It is many people’s dream to work from home. I am living that dream and I want to tell those people: it’s not 100 percent dreamy.
I left the office to work for myself more than two years ago so you’d think by now I’d have nailed the working-from-home thing. You’d be wrong.
In fact, I’m not even writing this column at home. I’m writing it in a café where I’ve begun to flee with my laptop whenever possible. My son is appalled by this. He thinks people who use computers in public are showing off.
When I first told him I was working in a café, he thought I was making coffee. This was preferable in his mind to what I was actually doing which was writing. Because only embarrassing show-offs do that.
To prove his point, a few days later he called me over to watch a scene from Family Guy where a couple of dudes are using their laptops at Starbucks. “I’m writing in public because I’M A WRITER,” announces one to nobody in particular in a voice dripping with self-importance, “working on MY LAPTOP and if nobody sees me writing then it doesn’t count.”
I took exception to this. After I stopped laughing.
There are many things about working from home that delight me. The dress code is one. I am never happier than when I can work in jeans a t-shirt and no make-up (oddly, I cannot write properly when wearing a dress. I have no idea why this is so let’s just file it under B for Bonkers).
The other gigantic benefit is seeing my children throughout the day although I will not for a moment pretend it’s possible to achieve anything other than high stress levels while trying to work with small kiddies under foot or under desk. I have help with them every workday.
And even then, I struggle.
Especially since my toddler recently discovered where Mummy disappears to during the day and now takes every available opportunity to make like a Mexican immigrant and dash across the border into The Promised Land whenever the authorities aren’t watching. Try typing with a toddler on your lap. They have 46 hands, all trying to delete your work at the same time.
This is just one example of how my work/life boundaries have slowly collapsed. Yes, it’s terrific not having to waste time commuting and it’s wonderful to choose your own hours. But the downside is that you’re always at the office. Even when you’re asleep.
Yes, it’s sublime not having to deal with petty office politics or irritating co-workers but it’s also isolating. Thank heavens for Twitter and other social networks. They are a virtual watercooler and have transformed the home-office experience.
For a long time, I didn’t even have an office at home. I just had my laptop. I’d drag it around with me from room to room, trying to avoid the rest of my family. That was a disaster.
Virginia Woolfe knew this even though she didn’t have a laptop. She wrote A Room Of One’s Own in 1929, an extended essay about the importance of having a dedicated space, however small, in which to be creative.
Inspired by Virginia, I then tried setting up camp in various parts of the house before establishing a desk behind the couch.
This has worked splendidly although it hasn’t fixed my tendency to procrastinate. Like many writers, I adore writing, I just hate starting. This is a problem because at home, you must rely solely on self-discipline when your boss can’t see you unstacking the dishwasher or watching daytime TV.
There is a common misconception that people who work from home watch a lot of daytime TV but it’s not true. I waste time on the internet instead.
When you’re in a café, however, especially one without wireless, you can only stuff around with your latte and a communal newspaper for so long.
There are no children to attend to, no dinner to prepare, no t-shirt drawer to colour-code.
The other thing I like about working in public is the noise. Having worked in an office for 15 years, I’ve never been the kind of writer who required silence.
The opposite. I find the hum of background noise to be conducive to work.
I think this is because my formative journalistic years in magazines were spent sharing a small and windowless room with three other women. In the five years I spent in that cramped office, we were all forced to write while our workmates spoke on the phone, conducted meetings and laughed and cried through private phonecalls at full volume.
There was also a thoroughfare conveniently located between our desks so all the models, designers, PRs and photographers who came to see the fashion department had to traipse through the centre of our office. This happened approximately 2000 times every hour. Not much silence, no.
Perhaps this is why, when writing, I like to be surrounded by a bit of noise without having to actually interact with anyone. I guess you’d call it socially anti-social. Or living the dream.