As a freelance writer, I’ve worked from a home office for nearly 30 years. For me, the “work from home” directive that is affecting many workers during the Covid-19 pandemic makes little difference in many ways.
But I well remember the adjustment I had to make. After spending most of my working life in busy newsrooms, where noise and distraction was the norm, I found it hard to adjust to the quiet, the absence of colleagues to bounce ideas off, and the “alone-ness” of working from home.
Now, I relish it, and I’ve also learned to work “on the road”, sometimes writing on planes, trains, in conference rooms, airport lounges and hotel rooms, or even (when I’m lucky) poolside. And I’ve learned a few things along the way, so I’m offering a few tips and tricks to make the most of your isolation, if you are among the increasing numbers of workers who will be spending periods of time communicating with your workplaces and workmates from home.
Of course, in my early days of freelancing, there were none of the technologies that make it so easy to work remotely now. No conference calling, no Skype, no mobile phones. All those things will become even more important to us now.
I’ll certainly miss the face-to-face contact that travel writing brings and will be looking at writing about people and places close to home. Interviews will in almost all cases be conducted by phone. Even my part-time job as a university journalism lecturer will no longer involve face-to-face contact with students, as we all move to an online teaching model. I’ll miss the energy that fills a room with 20 students, but love the idea of learning the new skill of online teaching.
So here are a few tips to help you adjust – and maybe even enjoy – your exile from the office, for however long it may be.
Say goodbye to commuting
No more time spent travelling to work is the obvious bonus! No more crowded trains, buses or trams, and the accompanying transport costs of getting to the office. No more sitting in traffic jams or cursing that accident up ahead on the freeway. And what can you do with all that extra time, which for many people is counted in hours? That’s over to you! Stock up on some good books for a start, I’d say.
Set your own hours
Within reason, you’ll be able to start work whenever you like. Early risers can get a head start on the day, while night owls might power on into the dark. There’s no more 9-to-5, even though you might still have to be available for online meetings.
Ditch the suit, the heels, the uniform, and the makeup! No-one’s going to know if you use this time to work in your track wear, your shorts and t-shirt, or even your pyjamas (although I don’t really recommend the latter). In the heat of a Queensland summer, my regular work attire is a sarong (there, the secret is out) and bare feet. In winter, comfy track pants, fleecy hoodie and warm socks are my best friends. That said, it’s still important to look business-like for those online video links – and don’t neglect the shower or the hairbrush!
It’s very easy to be distracted at home. While I sometimes use my “breaks” to hang out the laundry, or unpack the dishwasher, I never have the television on (yes, sometimes I miss a breaking story, but I always hear about it by the end of the day). You’ll know your own likely distractions or temptations, but remember that you’re still working, there are still deadlines of some kind to meet, and it must get done. Establish a routine, and stick to it as much as you can.
Use the down-time productively
Use that “extra” time to expand or brush up on your skills. Check out what’s available online and sign up for seminars, courses or podcasts that are relevant to your work. Many of them are free and might just provide inspiration for whatever comes next. I’ve got a couple in my sights, and I’m also using the quiet time to get stuck into some more research for my doctorate, and to do a massive amount of neglected filing/sorting/tossing in my home office.
Improve your diet
Assuming that you can actually get the groceries you need, plan some healthy – and doubtless cheaper – lunches and snacks than you might be getting from your local café or takeaway.
Tune in to some inspiration
If you’re one of those people who love to work with a background of music, here’s your chance! You’ll be disturbing no-one. Turn it up! I’m one of those people who likes to work in silence most of the time, but each to their own.
Take fun breaks
While at the office it’s tempting to just grab something on the run at lunchtime and head back to your desk to get ahead with the work, working from home means you can head out for fresh air at more flexible times. Take the dog for a walk, if you have one, or just take a walk around the block to clear your head. As a writer, I find it’s absolutely the best way of breaking writer’s block or just coming back to a task with a fresh outlook.
For everyone, there’s likely to be an element of “cabin fever” attached to the new way of our working world for a while. But while you can, take advantage of a new way of working. Who knows how long it will last, or if it will herald a change that’s more permanent for many people?
For me, the cabin fever is likely to be caused by the curtailing of travel generally. But I’ve still got a notebook full of stories and thousands of lovely images to share with you, that might inspire you to travel once the world has returned to a semblance of normality.
Good luck to all as we adapt to a new style of life – at least for a while.
Have you got any tips about working from home to share? I’d love to hear them.