06/04/2020

Home, but not Alone!

CPJ Field working from home blog

On the face of it, working from home (WFH, as I see it has become on Facebook and elsewhere) is an appealing prospect: your own chair, no need to suit up (sorry, Barney), your own tea and coffee and the option to play very loud Genesis without disturbing clients and colleagues. I have some fabulous desktop speakers here and they go up to 11.

But every silver lining has a cloud. There’s also the washing machine and the dishwasher and the temptation to fill them and empty them and think that it won’t take very much time. Then there’s those weeds to come out. Just a couple of them. How long can it take?

Apparently in any 8hr working day the average worker’s productive time is about 3hrs. Home working does not strike me as being destined to improve that.

Discipline, you see. That’s the issue. A number of my friends are writers of one kind or another and they are used to this. They set themselves a specified number of words per day to hit and hours in which they will work and (so far as I am aware) they succeed, without going to offices and having appointed hours with appointed breaks and supervision.

It’s not just domestic distractions of course. I have a sign above the PC screen in my office that says “DISCIPLINE – NO GOOGLING!!!”. The very fact that we are working from home means we are in a role which is probably desk-based, and therefore PC-based. As so much of our work is done online now, whether it be through web-based applications, or by email or, as we are doing even more now, video-conferencing, this thoroughly global distraction is always a mere click away. Ooh, that person’s name is a bit like that actor – now what was she in? type type type … click… Good old Internet Movie Database. Ah yes, that’s what she was in. Released in 1981, really? Isn’t that the year someone tried to assassinate Reagan? Type type type ...click … Ah yes, it was. And so forth.

The latter of these two issues is less easy to address. Unless you can download everything you need and then work offline it has to be a question of willpower. My little sign is a useful reminder, albeit not always an effective one.

The first issue can be helped in a number of ways. If you’re lucky enough to have a house with a separate study or den, that can become your office. Commute there in the morning and don’t do anything else there. If you have family about the house, make sure they know that is your office for now and they should treat you as being at work. It’s not that easy of course – if my children poke their heads around the door and want to show me something they have done I will hardly send them away. Also occasionally I hear the words "No, you mustn’t disturb Daddy. He’s working." and think, Aw, darn.

If you don’t have a separate room setting up a little regular working space can do just as well. We’re using the kitchen as a classroom and each of us has a dedicated space to work in.

A structured day is also a help. My day starts at 08.00 and I am sticking to that. Setting regular breaks and a regular lunchtime is also helpful and avoids the stomach-expanding habit of snacking. Much as I may claim that my funeral conducting trousers continually shrink when hanging in their wardrobe the reality may be a little different, so it’s important to keep these times. My children also enjoy the (to them) new phenomenon of “elevenses”. Four o’clockses sometimes also happens, but becomes something of a mouthful.

Another thing that writers are accustomed to which others of us may not be is working alone. I have an entire floor (and kitchen) to myself at my office in Wendover, but when I’m there I regularly go downstairs to annoy – I mean chat to – my colleagues in the main office. Working from home offers less social contact, but it’s rarely too hard to find a reason to call someone. It is important to do so. The second part of the term "self-isolating" is quite a painful one. We are social creatures. Isolation and working alone do not naturally suit us. Even if the only reason you call another colleague who is working away is to say hello and how are you, that is reason enough to do it. We need that human contact.

In the meantime I work in my study but I leave the door open and I share meal and snack times with the family. And if the children do poke their heads around the door I give them a hug and tell them that I love them.

Then when they say "Oh Daddy, not more Genesis!" I send them away.

By Peter Linford, Head of Training at CPJ Field