I’ve worked at home before. But that was when I was able to go out and work in the field, delivering training or consultancy. I could travel in the car or on the train and meet up with friends, colleagues, and new people, in familiar and different places. It was quite the adventure so early in my career. There was more of a balance then, and the arrangements suited my working style. And don’t forget I could have a real social life too. But I didn’t get everything right. I struggled with boundaries sometimes, it was hard to switch off on occasion, and often work became too much. No one was there to notice, and management didn’t seem to care much about my work and working arrangements as long as things got done. As long as I said yes to what they wanted. Then one day I learned how to say no, with a little help from a mentor.
Then I started the business at home. That was different again. Things were fast, exciting and affirming. The business took off rapidly and was based around my dining room table. The inevitable compromises seemed much more worth it then. And we didn’t know for how long these temporary arrangements would last. It turned out the dining room, of a small two-bed terrace, was the business hub for nine months – for three of us. Then we expanded to convert the second bedroom into an office. With three proper desks and two computers. By then there were about five of us, so if you stood up, you lost your place. Fortunately, many of us were out and about delivering externally. It was about another six months before we moved to a proper office and work left the house for almost 20 years.
Skip two decades and then, coronavirus happened. Lockdown meant working from home, not going anywhere else to deliver, and existing on screen for meetings, seminars and training. It has been a different scenario from start to finish. Now, I’m fortunate I have my home office. I realise that. I value that. So many have had to struggle in shared spaces, kitchen worktops and spare bedrooms (I know how that feels). My study is not somewhere I do lots of work in. Its more of a bolthole, filled with my things, and somewhere to retreat to watch boxsets, read, think, or sulk. On the occasions work needs doing, then that’s where I go. I’ve learned that boundaries offered by dedicated space afford such opportunities. So, with lockdown, I did have somewhere to go to, a space that I cherished and could compartmentalise work into.
In the early days, work was slower. I, like everyone else was trying to get my head around what might be happening, and there was a unique and unparalleled chance to slow down and rest, and ponder on what could follow. Shorter days were possible, I was fortunate I know, and this allowed for some greater investment in self and the household. As a keen multi-tasker I always enjoy being at my desk and listening to the washing machine or the dishwasher whirring away, or receiving deliveries. It makes me feel more productive. And breaks from work could be spent pottering in the garden, cooking, or completing other life-focused tasks. Breaks, it is commonly said are crucial to work-life balance and our health. But they are much less often taken than they are spoken about. And so, such distractions and other things to do are invaluable.
Then work gradually started to turn in the direction of something resembling typical patterns. We are still a long way off normality, but at least things are starting to feel busy and familiar. Like many others I became a star of the small screen. Zoom, Teams, Skype, Facetime all bringing the outside world into my private space and requiring me to put my business face on. Such an intrusion. How rude. And one that needs managing and fixed boundaries. Read my other blogs on video conferencing. I had to check my home office space and ensure it was ready to let people into.
One advantage is I can wear the same shirt for several conference calls. At least I thought it was an advantage. I fear it is more of a slippery slope. It hangs on the study door, only to be worn when on screen. It is taken off after, ready for the next time. The disadvantage is it means there is less laundry to do. Which in turn reduces my multi-tasking opportunities. Which then means I spend more time on work. Can you see where things are going? Time for a rethink, now this way of working has become much more frequent. It is at risk of compromising my working at home survival guide.