I’ve reached the one-year anniversary of my transition from office-worker to working from home.
My final day as a fully fledged office worker was Friday 13th March last year. (Of course, it had to be a Friday the 13th, didn’t it?) I used to commute 20-plus miles, 4-5 days a week from home in Thatcham to my company’s office in Bracknell. That equated to 6-7 hours a week in the car and 40-45 hours in the office.
Today, my daily commute is barely 20 feet to our downstairs study, which has become my semi-permanent office. My car sits on the driveway unused for days on end. I still work 40-45 hours a week, but my day doesn’t feel as long because of the lack of travel.
What’s changed (and what hasn’t)
I’ve been fortunate that many elements of my job remain the same despite the change of location. It’s been an easier – and consequently less stressful – transition for me than most.
I have an international role, so virtually all my work is with colleagues who are based in different countries. I spend most of my working day on calls on Microsoft Teams. My manager and direct report are both based in Poland; most of the rest of our team is either there or in Germany. On a typical day, I might talk to colleagues in France, Saudi Arabia, the US and Singapore. So the only major changes to my work-day have been my location and not having people around to chat with.
I have the luxury of using our study at home as my own workspace. This has made it easier for me to shut out the kids during the long months of home-schooling. (Heather draws the short straw because she works at our dining table.) But it’s also easier to close the door on work at the end of the day too.
I deliberately made a point of establishing a clear separation between ‘work’ and ‘home’ early on. My commute used to provide a natural buffer to help me ease in and out of work mode at both ends of the day. I’ve replaced the drive with a morning walk and I usually finish the day by shutting the study door and doing some exercise. Book-ending my day like this has had a big impact on my well-being and prevented work from invading my evenings.
Of course, some things have changed significantly. I no longer adopt a ‘business-ready’ dress code – it’s just plain casual now. (In fact, I can count the number of times I’ve worn a shirt with a collar in the past year on my fingers.) My internet connection is slower and less reliable than in the office. Without access to a big printer, I’ve finally learned to work without paper. (Except for the reams I’m still using as makeshift monitor stands.) I can do more school runs, pop out for a walk or run errands when it’s convenient rather than sticking to a conventional lunch-hour. I see much more of the kids than I ever have before. We can eat, play games and watch TV as a family in a way that previously only happened at weekends.
Sure, a few things have been harder and lonelier at home. But as an introvert I’ve quite enjoyed the quiet and solitude, and only occasionally missed the social contact. The few downsides have been more than outweighed by the upsides.
Before the pandemic, I used to work at home maybe two or three days a month with just my laptop. But now I have a proper office set-up with three screens, a full-size keyboard and wireless headset, and a door I can close. I can play music without resorting to headphones, grab food from the kitchen, even work in the garden or in front of the TV.
In most practical respects, my home setup is superior to the office. I can do everything I need to do from here. Why would I ever want to go back?
Our offices currently remain closed. A few exceptions aside, most of us have been working at home for the whole of the past year. This is likely to continue for a few months yet. While some will undoubtedly race back to the office when it finally does reopen, most will continue with at least a hybrid home/office arrangement going forward. The days of having most people in the office on most days are, I suspect, now consigned to the history books.
As for me, my preference would be to switch to home-based on a permanent basis. I simply don’t need to be in the office, for either work or social purposes. I could happily venture in once or twice a month to maintain a degree of social contact and catch up on office news and gossip. But fundamentally I’m more than happy with the little cocoon I’ve built around me at home. (Plus not commuting saves me around £45 a week in petrol alone and almost as much again in Starbucks. Result.)
A year ago, I’d have never thought I would switch so dramatically from being office to home-based. But now that I have been for 12 months, I can’t see why I would ever want to go back. Home-working – for me, at least – is here to stay.