The government’s announcement last week (and yes, I know the list is long) will have brought tears of joy to the eyes of some, plain old tears to others. After tentatively packing their big totes, lacing up their commuter trainers and loading their travelcards once more, office workers were told that if they could, they must return to the solitude of home working to keep the infamous R number down. For many, R is beginning to stand for ‘rage’ where WFH is concerned: dodgy WiFi, a near-constant urge to snack and a lack of interaction with anyone except the cat does not make for a happy work environment.
Then again, nearly everyone appears to have put office life on a pedestal it most definitely doesn’t deserve: remember squishing onto a hot, sweaty tube on a damp November day? How about smiling through Sharon from Marketing’s birthday drinks ‘do on a precious Friday night? And who could forget the agony of office jargon? Mercifully, there need be no blue-sky thinking, singing from the same hymn sheet or pivoting of ideas from the comfort of your own home.
There’s no doubt that office life accounts for an unholy amount of stress and wasted time, which might explain why 54% of adults say they would rather work remotely, even post-pandemic. But how to avoid the inevitable downsides of loneliness, procrastination and binge-snacking (which, unfairly, often seem to happen in tandem)? As a relatively happy home worker, this is what I’ve found helps.
Much has been made of the benefits of clearing a room to create a home office. Sadly, not many of us can magic an extra room in our flats at will. Try zoning off a part of your kitchen table and only sitting on a certain chair when you work (I recommend an office chair, unless you want to leave 2020 with a hump). Try to work somewhere out of view of distractions, like the telly, your phone or your boyfriend. Buy some equipment to make your life easier: laptop stands, pen pots and the like can be bought surprisingly cheaply and make a world of difference to your life, as does a WiFi booster if your internet is as temperamental as your boss. Finally, put everything to do with your job in a drawer (or a shoebox, if space is an issue) at the end of the day. I also like to go for a short walk; a kind of tiny commute ‘home’ and away from ‘work’. Trust me, it helps.
The virtues of Zoom have been extolled to an almost religious extent (unless yours is a maverick company that uses Teams, in which case: I’m sorry). As we all know to our cost from those lockdown quizzes, however, the amusement factor wears very thin, very quickly. Colleague camaraderie is a big part of office life and one of things I have missed most. If you can, try to set up a quick coffee with a friend at least once a day, or walk to your local corner shop and have a chat with the owner. They will find you strange initially, but warm to you as time progresses, especially if you wear entertaining pyjamas at least twice a week.
I said wear your pyjamas twice a week, not all the time. Getting dressed (and properly; I don’t mean athleisure) does wonders for your thought process and your productivity. Put on jeans, put on a skirt, put on a damn ballgown – just don’t sit in a festering heap of old tracksuit bottoms and your ex’s questionable jumper. If you find this too difficult to achieve (we have all been there), give yourself the challenge of being up and out of the house by 8.30am, even if it’s just to walk around the block. In the absence of physical deadlines to keep, you need to make your own.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good job must be in want of Pret. When I started working from home, I gave up a good lunch every day in favour of whatever I could scavenge from a fridge with rapidly dwindling supplies. It was not worth the £5 saving. Lunch is an excellent way to boost your spirits, a midday marker some of us can’t go without. So don’t: if a tuna mayonnaise baguette is your poison and puts you in mind of productive days at a desk, make the pilgrimage to your sandwich shop of choice. If you are usually a meal-prepper, rejoice in the fact that you need no longer heat up your delicious offerings in a sub-par office microwave. Make lunchtime special and your days will drastically improve; you will also be less tempted by an afternoon snack. Oh, and don’t fall into the Netflix-at-lunchtime hole: you will emerge at 4pm, hating yourself.
My final tip? For goodness' sake, stop talking to the cat. If you can master that, you're on your way to WFH success.