The coronavirus has sent the nation home to work, for those who can, and that’s sparked an outbreak of earnestness from freelancers across the nation, armed with tips and advice on how to survive working from home.
Twitter is flooded with advice such as “get dressed” and “go for a walk”, while newspapers and tech sites alike share tips like “maintain normal hours” and “use collaboration tools”. Our sister magazine PC Pro itself dedicated eight pages of a recent issue to this very topic, in which Barry Collins suggested you should avoid distractions, and not leave the telly on in the background or play video games on your lunch break. But forget him: he’s not your boss.
As someone who not only has worked from home for five years but loves it and negotiates against going into the office even when there’s no pandemic, I’m uniquely qualified to say the following: ignore it all. You don’t need advice to work from home. You don’t need someone telling you what to do. You are an adult, a smart one at that, and you can figure this out on your own.
Let’s work through a few of these tips. Many suggest you should get dressed in the morning. I say, if you aren’t leaving the house, wear what you want. Wear nothing at all, though be more modest if on a video call, for everyone’s sake. Some home workers don’t feel ready for their daily toil until they fully dress for the day; one freelancer I know wears shoes when sat at the desk in her own home. Others are perfectly productive in pyjamas. Wear what works for you.
Another oft proffered piece of advice is to set up a dedicated workstation and work in the same place each day; clearly some people have never been forced to hotdesk. Of course, there’s a health concern here, and you should ensure you’re not hurting your back or causing wrist damage. That said, I have an office with a fancy chair and secondary monitor, but I’m typing this at the kitchen table on a plastic Ikea chair because I wanted a change of scene. My husband somehow gets work done lounging with a laptop on the sofa; I wouldn’t be able to resist a nap.
And then there are distractions. Getting up to take a refreshing walk outside is good, but plonking on the sofa for a round on your games console of choice is bad, the pundits say. And don’t leave that telly on, you’ll never escape it. But an overachieving friend of mine has it on in the background even when she’s at the office – she works in TV, so she gets away with it. Find the silence creepy? Turn it on. Too distracted? Turn it off. See how this works?
You don’t need advice. It’s all mindless and non-specific to you, a specific person. At home, there’s no one to tell you what to do. Your manager can squawk at you over Slack, but they can’t tell you to wear office casual, ban loud music or force you to eat your lunch at a specific time; feed yourself at 11:45am, society be damned. You are free, my friend. Don’t look to Twitter or PC Pro to become the virtual boss — you may be used to living by someone else’s rules, but you don’t need to be told what to do. Find your own way.
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And, when all this chaos is over, remember what works for you. Perhaps you’ll learn that you’re most productive at 7am, that you focus well with a TV on or get a lot done when your co-workers can’t interrupt with chit chat. Tell your boss you’d like to come in early, will be running Netflix on a second screen or that you’ll be working from home a few days a week going forward. Your manager may be the boss of your working life, but has no right to dictate that your mind and body bend to made-up rules; if you maintain productivity while working from home – and you will, without the pointless meetings and interruptions – they can hardly disagree, after all.
Such demands may sound bonkers, but having been forced to discover my own best working practices, I’m more productive than ever. For example, since getting a dog, I’ve learned I write best while out on a walk. Indeed, I composed this very column in my head while wandering — during working hours! — with our fluffy girl. There’s something about a long walk that reboots my brain. I’d never have figured this out without the freedom of home working, and my previous in-office work suffered for the lack of that discovery.
Now that my working day is in my hands alone, I answer only to myself. Sometimes it’s hard, and it’s taken effort to uncover what works best for me. But now I know. So ignore the tips and tricks and figure it out on your own — you might learn something about yourself along the way.
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