A fellow PhD student (not in my faculty) recently mentioned in conversation that she occasionally sleeps over at uni to get tasks completed, and once spent three unbroken days on campus. I was a bit horrified, I must admit. Apart from the lack of comfortable facilities (I’m thinking of a bed, in particular, which I could do without for a single night but not for three days in a row) this seems very unhealthy at a psychological level. Surely if your workload – or work habits – result in overnight stays, at least one of those aspects needs a serious examination?
It occurs to me, however, that working from home can end up being just like this, with the added benefit of a bed but the added disadvantage that when you see a fluff bunny on the floor you think ‘I suppose sooner or later I’m going to have to clean that up’.
Until very recently, I have undertaken both my paid work and my unpaid study from the salubrious location of my dining room table. To begin with, I cleared everything away each evening as a symbolic gesture, a demonstration that I understand boundaries – I am, after all, a social worker. I always sat at a different chair for meals than the one I worked in. But gradually there were activities that needed to be left out for the night, then for a few nights, and finally it became apparent that perching our dinner on our knees on the couch was simply the way we now lived.
Similarly, as there is no room for my bookshelf elsewhere, it lives in my bedroom, with the result that the last thing I see at night and the first thing in the morning are my folders of completed assignments, journal articles (I’m not one for reading quantities of text from the screen), and stationery.
I offer the following thought to anyone contemplating the ‘luxury’ of working from home:
- One of the benefits of working from home is that when you get a break, you can clean the toilet.
- One of the disadvantages of working from home is that when you get a break, you can clean the toilet.
Think very, very, carefully about whether you really want to work from home, and how you will manage it so that you don’t end up feeling like you are living at work. There are certainly advantages either way, and no one correct fit for everyone. In my experience, though, the tentacles of ‘work’ creep insidiously into the nooks and crannies of your ‘non-work’ life. I don’t only mean hours, either. I mean thoughts, emotions, your very identity (not to be too dramatic or anything). The very benefits of not having to get dressed, put on make-up, spend time travelling between locations, deal with workplace culture and relationships, as well as the possibility of multi-tasking different aspects of a many-layered life, sneakily morph into the significant disadvantages of blurred boundaries, isolation, stir-craziness, multiple distractions and endless opportunities for procrastination.
A few weeks ago, my eye was caught by a flyer sticky-taped to the wall of a local shop, advertising sub-lease of a desk space in an open plan office. Curious, I decided to check it out, and as a result I now work 2 days per week in an office, ten minutes’ walk from where I live. Ironically, the space is available because so many of the resident team now work from home. There’s a quiet focus among the ones who remain. I’m finding that my productivity goes right up when I’m there, and I can’t begin to describe the lightness of locking my filing cabinet and walking home at the end of the day.
As my PhD is part-time, I don’t get an allocated desk space at uni, but I have a locker and I’ve commandeered a filing cabinet drawer in a shared Research Student office. I’m able to keep my laptop and USBs in a backpack, and the books and papers that need to live at home are contained into a place that can, when necessary, be relegated out of sight and (more or less) out of mind. I still do some work and study from home, but am not immersed in them.
This balance is working very well for me. I no longer feel like I live at work. And equally importantly, my partner no longer feels like he lives in my workplace