Working from home; an end to that worklife balance malarkey. No manic morning rushes into commuterdom, parcelling slightly ailing kids into the car and onto the playground. Savour the aroma; brewing coffee, baking bread, wafting through your sunny sitting room as you chat serenely to a client, washing drumming away in the kitchen. Domestic bliss, professional idyll, multi-tasking paradise. Wait!
Take a moment to taste reality. Day upon day of seeing no one except the rabbit, the kids and the partner. Fighting for workspace amongst toys, dirty dishes and ironing. No IT support. Mother, granny and best friend Susan, ringing for a mid morning chat, ‘It’s so nice now we can have a good natter in the daytime’.
So what’s the truth? Well a bit of both, really. Suffice to say that in working from home, every plus has darkside, but thankfully that does work vice versa.
Take the community side. It’s not just the lack of social chitchat at the water cooler. It’s the peer vacuum when you need to bounce an idea, share a technical conundrum. It’s the struggle to keep motivated when there’s no one to provoke guilt that you’re still reading the newspaper.
Then again, there’s the joy of Radio 4, a perpetual, erudite companion. From Naughtie at breakfast, to the humming of the Archers in the background (you don’t need to actively listen, it just goes in subliminally) via ‘Woman’s Hour’ and ‘Book of the week’. A clandestine friend, keeping you company, educating, but never answering back when you hurl vitriol.
The flexibility of homeworking takes some beating. No more panic when school rings to evacuate a sick child. It’s straight home to mum, curled up with a hottie, the report being worked alongside. School plays, sports days, dentists, hold no fear now. They all slide into the flexi-schedule. Just a little catching up over a glass of wine, when the kids are in bed.
What’s the downside of that? Domestic seepage, I’m afraid. A formidable, flexible-working foe. Have you tried to work with breakfast uncleared, a couple of last night’s saucepans hanging around, not to mention the brimming laundry? Surely, it takes just a couple of minutes to put on the washing machine? But someone must empty it, sort, hang, dry, fold, iron, put away. Before you know, it’s lunchtime. And then there’s the parting family plea. ‘While you’re at home today, can you just…..? Can you just? Can you just?’ Before you know, you’ve ‘can you just’-ed the morning away.
Beware of dispensing with childcare. ‘I’ll do paperwork between 4 and 6 when the kids are home’. Just you try, when there’s skin and hair flying. One’s shrieking ‘I’m telling mum what you’ve got on the computer.’ And how do you get homework done, without sentry patrol?
Then there are the little trials. They shouldn’t be a big deal but need a dose of willpower to keep control. I worked in a 14th floor office. OK, I didn’t walk those stairs daily, but I had a little more scope to hit my 10,000 steps compared to the confines of my own home. Think about those healthy lunches at home. You can stick to any wacky diet when you’ve your own kitchen to hand. Well yes, but sometimes it’s nice to have a rustle in the kids’ sweet in, bake cookies or cheer up with one or two hot chocolates, with just a dash of cream from last night.
You see where I’m going? Working from home is no doddle. You face challenges; from being your own IT support, to needing loads of self discipline day in, day out, to holding on to those support systems you had when you did ‘proper’ work in an office.
Of course it can work; it just requires masses more preparation and effort than you might think.
Picture this. Its 1am. It’s my most productive time, when I produce my best work. PJs, dressing gown, cat for company, house slumbers around me. I have to be up at 7am but it’s for family breakfast before taking the kids to school. Tomorrow, I will have hit my deadline, so I’m taking off, time in lieu, of that midnight overtime. I’ll be chilling out at the spa; a massage, a jacuzzi, lunch with a friend. So sweet for being bang slap in the middle of day. No guilty pleasures for me, this is all well earned, and this is the bit I love!
I originally wrote this article for everywoman, leading provider of training, resources and support services for women in business.