Some might say I’m living the dream, paid to sit at home all day. Working for myself? From home? You’d love to do it, you think – I know, because you always tell me, at parties. "My dream to never leave the house, no commute, arrive at my desk in my pyjamas." I can see why it would appeal to those who find small talk torture or dislike authority. It must be hard to feel pity for homeworkers if you’re chained to your desk, notice periods and regular salaries, coping with fluorescent lights, fire drills and the coffee-breath of 100 acquaintances.
But what about the four walls closing in on you, never speaking to another human the entire day, forgetting how to interact because your last meaningful conversation was with your kettle? Turning up to work in pyjamas anywhere else would be a sign you needed a holiday – or an intervention – and the same applies at home, really. That’s why I always get dressed. And, no, I don’t watch daytime TV. Ever.
According to the TUC, 1.5 million people work from home, and a further four million would love to, but their employers won’t let them. I’ve worked from home for eight years. I feel I spend more time dispelling myths about it than talking about my actual work. Aside from the hospitality industry, I can’t think of many jobs where the place you worked was more fascinating than your métier. Who ever meets an account manager and coos “Ooh, do you have a nice desk?”
"You forget how to interact because the last meaningful conversation you had was with your kettle"
“You’re free to do as you like,” they tell me. Yes, free. Free to be fired at a moment's notice. Free from health and safety directives covering hours you work, or breaks you take, because you're responsible for yourself – and you’re irresponsible. At home, you feel a responsibility to take care of chores like washing up and laundry – stuff that for anyone else would wait until you got home. You compensate by working into the evening. Switching off after a hard day is tough when you live in your office.
“You must be rolling in it!” they say. There's the quirk that a freelancer may earn more pro rata than someone doing the same job on a salary, but if you're not PAYE – as homeworkers seldom are – there’s a dearth of perks and benefits. No holiday pay, no sick pay, no healthcare, no free heat and light, no office equipment, no ergonomic chair – you have to buy the lot yourself. I’m saving money on my commute, yes, but the heating’s on all day and if I get ill I’m screwed.
“But you have space to be creative!” Companies appraise employees to check progress, identify development areas, pay for training. Unless a client invites them to in-house training, homeworkers miss out, and must keep up with trends or changes in their industries of their own volition, at their own cost. And what of those who don’t work in the creative industry? Homeworking isn’t all sitting about tweeting, praying for a book deal (meta reference).
Working from home, then, is not so much a monumental doss as a series of low-level, continual anxieties, and keeping a handle on them – and thus managing your mental health – is just as important as getting all your work done.
You don’t have to make major life changes – there are some fairly simple things you can do to ensure that your home office doesn’t feel like a prison. Try some of these:
Getting dressed is key.
If you’re not precious about your carpets, put your shoes on, but slippers – serious ones, not fluffy bunnies or slinky mules – will do.
If all you need to work is an internet connection, go to a cafe at least once a week. Be among others. It doesn’t matter whether you talk to them, but being around people is important – if only to reinforce your suspicion everyone is garbage and you’re better off alone.
Have a distinct working area you can physically leave – even just a table. Working in bed or on the sofa makes it harder to disconnect. For me, a mere two-second walk from my dining table to my sofa worked a treat.
Have regular breaks, arse about on Twitter, catch up on BuzzFeed, and don’t guilt-trip yourself about it. Homeworkers have a reputation among (usually envious) office workers that they do nothing, and can overwork to compensate, but you’re entitled to downtime.
Find the pattern that works for you and feel free to tear it up and start again at will.
If you’re not a homeworker, but know one, there are things you can do to help your friend.
When messaging them, ask if they’re busy – don’t assume they can drop everything to talk. Often they’re on a strict timetable that doesn’t align with yours.
Remember they’re alone all day; make time for them on a weeknight.
Weekends, though, are especially tough for single homeworkers. Have that brunch! Call them about that jog! Often they feel detached from other people’s schedules so may not want to bother you. Include them if you can.
Oh, and most of all, don’t tell them it must be nice to work on the sofa in their underwear with no boss breathing down their neck. They’re not slobs – they do get dressed. And usually there is a boss: themselves. And trust me, in my case, he is a total nightmare.