I feel entirely confident in assuming that ‘working from home’ has been as much of a mixed blessing for everyone reading this as it has been for me during this strange and worrying time.
For the avoidance of any doubt, I must stress that the blessings have been abundant, and I’ll be grateful for them until I pull up a celestial office chair at the Great Workstation in the Sky. I’ve been able to continue working when so many unfortunate people haven’t, for one thing, which has diminished financial worries as well as lending a shape and purpose to the days. Also, our company was commendably quick off the mark in pre-emptively applying the technologies which have enabled us to work from home so successfully, with no interruption to the services we provide. Additionally, the momentary cessation of my long-ish daily commute has enabled me to save around £200 a month on petrol while substantially lowering my carbon footprint.
As for the downsides, top of the list is simply that I’ve missed my colleagues. We’re in the happy position of being a very close and good-natured team; we enjoy each other’s company, and are genuinely pleased to see each other every day. I’ve worked in some establishments in which a simple ‘good morning’ was, at best, resolutely ignored, if not treated as a sign of despicable frailty or a cue to initiate a wearisome eternity of pass-agg hostilities.
Having already been round the block so many times that the soles of my shoes can read the pavement in Braille, I’ve learned quite emphatically that a professional working relationship is so much easier and more productive when you and the people you work with care about each other, and the Saltwater Stone office represents a mutually respectful forum in which we can freely bat ideas around, suggest approaches, finesse strategies and so on. Occasionally, in ‘the time before’, this would fortuitously coincide with my elevenses of choice; a ‘slight’ coffee (half a cup, with the strength and consistency of the La Brea tar pits), and two or more Jaffa Cakes. Usually ‘more’. Lots more.
As I said, I’ve missed this terribly, but we’ve been holding daily team video calls which have kept us firmly apprised of what everyone is doing and needs to do; and it has been a real tonic to see everyone’s (digitised) faces. Those of us with a keen appreciation of low comedy – OK, maybe just me – enjoy those rare interludes in which the screen will briefly freeze just when someone is about to make a salient point… and for my part, I’m hoping that no one has taken a screenshot of my face if it has ever been frozen in a mouth-agape expression of epic gormlessness.
Another downside has been that my home office is regrettably close to our food cupboards and fridge. The Jaffa Cake/s reference earlier was a significant clue as to my pitiable lack of willpower: since mid-March, my ‘snacking’ has taken on the obscenely wanton proportions you’d normally associate with The Guinness Book Of Records.
One more aspect of home working which I’ve struggled with, for which I would neither expect nor seek to elicit any sympathy, is… well, look at the photo. That’s the view from our house. Lovely, isn’t it? We know how incredibly lucky we are to have it, even if we’re only renters. We have no garden nor back rooms: our blessing and curse is that every room looks out onto the river. You wouldn’t expect this idyll to become a poisoned chalice, but since the so-called lockdown began, we’ve been privately referring to the river as the Coronavirus Lido.
My wife is an NHS worker, and we’ve taken the lockdown very seriously; but literally every day bar two since mid-March has been wonderfully, damnably sunny, and the river wall outside has resembled a haunted reimagining of Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, with clusters of picnickers and sunbathers spending hours at a time sitting on the wall shoulder to shoulder, facing us, with their backs to the river, staring at their phones, while their kids and dogs frolic behind them.
Under normal circumstances they’d have every right to be there; but witnessing the swarming social-club interactivity of this potential COVID-19 petri dish, all day and every day, has been… rather distracting. I shouldn’t imagine they’d warmly commend us for pointing out the error of their ways; besides which, a weird nationwide omertà emerged early on in which informing the authorities was perceived as a greater sin than actually endangering the lives of others by flouting lockdown rules. ‘I might be a coronavirus crop-sprayer, copper, but I ain’t no grass,’ etc.
So, yes, there are some highly subjective pros and cons to working from home. Our phased return to the office has already begun, with a reassuringly exhaustive array of distancing and sanitising measures in place. We’ll be proceeding with due caution as we adjust to ‘the new normal’, to coin an already threadbare phrase. From a personal viewpoint, I won’t be truly happy until it’s actually safe to have a pint in a pub and hug my colleagues until they pop.