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For some people, working from home is a Nirvana-like goal or a distant hope for the future. Some enjoy one day a week but find discipline difficult or are hampered by realising they own a self-emptying biscuit tin. And for those occasional gems posted on the internet in which a senior executive’s interview on a global news channel is sabotaged by his escapee 3 year old, it’s actually a high-risk activity.

And now, for much of the world, it’s compulsory.

My own experience has been, for the most part, a joy and a relief. I hung up my regular commuting scowl two years ago and exchanged it for an off-peak weekly, happier jaunt into London on an ‘as and when needed’ basis. As a long time lover of sleep, it was life-changing to get up at least one hour later and hear the distant clatter of my train as I started the day trotting across a field with my new, much longed-for dog.

As a member of the ‘sandwich generation’ looking after both children and parents, working from home has allowed me to navigate those big life situations that come to us all at times - the loss of a parent, caring for another several hours away and managing children who seem to be on first name terms with A&E staff. It has allowed me to save my energy for work rather than spending a third of it on commuting, and to be present enough to crack the whip at homework time or disguise veggies for the kids in the evening. All while working full time. My vast appreciation of this flexibility means that I have no grievance against filling in any gaps over the weekend if needed and working later than usual in the week.

What have I learned?

Keeping a routine is great (until Coronavirus restrictions) but you now have the freedom to adjust to the rhythm of your own life demands. While setting yourself daily targets is important you can also arrange your day as you like. Put a wash on and walk your four-legged friend before you start, have breakfast at lunchtime if you like and use natural breaks needed to do the school run (when there still was one) while catching up with colleagues (hands free phones / Skype permitting).  Personally, I work best in the afternoon and evening - hitting my stride by lunchtime, I’m positively on fire by 6pm and don’t want to stop. As a recruiter, I make myself available to speak to clients and candidates outside the working day or week, allowing myself some flexibility at other times. For some, this may not be enough structure but in a job that’s very reactive, it works for me. Previously when commuting, the end of the working day often cut into my best time of natural productivity.

Build the Heart of Your Empire….

Wherever you decide to set up shop, make it a space that you like being in, ideally a separate room but it’s not essential. At least give yourself a sacred area in the corner of the kitchen that remains untouched by anyone else or turn your dressing table into a makeshift desk, hiding the mirror so you’re not tempted to try selfie poses. This year I got my own office.  Living with three sport-obsessed Alpha males, I love my oasis away from bags of rotting rugby kit, stinky shin pads and those annoying tiny black rubber balls of AstroTurf that fall out of football socks. Here, I’m cocooned by a green velvet desk chair, scented candles, a faux fur throw plus a liberal sprinkling of photos and a feathered light shade which would not be tolerated anywhere else in the house.  It’s a picture of non-corporate bliss that soothes my soul and helps me focus, absent as it is from strip lighting, sealed windows and germ circulating air con.  Behind me, on a small sofa, slumbers my Health and Wellbeing Consultant, Rhubarb (dog not husband…). 

And there it is, the single most important antidote to stress and the best addition to homeworking I could imagine – unconditional companionship from an adoring co-worker who also makes you exercise daily.  Although previous colleagues never had to be disciplined for chewing the bookcase or barking during a call.

General things to consider…

  • Getting up is important and showering is good. Bedsores are unsightly on people of working age;
  • Have strict rules on pyjamas – as a guide, they should be washed when the dog will no longer sit next to you. If you don’t have a dog, most cats will provide a good scornful glance whether they live with you or not. On the whole try to avoid wearing them in working hours;
  • A line must be drawn at day time television - it’s a slippery slope, my friends – and yes, that includes the cricket and golf, if for no other reason than their competitions go on for days and can be rather dull; while an exception can be made for the News, ‘Don’t Tell the Bride remains unacceptably excruciating under any circumstances;
  • During cold snaps, winter homeworkers may be tempted to consider sitting at their desk inside a sleeping bag; Top tip, in order to retain a feeling of professional authority, it helps to stand up during phone calls;
  • Biscuits Vs Exercise: One gives instant gratification but makes you feel bad afterwards – the other makes you feel bad at the time but good afterwards.  It’s a perplexing conundrum but I’m sure you’ll arrive at the right solution for you. Do be aware that there are no colleagues to blame if you find the tin empty. Again.;
  • Use your new flexible routine to squeeze in a walk, talk to a friend, do home yoga or hoover-dance (is that just me…).  Red Flag Warning: downloading an exercise app isn’t as effective if you don’t use it.  I know, I was surprised too;
  • Finally, don’t be tempted to settle into ‘corporate cocktails’ before 6pm; it can open you up to making rash promises on deadlines or ill-advisedly sharing your real thoughts on things.

In all seriousness, keep a structure to your day, keep clean, use make up, perfume and aftershave if they make you feel good (all three might be a bit much); relaxing your routine is great but letting yourself go doesn’t help productivity (a friend tells me). While homeworking can be quite a shift in approach even under normal circumstances, perhaps being forced to work from home as we are now is a good time to establish your own boundaries without ‘outside world’ distractions to navigate. Take one day at a time and don’t think about what will happen in a month. Just focus on the 24 hours in front of you and do what you can to get closer to your goals.  Be positive and bear in mind the words of writer and cleric, Charles Caleb Colton, “Times of great calamity and confusion have been productive for the greatest minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace. The brightest thunder-bolt is elicited from the darkest storm.”

by Amanda Johnson - Public Affairs Director, BoldMove