How to work from home: four essential survival tips

Caroline Ferry
Photo credit: Rex Features

From Harper's BAZAAR

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. And by lay of the land I of course mean 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 – let’s be honest more like five – hours home alone each day are actually a real joy. A time to recharge my batteries, prepare some sort of meal from scratch and not give any more oxygen to whatever Brexit, Megxit or Corona hysteria is the conversation of the week.

There are so many advantages to working from home that if I begin I may never stop. What would be more helpful perhaps is a strategy. Some people say 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 a million times better. It isn’t always easy, and it might not come naturally, but once you shake off the part-guilty, part-sick-day feeling, 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 bash it out. No WiFi, no TV. Just get the damn thing done. For the rest of us – who must communicate through Slack, Google Docs and Zoom – working from home shall suffice. For any newcomers to the WFH field, here are a few rules to live by.

Do not under any circumstance 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. 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 flatmate or friend to hide the remote if you must... save yourself.

Do get dressed.

Not because it will make you feel like a powerful businessperson. Not 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 it is just jeans and a jumper – dressing is advised.

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 strange and creative meals one can make from foraging deep in to 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. Think delicious coffees, juices, sandwich-making materials, some four-minute fresh pastas and ample snacks.

Don’t over-schedule

There is a temptation to get all those little jobs done while you work from home. Some of these are totally 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 include 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, relentless cups of tea to be made and it will take 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.

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