There is a knack to working from home, and much of it comes down to knowing what to pay attention to and what to steadfastly ignore. Prominent among the latter are: the dirt on the floor; the constant social media pings; the family and friends who text you for a catch-up at 2pm because it’s their day off. It takes a stoic focus to home in on the home work and ignore the extraneous data coming from all angles – the invitations to fob off whatever it is you’re doing to pay the bills and go and have some fun.
When I first went freelance, two years ago, I privately rejoiced at the thought of no longer having co-workers. I worked with some great people, but as a former section editor for a media company, I spent a lot of time in meetings, then in follow-up meetings to discuss what was raised in the group meetings, and then in the more informal coffee meetings about what was agreed at the second meeting.
Solo work, I reasoned, would be the salve for a fed-up soul bruised by so much pointless chit-chat.
But nature abhors a vacuum, and while I no longer wasted time feigning interest in small talk or trying to divine from the tea leaves what the boss’s mood will be that day, I initially took up a range of other behaviours that were equally useless and distracting. Such as household chores at 11am, or Skype interviews at 11pm.
“Working from home is not for everyone,” notes workplace mental health expert Pedro Diaz from The Mental Health Recovery Institute. “It has many advantages, such as avoiding the commute and working flexible hours, especially if you have children, but there are drawbacks.”
In fact, research suggests that working from home is no picnic. A recent study of workers in 15 countries by the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation found that 41 per cent of employees who work remotely feel some degree of stress, compared with only 25 per cent of office workers. The report authors noted that working at home brings risks of “longer working hours, higher work intensity and work-home interference”.
“You have to be honest with yourself and work out if you’re the kind of person who would benefit from working from home,” Diaz advises.
Classic extroverts who draw their energy and zest from other people struggle with a lack of office contact because it runs counter to their nature. Introverts or ambiverts (those who combine aspects of the two) will find it easier. “It will also be easier if you have a family connection in the home or close by, as this will prevent you from feeling isolated,” Diaz says.
But even if working from home suits your disposition, as it does mine, it’s still easy to be distracted. And this is where mapping out different “modes” of being is important, says Robyn Amott, a professional organiser and de-clutter coach.
“A lot of people feel torn between the two worlds of work and family,” she explains. “It helps if you can differentiate between different modes. When you’re in work mode, you can tell your family that if your door is closed then not to bother you unless it’s an emergency. You need to establish clear boundaries.”
Amott also says an organised work space makes a huge difference: “Some creative types cannot stand the thought of a completely clear desk, which is fine, as long as what you have around you is easy to access and you can have clarity in your space. And I always recommend clearing the decks at the end of the day. Get your office and desk in order.”
Don’t underestimate the power of a clean, blank slate. I start each workday now with a thorough tidy of my desk, which, remarkably, helps keep me stationed in work mode. Only when I knock-off will I run errands or focus on domestic chores. And if someone does attempt to Skype me in my office at 11pm, well, I won’t be there to hear it.
How to make working from home work
• If you work for a company, connect with co-workers daily.
• If you work for yourself, make an effort to see friends and family so you don’t become isolated.
• Create a ritual, such as going for a walk, that signals the end of the work portion of your day.