Why write about this right now?Like the rest of my team, I work from home. I’m away a lot, so an office feels like an extravagance, as it would be empty a lot of the time – and besides, what would I need one for? That’s the theory at least. In practice, what it means is that when the plaster for the hall, landing and stairs needed to be replace (yes, it’s a hell-like as it sounds) all our internal doors were sealed with gaffe-tape, dust sheets hanging from the inside and covered in a healthy dose of prayer. My house is an old one, so the plaster that came off was the old-fashioned, black-and-hidious stuff.
Let’s start with good newsI’d hoped that the vast majority of my ’stuff’ would be available online, stored in DropBox, mainly. Well, when I say ‘hoped’ I mean I planned and expected it to be… and it was! There were a couple of tiny things I’d missed out on, but basically access to my files worked nearly perfectly. And so did my access to my online SAAS apps, such as Freshbooks, my accounting package of choice. Give me a wifi and I was ready to go!
And now the bad news – on a technical levelNot everywhere that says it has wifi, has wifi. And not everywhere that has wifi has usable wifi. And not everywhere that has useable wifi has wifi that’s useable to the point of throwing around half giga-byte files. Fair enough, you’d expect that, I suppose but for some reason I’d not figured this into my thinking. It wasn’t too much of a problem for the two weeks I was a working migrant as the files I created were on my laptop’s hard drive (in the Dropbox folder, waiting for sync – the problem came when I finally got back to my office and turned on my big computer. Cue thrashing hard-drive griiiiiiiinnnnnddddd, as everything tried to catch up with two weeks worth of things not being passed around. It wouldn’t have been a problem expect that I was trying to do stuff in a hurry (like a muppet!) Still in the grand scheme of the universe, it’s not a big deal. What was more of a big deal was the personal stuff – the soft stuff. The stuff you don’t plan for and yet is obvious in retrospect.
The bad news on a personal level – homesicknessWell, okay, calling it homesickness is rather over-stating the case. Oh if you insist, I admit it’s a silly exaggeration – but it’s a little bit how I feel. I felt it in two rather specific, but overlapping ways:
when I left my house in the morning, usually before the guys arrived to start work on my house. It was a kind of low-grade resentment at being forced from my home/house/office (despite knowing that it wasn’t anyone’s fault!) but mixed with a vague feeling of melancholy. I am very much a home-bird and like the idea of somewhere ‘emotionally safe’ from where I can sally forth but to where I can retreat is/when/if necessary. Don’t get me wrong, I can happily sleep in strange beds and I don’t particularly suffer from ‘first night syndrome’ but that’s very much because I know I’ve got somewhere ‘safe’ to go back to. That safe space no longer existed and as a result I felt rather adrift
while I was cafe-surfing, as I looked around me at the other people there. Maybe it was the cafes I decided to work in but they were very much being used by groups of friends (or families) to do, well, what cafes are intended to be used for. I felt very much like an interloper: the person who’s been invited to the party by accident but who can’t leave because his taxi isn’t due for two hours and it’s raining outside.
Solutions and mitigations
I found two tricks that worked to help deal with those issues – the second one in particular. Firstly, I’d change cafe every few hours. I know that reduced my productive time, as I walked from one to the next, but it was very much made up for as I got my head down more in the new place. The second trick was to invite a friend. Said friend was working at home for two weeks solid and has a different personality to me – where I prefer to be alone and at home (introvert) Geoff is very much an extravert and gets his energy with being with people. Consequently it worked nicely for him, too… or at least he told me it did! 🙂
Being with a friend made it feel more like home, made it feel more ‘intentional’ and made it fun. What I mean by ‘intentional’ is that I could pretend to myself that I was doing this out of choice: a conversation about where and when we were going to meet and work, and for how long, made it feel far more like I was in control. Rationally I know this is tosh, but it worked at the emotional level.
A surprisingly useful tool was a handy set of blue-tooth headsets and Spotify playlists. Some of the places I worked might have had good music but it wasn’t my music. Now when I’m using cafes normally (that is, by choice) I’m happy to go with their choice – but right now I wanted to feel at ‘home’… and Spotify provided a sense of that.
In particular, having a good headset also cut off the outside world a bit, allowing me to concentrate more.