left at her house, at 11am on a Friday. I was in full pyjamas, a white robe and white fluffy slippers on the couch, having my second, possibly third breakfast. There was shame, guilt, vulnerability and every other feeling Brené Brown would absolutely not tolerate. Even if just jeans and a jumper – dressing is advised.
3. Plan for a storm
This could be a literal weather storm, or for want of a better phrase, a workload storm. There will be times when nipping out to the shops just isn’t a viable option. Yes, it is truly remarkable what unusual and creative meals one can make from foraging deep into the kitchen cupboards. But you are working, and it doesn’t need to be this bleak. My recommendation is to take that £40 you spend each week in Pret – yes you do, don’t lie – and spend it on an Ocado shop. Treat yourself to delicious coffees, juices, sandwich-making materials, some four-minute fresh pastas and ample snacks.
4. Don’t over-schedule
There is a temptation to get all those little jobs done while you work from home. Some of these are absolutely do-able – it takes no more than two minutes to put on a wash. Others will leave you incredibly upset with yourself for embarking on them. Jobs to avoid – but are not limited to – include:
1. Preparing dinner. There is no need to start cooking before 6pm, weeknights are not the time for slow-cooked, labour-intensive meals.
2. Having any sort of repairs done. There will be questions that need answering, cups of tea to be made and small talk to be had. It will end up taking over the whole day. Plus, you can be sure that your boss will video call you amid the utter chaos of it all.
3. Exercise classes that are longer than 30 minutes. You’ll need a shower, then you’ll need to eat afterwards. Sorry, they cannot be squeezed in to your lunch break.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR UK.