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Things they never tell you about working from home

The dos and don'ts of being a work-from-home-pro

Keep moving your workstation according to the light of the season. Photo: iStockphoto.
Keep moving your workstation according to the light of the season. Photo: iStockphoto.

I am working from home as I type this column. I have been working from home for almost a decade now, although you could try to get a more accurate figure by deducting the number of hours I have pretended to work from home, but instead just lay in bed chatting with my online crush and indulged in other creative hobbies.

I wouldn’t encourage you to do this. Let’s just call it training and development hours, and get on with it.

In the new millennium, technology and connectivity has increasingly made it feasible for many people to work remotely from their own homes—individually and in teams; for organizations as well as independent professionals.

For many of us, this has meant lifestyle changes so radical that we have worried we will all go quite mad. Certainly our family, pets, guests and people who ring the doorbell believe this about us. Distracted, uncombed, unwashed and in crumpled clothes, we do not help our cause either.

However, dear reader, despair not. This is part of the struggle. We are still better off than being stuck in traffic while wearing expensive, high-maintenance clothes and shoes that grow smaller as the day progresses. In the end, we were all going to end up eccentric anyway. Those who work from home just get a head start.

After the first few years, when I worried excessively that the world would forget me, I have found a rhythm to having an office in my home and home in my office. Here are a set of dos and don’ts of being a work-from-home-pro that you won’t find in any manual:

■ Work in front of a window, preferably from where you can see leaves, trees and other green things that are alive. Have nice curtains, they can save the day.

■ Banish the air-conditioner, otherwise home becomes too much like the office you no longer go to. Besides, it is terrible for your bones and skin. Get used to the weather, it will help your body and mind acquire a rhythm over the next few years.

■ Change your workstation constantly. Move according to the light of the season, the posture you need and the size of table required to indulge your growing clutter. Move from bedroom to dining table to work-desk to the park bench to veranda to terrace.

Do not become static by allotting yourself a desk or a corner like you would have got in the workplace. Remember you are not a minion any more. You rule your own work-from-home empire. The more you own the spaces around you, the more you belong.

■ Trick yourself into some sort of an exercise routine. In our home, we wake up to a 5am alarm every morning and pray that our yoga teacher will not arrive. He always does. This way we get exercise and prayer out of the way before we start checking our overnight haul of WhatsApp messages.

Make your phone calls in the park next door or pacing up and down your street. It’s a decent warm-up, a good way to get friendly with street dogs, and a great way to let your neighbours admire you from a distance (plus, the person on the other side of the call will be impressed by your energy, and not hear the cooker whistle mid-conversation).

■ Do not watch videos on your social media feed. Even if you have clicked on one, stop, dismiss, banish it from your screen. Read instead. Have lots of tabs open on your browser. If you must be distracted, be diverted by the written word.

Working from home means that you don’t have to break yourself into two parts every morning and reassemble yourself again every time you return home. You can just roam around feeling broken and brittle all the time, if that’s your stage in life. This is especially true for parents of little children, but also for other depressives and authentic people.

In the last few years that I was working in an office, I used to hate saying goodbye to my toddlers every morning. I would hurt when the children looked upset to see me go and I would ache a little more when they were stoic. I would spend the commute silently changing out of my virtual supermom costume and readjusting the woman-at-work mask on my face. As a daily ritual, it grew tiresome and felt futile.

Now the situation has reversed. On the occasional days when I leave home for work, the children are delighted to see me leave and admirably stoic when I return.

Over the years, working from home has made me a more elaborate person. One of my more vivid memories has me on an international conference call and cleaning the kitchen floor with a broom at the same time. Our baby was hanging on to my lower leg like a panda. I felt like a boss.

You will begin to smile to yourself much more. You will find solitude, or somehow solitude will find you. It will make you quieter on the outside and talkative on the inside. This is unlikely to happen on an open office floor.

All this may make you dissatisfied with the actual work you do to get paid. That’s not a bad thing in itself. You might do something drastic. You might take a risk. You might begin to start thinking with more clarity. Workplaces don’t always need these qualities in their employees, but you might find it useful for yourself.

Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three.

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