Since the coronavirus pandemic really began to bite in the UK in March, like many people I’ve been working from home.
Actually, I’ve worked from home for far longer than I ever held a job where I had to go into an office of any sort. My morning commute usually involves getting from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen to study. With only the occasional traffic hold-up if one of the cats happens to be lying across the stairs.
I’ve long since got used to the fact I can pick my own hours—whether that means working until 3am and then not starting again until until 11am. Although, those are always the mornings—when you’re still in your dressing gown—that a courier knocks on the door with an unexpected delivery for which a signature is required.
Or they used to, at any rate. Now they just lob things over the gate and run away. And who can blame them for that?
For me, isolation has been a normal state of affairs—particularly during the winter. I get used to not seeing another living soul that doesn’t have four legs and a tail. When the long winter nights start to loom, I bump up my Vitamin D intake and drag my daylight lamp out of storage. So, apart from cancelled crime festivals moving panels and events online, life has carried on very much along its normal path for me.
Since the coronavirus lockdown began in the UK on March 23, more and more of the British workforce has ended up not only staying home, but working from home as well. Every day, the talk radio shows are filled with people who are really struggling to cope with this state of affairs. And I can sympathise.
After all, working in a quiet house, with your personal choice of music—or silence—in the background, is one thing. Trying to work somewhere you are subjected to other people’s noise, boredom, and frustration must be something else altogether. Hence the saddening rise in incidents of domestic violence over the past few months.
But, many large companies are realising that it is indeed feasible to have a percentage of its workforce operating remotely. The internet may groan occasionally but the elastic band hasn’t actually snapped altogether (yet). So, it may well be, as Covid-19 looks set to stick around for some time to come, that more and more of us will end up working this way.
So, what are the benefits?
The most obvious one is that lack of commute. Not only do you win back the time spent in your car, aboard a train or bus, or even on your bicycle (although this does also have personal fitness benefits) but you win back the expense associated either with public or personal transport.
And what about the costs associated with buying clothing suitable for the office environment, or nipping out for a snack lunch? Instead, you can have your creature comforts around you, perhaps eat more efficiently or healthily, and maybe even take a few breaks for some yoga exercises or stretching to calm and motivate you.
You may also be able to work in a way that fits in far better with your preferences. If you’re at your best from 5am until lunchtime, can you choose to tackle your daily task list then and clock off early? Do you swelter or freeze because the temperature in your office space is set to someone else’s comfort zone?
And what about when the bugs and illnesses bite? If you’re working remotely, you may find you are less prone to catching whatever normally circulates around an office. And you may also find yourself able to tackle increasing amounts of work between naps on the sofa, before you would realistically be ready to come back to work.
But, it’s not all positive. Working alone all day does not suit some people, as lockdown has clearly demonstrated. They feel isolated and melancholy. Without the stimulation of colleagues to bounce ideas off, or collaborate with, some creative people may wither. I’ve certainly known authors whose writing slowed down enormously when they gave up their day jobs to write full time. When you have all day to do something, it’s no surprise that it often expands to take all day.
Staying focused on the job in hand is hard. It’s all too easy to become distracted by the need to hang the washing out, by the kids arriving home from school, or by friends or neighbours just ‘dropping in’. Attitudes may change, but I’ve tended to find that people assume if you’re at home, it’s not proper work, and can be interrupted at will.
Also, where are you going to work? Using the sofa, or the kitchen table, is not an ergonomically sound position. If you’re seriously going to work from home, you need a proper desk and a chair that will not store up posture problems further down the line. If they’re worth having, these things do not come cheap. They also take up a chunk of space—space that may well not be available in the modern house. Not everyone has the luxury of a spare room that can be dedicated as a home office.
And if you are well motivated, knowing when to stop can also become a problem. If the work is there to do, sometimes it’s a temptation to keep going until it’s done, regardless of how late into the evening that is achieved. Or will bosses start allocating more work than they know can realistically be handled in a day, in the knowledge that their employees will feel duty bound to get it done regardless?
This week’s Word of the Week is longueur, from the French for length, meaning a dull or tedious passage in a journey, piece of music or in a book. Often used in the plural.