Self-discipline is at the core of working from home. Some people hack it; others… well, they find clean socks and talk to vegetables.
I have to confess, I’m listening to the traffic reports these days with a certain degree of smugness. The schools are back and the urban traffic, after a couple of months of relative ease, is back to Snarl Central.
It doesn’t essentially bother me because I generally work from home in a grand little rural location. I don’t spend any part of my day parked on the M50 or any other artery. The only traffic hiccup I encounter is occasionally getting stuck behind a tractor or combine harvester on my little feeder road into the village. Admittedly, now that it’s harvest time, the risk of such inconvenience is high – it might take me 10 minutes instead of five to go for milk. I can hack that. Particularly on a nice day – I can take in the countryside and enjoy the sight of a field of poppies or an entire family of pheasants ambling along the roadside. I’d be lying if I said it was less than perfect and I know that there are stressed commuters out there who hate me and my ilk. Us telecommuters have, to all intents and purposes, got it made.
Indeed we do, and I don’t propose to say otherwise but… sometimes the grass that seems so green and lush on the other side might be slightly weedy in places with the odd burnt patch. There are stresses and strains attaching to working from home that can sometimes leave a body tearing their hair out the same as the most stressed commuter.
Any discussion on the issue of working from home will invariably mention the discipline required to operate this system successfully. Yes, you do need to discipline yourself. You need to nominate a start and finish time and stick to it. Everyone and anyone will tell you that. In theory, it sounds sensible and easy. In practice, it’s far from it. For instance, it is impossible to leave washing on the line if you see a few spits of rain on the window. If you repeatedly trip over a basket of ironing on your way to the loo, it’s hard to ignore it. You’re at least going to move it. When you do, you’ll realise you moved last week’s basket last week and it’s still there. Now you know where the clean socks are. Your resolve crumbles and you take time out. You start folding washing and you scold yourself for being so weak-willed. You can make the time up later.
Then there’s the phone. I always use my mobile for work communications. If the ‘home’ phone rings, I ignore it. That’s the plan. Well, mostly ignore it. Sometimes ignore it. Actually, probably, never. It gets to about the third ring and I cave in. It could be important. Somebody could be ill. They never are, by the way, but the very day I don’t answer the home phone, a plague of some description will have smitten my family at large.
Then there’s the people you live with. They need an enormous amount of retraining. If they happen to be stressed commuters, it’s very difficult. They consider that you don’t have a proper job. You can race into the bank and lodge that cheque… pick up the dry-cleaning… post that letter… let the plumber in… because you’re ‘at home’ all day. You have time. Also, you’re always the first one home so you get to cook the dinner. I shouldn’t rant too much here because my co-habitants have greatly changed their ways after harsh retraining. But it took time.
Then, there isn’t the office cleaner, if you know what I mean. The bombsite you leave when you finish your day is still there when you start your next day. Nobody takes away your mug, empties your bin or runs a duster over the edge of the shelves. There are no little elves working after business hours to clean your loo, replenish the soap and mop the floor. If you run out of teabags, there’s no willing body, eager for a few minutes escape or a crafty smoke, volunteering to run to the shop.
Next, there’s the ‘Shirley Valentine’ syndrome. Hello wall. You don’t have the company and camaraderie of the conventional office and you can easily end up conversing with inanimate objects. (I actually spoke to an onion today.) This impacts enormously on your relationships with co-habitants as you almost deafen them when they get home so eager are you for human contact. Then you get annoyed when you realise they aren’t really listening to you. They’re yawning at the television and taking nothing in.
And then, of course, there’s the Weekend Stress Syndrome. You don’t actually have a ‘weekend’. You’re busy on Saturday making up the time you’ve spent during the week taking in the washing, drinking tea with the plumber, chatting to whoever rang on the home phone. A ‘real’ commuter with a ‘real’ job who’s looking for a bit of human contact will amble into your untidy, mug-ridden, bin-spilling-over work area and enquire ‘Whatcha upta?’
Upta my eyes playing catch-up, is what. It is the lot of the undisciplined telecommuter. That and dirty mugs and getting to know your onions.