If 2016 is the year you hand in your security pass and turn the spare room into an office, you should probably read this.
According to stats from the ONS, in June 2014 13.9% of people in work did so from home. Of those, two-thirds were self-employed. It seems reasonable to assume that these figures have since increased, given the progression of employer attitudes towards home working and the slightly better economic conditions for entrepreneurs.
And for many, it’s the dream; flick two fingers to that horrendous commute, wave goodbye to noisy co-workers and swap endless Pret sandwiches for cheaper, healthier things. Yes, this is frickin’ it. I am WFH.
Until you’re doing it. It’s 9.15am and you’re still in pyjamas. You might have done an hour’s deeply productive work already, but now you’re scrolling aimlessly through Twitter and you’re trying very hard not to think about the fact that Jeremy Kyle starts in ten minutes. As you microwave your fourth undrunk cup of coffee of the day, you realise it’s 11.30am and break into a slight sweat as the reality of how much you need to achieve today bites you on the arse, hard. 2.30pm and, woozy from a massive home cooked lunch you pop another load of laundry on and boost the cat’s self esteem while congratulating yourself on your impeccable work-life balance. A conference call at 3 knocks this on the head, as you resentfully wait on hold for it to kick off while Kenny G assaults your ears. Traditionally, 5.00pm til 6.00pm is spent shuddering at the memory of commuting and smugly popping your jim-jams back on. Oh, hang on, you’re still wearing them. Cherry pick a couple of easy tasks from the to-do list and my god, is that the time? A glass of wine is surely in order. But then, it’s 10.00pm and maybe I’d better just check my email and actually finish that presentation because I really don’t want it hanging over me and oh my god this is exhausting.
If the ONS had dug a bit deeper, they’d probably have found that while many of us are choosing to WFH, many of us are finding it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Whether self-employed or in thrall to a salary-paying boss, the challenges are similar: Friday afternoon FOMO when you just know people are in the pub and you’re not. To get dressed or not to get dressed? How to stay focused? And who moved my boundaries?
If you’re planning on making 2016 the year you break free from the tyranny of the security pass and embrace the WFH lifestyle, I encourage you. But I encourage you to do it like a badass. Because working from home and whining about it is like marrying David Beckham, then complaining that he’s too nice.
In the three or so years I’ve worked from home (both as a salaried worker and as a freelance), I’ve experimented with numerous ways of doing it, all in the hope of one day cracking the secret formula to badass WFH success and serenely gliding through each working week feeling relaxed, positive and effortlessly productive. I’ve tried setting up a desk in almost every room in the house. I’ve scheduled every waking moment and I’ve tried the three-point-max to-do list. I’ve allocated set days to different clients. I’ve tried freestyling it. I’ve spent approximately a billion years in conference calls. I’ve played music scientifically proven to promote concentration (Vivaldi). Hell, I’ve even burned essential oil grapefruit to keep me pepped up and ready for anything. Hear me roar.
Spoiler: I have not yet found the formula.
But bear with me because I do have some advice to offer would-be WFH badasses. And it’s this:
- Know why you do it. Are you WFH to avoid people? To save money on bus fares? Because you’re emotionally scarred by the toilets on the 6th floor? Because you want to do other stuff with your life, too? (These are all eminently reasonable motivations, by the way). Knowing why helps you design your working life around your motivation, which gives you your best possible chance of GETTING WHAT YOU WANT. There’s usually a rub; yes, you save a fortune travel costs, but there’ll be a lot of conference calls and a lot of Kenny G. So when you hear Songbird for the zillionth time while on hold to Milton Keynes, think of the cash, time, personal space (and best-selling sax) you’ve traded that commute for.
- Set some boundaries. What are your working hours? Decide, and at least at first, stick to them. Tell your boss (I guess in this case it’s more of a discussion, but one worth having), make it clear to your clients and schedule your time accordingly. I find putting everything in my calendar helps. You might want to set an alarm when it’s time to start work and one when it’s time to finish. A scheduled half hour at the end of the day to finish up, prepare tomorrow’s list and close down any email conversations for the night can be effective. Try it and see what works. Amend it if you need to. Also know your red zones: for example, I won’t take a call before 8am because I’m far too busy shouting at my children to hurry the bejasus up and neither I nor my cherubs would ever want to miss out on that special bonding time. Some things are sacred.
- Have a lunch hour. Hey listen. You’re working from home, the very least you can do for yourself is have a proper lunch hour. Eat something good – shop specifically for lunch food as well as other food. You can whip up all manner of excellent things, enjoy it and clear up in an hour. You might even squeeze in a restorative bit of Jeremy Kyle on catch up.
- Get out. This one took me ages to grasp. I think, because I was salaried and other colleagues worked in the office every day, I suffered survivor’s guilt. While they were incarcerated, I was free. I atoned by working harder, longer and more intensively, lest anyone should think I was slacking. These days, I work more or less the same hours every day but I go out for coffee or to walk the dog. It’s vital talking and thinking time, so use it and don’t feel bad.
- Listen to your energy. Sometimes we’re in the right headzone for spreadsheets and filing; other times we need to talk through ideas and try stuff out. Let’s get real about concentration – even though you should find it comes easier now you’re out of a noisy and distracting office environment, it still comes in fits and starts. Where commitments allow, work with your mental flow and ask yourself, what kind of task is my brain up for, right now? Then do it.
- Get dressed. Honestly. Even in the depths of winter when I work from bed, writing under a cocoon of duvets, I get dressed. That way, those PJs come to represent something special – a day’s work, well done, and now at an end.