For the longest time, working from home was an elusive and exciting thing. The privilege of senior management, freelancers, and those who are lucky enough to work for one of those modern companies that probably have a slide in their foyer. It was the stuff of dreams; rolling out of bed and starting work in your pyjamas, a coffee by your side. Spending more time with your cat. The freedom to work anywhere in the world. However, when you know what happened, all of sudden the majority of us were finally getting a taste of WFH life. As it turns out, it’s not for everyone.
It seems like working from home is here to stay
Governments across the world have begun to encourage people to go back to working in offices, concerned for the thousands of Pret a Mangers that are suddenly devoid of their regular captive audience of office workers, only to backtrack weeks later as infection rates rise. It seems like working from home is here to stay for a while, and while for some it has been the realisation of all their dressing-gown-clad fantasies, for others, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
I spoke to four women who miss office life for different reasons, and all have their own solutions.
Carolyn, who runs her own company, says she relies on a sociable environment for her mental health. “In the early days before our company had a base, I used to hot desk at other ‘business friends’ offices. I miss having people around me, mischief, the local deli that does the best sausage rolls in Leeds and popping to the shops at lunchtime. I can’t say I am excited about winter – being locked in and working from home. I’m definitely an extrovert, easily distracted, very sociable and love a chat!”
Carmen, a freelance marketer, says she misses the little things about working in an office.
“I miss the buzz of people around me, the energy that the room creates and just the social aspect of saying good morning to people or chatting about everyday life over the coffee machine. I’m more productive in an office environment. There are no home life distractions, and when everyone has their head down and is working, it encourages me to do the same too. I get more done in less time. I also miss the commute. It enables a state change into the workplace, or out of it on the way home.”
Anya, who started her own PR agency during lockdown, has been missing her office so much she’s joined a local co-working space. “I was working from home when lockdown started for a PR agency based in Tewkesbury. Prior to that, I would commute thirty minutes to get to the office, where I worked with a team of around 20. In August, whilst still working from home, I made the decision to leave the agency I was working for, to set up my own. At this point, I knew that finding a co-working space would be the best option for me. Working from home has the benefit of sitting in your pyjamas all day, but having some structure in place is important. Routine is something I firmly believe in when it comes to business.”
Kriti, who recently started a new job in marketing and has only met her team once, feels like she can’t switch off. “I miss everything – getting up early in the morning, deciding what to wear, running to catch the tube right before the doors shut, listening to my podcasts on the way, looking out of the window in the train, just walking and noticing other passersby, setting up my laptop in the office on arrival, making morning smoothie using office kitchen, catching up with co-workers, attending meetings, brainstorming ideas, tea/coffee breaks, going out to buy lunch, coming back thinking that my day is over, and finally doing evening yoga to relax. I am tired of just sitting in front of my screen the whole day and the work just never stops.”
Are there elements of homeworking that you enjoy?
Carolyn: I certainly get more done at home, it’s great for concentration, strategic thinking, writing and of course the time and space to integrate all manner of holistic elements to keep me balanced, well and sane. I now have time for meditation, exercise, journaling and eating healthier lunches.
Carmen: Some elements are useful. We have a 4-month-old puppy and so it’s allowed me to bond with her and keep an eye on her chewy habits! I recently trained for and ran the Virtual London Marathon and suffered a few knee injuries, so sitting with my leg raised with an icepack on was no problem. My husband is also working from home and it’s lovely to be able to share lunch with him before he heads off back to the study and I to the kitchen table.
Anya: I do choose to stay home and work some days when it’s raining and I don’t fancy the twenty-minute walk into the office. It’s nice having the flexibility. It’s also great when it’s THAT time of the month and you just want to curl up with a hot water bottle: you can hide under a duvet with your laptop and still smash out emails.
Kriti: I enjoy being close to my husband who is also working from home. I really do enjoy not having to wear uncomfortable footwear – those heels that look great with pencil skirts but are secretly eating your feet! I’m lucky that my employers have adopted a hybrid system of working which means that they pay for our co-working space membership.
What would your ideal working situation be?
Carolyn: I’m pining for my pre-COVID19 life. A healthy balance of business travel, some international trips, some working from home days and reuniting with the team for a catch up after not having seen each other for a little while.
Carmen: When we return to ‘normal’ or our new working ‘normal’ evolves, I hope to work three days a week in my co-working space and two days from home. The variety will be enough to allow me to meet my work deadlines, but also afford me the flexibility and work-life balance that being a freelancer purportedly provides but can rarely deliver. I used to go into the office every day. When I’m able to go back to it, it will be on a reduced basis and I will afford myself the time to work from home and enjoy it. Pandemic silver-linings.
Anya: This. I have created it. A mix of home working and office is the best solution and having a bit of flexibility to do either.
Kriti: My ideal working situation would be like a hybrid of work-from-home plus office work. However, I would like to point out that working from home is not really flexible working – you are still working and even extra! I would really like to meet my new team and brainstorm ideas – for me, creativity just flows when I am in a group of talented professionals.
Is there something specific to your workplace that makes you miss it?
Carolyn: Being in the same space as other entrepreneurs, sharing ideas, picking up tips and helping others. I also miss eating Leeds’ best sausage rolls at LS1 Forty-Five.
Carmen: It’s the little things. The odd smile, the nod hello, the ‘how are you?’ but also the buzz generated from a shared workspace. Hearing snippets of conversation as I work, seeing people moving around the room from the corner of my eye and the loud tap of keyboard keys. It all reminds me that there are busy lives all around me. I’ve been in a bubble working from home for nearly 9 months which is a long time.
Anya: Coming up with creative ideas on your own, sitting on your sofa, is a challenge. Having a different space to go to allows you to reset. The office I work in is brightly lit with natural light and has a really nice (COVID friendly) communal area where you can chat and network with others, bouncing ideas off one another and collaborating.
Kriti: Well, I was hired remotely, onboarded remotely and got to meet my team just once in August when the rules were relaxed. I liked them very much and I maintain contact with my coworkers via office slack channel. The thing that I miss the most is being in the physical company of like-minded people who are working together to come with ideas and achieve goals. When you are new, you learn so much about the company culture and even the job itself with random, unscheduled brief conversations. There are times when I just want to be able to pull over my supervisor for 5 mins to look at the screen and ask things – but I can only do this with planned online meetings where a five-minute task can take 30 minutes or more.
It’s companies that need to change, not where we work
While all of us enjoy the fact that working from home generally means extra sleep, all four of these women are missing the collaborative nature of working with others. Workplaces that treat their employees as individuals, like Kriti’s, or workspaces that promote creativity and are friendly environments are clearly the way to go.
The soulless offices are the problem, rather than office-working itself. Office working can be incredibly beneficial for many, as all these women described, but done wrong, working from home can seem like absolute bliss.
The change needs to be in companies’ atmospheres, rather than everyone working from home. That way, when the world wakes from its enforced slumber, maybe heading back to work won’t be such a horrible thought.