Working from home is amazing, until you realise it’s something that you’re going to be doing for the foreseeable. Then you realise that you’re going to be listening to the dogs barking all day long and have your day filled with well-intended kindness gestures and non-work related disturbances “would you like another cup of tea?” “Are you on a call?” or, “do you want anything from the supermarket?” I’ve also come to the realisation that I can’t say I’m stuck in the office working late on a project or knuckle down on a report and forget to come home at a reasonable time. I can’t respond to the text messages saying I’ll grab something for dinner out of the petrol station on the drive home late and can’t say I don’t know when I’ll be home, but it’ll be late.
I appreciate that for all of us, working from home is very different and for just as many like me, a mixed bag of joys and pitfalls, but like I say, it’s something that many of us are going to be doing for the foreseeable and something we need to be able to make work. We need to make it work for us, and we need to make it work for the people we live with if we’re lucky enough to have those well-intended interruptions.
For someone who has worked in roles surrounded by people most of their career, I was originally apprehensive at being stuck in a room all day without colleagues and small talk. I’m not someone who is used to being alone for long periods of time and not someone who enjoys it either, so getting to where I am now has been a rollercoaster of emotions. Based on my experiences, I want to share just a few things that have worked for me and I believe may work for others if it’s not already something you do.
60 second commute
At first, I thought the 60-second commute to my office was brilliant. I could wake up, shower, have breakfast then hit my laptop. The 90-minute commute was no longer, until I realised that the commute to work was where I processed what I was going to do for the day, listen to my favourite podcasts and ‘refocus my zen’ so to speak. First tip…Do not go straight to your laptop after you are ready in the morning! If you can, go out for a morning walk, walk round the garden or have your breakfast in the garden and set the world to rights. Working and living in the same place is not healthy and thinking about work from the moment you wake up is not healthy either. That was one that has taken me over two months to realise.
As someone who likes to work in silence, albeit surrounded by people, I get frustrated at barking dogs, car noise, people talking loud and being interrupted. I’ve always been like this and being caught in a global pandemic has made it worse, but being caught in a global pandemic has also taught me to listen twice. Listen first for the noise, and then listen twice to really hear.
About Time is one of my all-time favourite movies and a movie that has reminded me to live each day twice. I can’t do that for obvious reasons but I do try to listen twice. The main piece of advice from Bill Nightly (dad) to Domhnall Gleeson (son) in About Time was to live each day, and then go back and live it again. The first time Domhnall Gleeson lived his life he faced frustrations, being late, arguments, deadlines and the turmoil of life. On the repeat, he realised that people who he loved and who loved him surrounded him. He realised that sometimes a laugh can make it all ok, and for me, like right now, he learned to cherish the time that you take to step back and notice what’s going on around you.
Separate your work space and living space
This is another one that I’m late to the game with but when I realised the difference it made, it was like night and day for my mental health. I am not someone who ordinarily talks about my mental health, but this lockdown has been tough and at times getting through the day was something to celebrate. I am lucky enough to live in a house with an outside space/garden. I am also someone who really likes being outside so I wanted to see if I could combine working and outside space to get away from being stuck inside all day and it works. If you have an internet connection in your garden or balcony, or even a balcony door that opens and you can shade your screen then try working outside or with an outside view. Believe me, it will make a difference! For those who don’t have the same luxury then try to be creative, if you have noisy neighbours then go outside when you don’t have to make calls and wear headphones. If you don’t have outside space then open a window, partition off your work space or try somehow to separate the work life and home life area. If you don’t have outside space then then it’ll be even more important to get outside for your daily walk or exercise (social distancing and protecting yourself).
In work, people have come to realise that where there is an opportunity, I will opt for video call, face-time or some other way to interact with people. I prefer not to telephone, as it is not a connection that stays with me; I’m all about the connections.
I appreciate that this is my experience and not necessarily for everyone so please feel free to skip to the last paragraph in this blog. As humans, we need connections and interactions to really thrive and develop. We need connections to develop emotionally, socially and for me, as a person, to grow. When I started to listen twice, I really listened and started to make connections with people. I was no longer at home working on my own, I was working with colleagues 70 miles away, I was having lunch with my family 300 miles away, I was watching a movie with my partner 250 miles away and going for country walks with my best friend 310 miles away. I’ve realised how important friends and family are and hopefully not too late, especially for the people who I live with who I now look forward to having dinner with each night and not catching them when I’m walking past the dining room with a microwave meal.
I could talk about structure, routine and many other things that help with home working, but I won’t. I wanted to pick a few things that really made a difference to me and hope they helps others, or at least set people on a journey to exploring alternative ways to making their commute to the office a little more enjoyable.
Gerard Anderson – Head of Brain Injury Services