These are unprecedented times. Let’s not beat around the bush – it’s pretty scary.
Not because this is something immediate, tangible and horrifying like a terrorist attack, of course. It’s because we know what’s coming, we know that it can’t be stopped, and we don’t know what the overall damage will be.
And it looks as though a lot of us are going to be stuck inside for a very, very long time.
I am no medical expert, nor I am not an epidemiologist. I am, in fact, a massive hypochondriac, currently self-isolating because of a cough and lethargy that are probably lingering symptoms from a pretty heavy weekend. In short, I can give you no tangible advice on the coronavirus other than what you can find here (and you should read this): https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
What I am, however, is a nigh-on black belt at working from home. For most people, the idea of being cooped up sounds utterly horrendous. If you are one of those people, then you have much to learn, grasshopper.
Allow me to be your sensei.
NB: The magnitude of the coronavirus is not lost on me, and I appreciate that, for some, it’s far too early to be making jokes and finding humour in it. But I do believe that, especially in these bleak times, a bit of levity goes a long way – I hope this article provides that.
TIP ONE: Remember The Bullshit
If you consider this situation to be “being cooped up at home,” just take a minute to remember a few things.
Like your commute, for instance. If you’re a London-dweller like me, that probably means being stuck right up close in a stranger’s business on the tube. Like, I-can-smell-what-you-had-for-breakfast close.
Or you’re on a bus, with at least one screaming child. Or, if you’re coming in from the burbs, a train, which was probably cancelled.
If you have the luxury of driving to work, does the idea of sitting in the same traffic, on the same road, day after day, not start to mash your garlic?
Wasn’t that just bullshit?
Remember your workplace, too. Sure, there were some folks there it’s nice to see, and maybe they put on drinks every now and then. But I swear to GOD, if Karen from accounting puts one more pass-agg note up on that fridge then she’s getting locked in the bloody thing and it’s going in the sea.
And it’s always either just too warm or just too cold to be comfortable. And you simply cannot get the same joy from a shared, cubicled loo as you can your own.
And there is Never. A. Single. Goddamn. Meeting. Room. Free.
Wasn’t that also bullshit?
And the hours, WOOF. You might have a nightmare commute that makes you anxious about arriving late. Or you might finish all your work and sit there, thumb firmly up your sphincter, waiting for someone else to up sticks so that you’re not the first to leave.
…Lest you have a one-to-one with your line manager who, “Has had it brought to their attention that you have issues with timekeeping.”
Thanks a lot, Karen. You snitch.
It’s all bullshit.
Yes, commuting to a job, whether it be office-based, customer-facing or any other, gives you structure. But we now have technology that means that we don’t have to be in the office for 8-9 hours a day, 5 days a week. It’s mental that we are still working like it’s the 80s, despite the computing power of our iPhones have 100,000 times that of Apollo 11’s mission computer.
So. Bear that in mind when you’re worried about being “cooped up.”
Now, then. Embrace the joy of your new “office” – home.
TIP TWO: Your Workspace
Make your own workstation. Make it welcoming, comfortable, and as far removed from any distractions as possible. Plus, this workstation is yours, not space bestowed on you by some overlord company. No-one is looking over your shoulder.
Revel in this. Vape at your desk if you’re so inclined. Eat smelly fish at it. Check the Daily Mail gossip page to your heart’s desire. Keep Football Manager open (someone’s got to do football, even if it’s virtual).
Just… do remember to actually do your work.
Now, having a workstation might seem tricky. Shared flats or houses (usually in cities but family homes elsewhere, too) might not have enough room for multiple desks, let alone a dedicated office room.
But, whether it’s at a desk, at the kitchen table, or even on your bed (avoid if possible), create a space that you’re going to work at and stick to that space. Having the idea in your head that “oh, that’s where I do work,” helps to compartmentalise it from the place where you sleep, eat, or relax.
If you’re in a shared flat with other WFHers, why not create your own “office” in a shared living space? Still get to socialise – check; help each other stay focussed – check; no Karen – double check.
But, whether it’s on your bed or at a desk, always make sure that once the computer goes off, it stays off.
Which brings me nicely onto…
TIP THREE: Routine
Rule one. And this is going to be hard.
DO NOT WEAR PYJAMAS ALL DAY, EVERY DAY.
I know. It’s the first thing we all think of when we think about working from home. Sod getting into suits, heels or company-mandated outfits. I’ll just wear loungewear and sip brandy like Hugh Hefner, but without with the surrounding ladies in bunny suits.
Well folks, for the first day or two, allow yourself to enjoy it. But, from my experience, staying in pyjamas almost exclusively makes you feel lethargic and, by the end of the day, grimy.
Instead, enjoy the fact that you don’t have to wear office attire, but get up, shower, and put some jeans and a t-shirt on at the very least. It helps you focus for the day, gets you mentally prepared, and makes you feel fresh.
If you like a morning workout, we don’t quite know what the situation is going to end up being with gyms yet (mine is still open, for instance). However, it’s a reasonable assumption that they’re soon going to be closed for a while. So, instead, why not take up something you can do in your own home – yoga or circuits are more than doable.
It’s also really worth noting that current government guidelines are not in any way saying that you have to remain locked away like a Rapunzel / 28 Days Later crossover. Get outside, but keep 2m away from those around you. Going for a run is a great way to get some exercise (and you can pretend you’re dodging zombies while you’re avoiding people).
Do not let yourself go more than 48 hours without having at least a couple of hours outside the house – you will go mad. Take it from me – I’ve done a five-day stint before and it took me two weeks to remember my own name afterwards because my brain had turned into a potato.
Remember your contracted work hours. You’re not in an office where timekeeping is a competition anymore – as above, when the laptop shuts, keep it shut. Take time for your lunch (you’ve got no excuse not to cook), take little breaks, and don’t feel embarrassed to be responsible for your own time.
I promise you, everyone else will be doing exactly the same thing.
Finally, also remember that you will have, on average, around two extra hours to your day where you won’t be commuting. This is the perfect time to do that thing you always wanted to do: pick up an instrument, learn a new language, or start an ant-farm, for example.
Personally, I’m growing a beard. And so far, it looks utterly horrific. I love it though.
All the stuff that we normally do with other people – go to the pub, see a movie – that’s gone for a little while. Why not take this opportunity to incorporate a bit of time for yourself?
TIP FOUR: Sleep
This one can be a bit of a dickhead.
Being out and about all day helps with the separation of home = eat, sleep, relax and work = work. Working from home can have pretty major effects on your sleep pattern.
I think most people aren’t quite as thoroughly useless with self-discipline as I am, but the single most important thing is: go to sleep at a normal hour.
It’s so tempting, having started a Netflix boxset under the duvet, to think, “Ooh, I can get up at 8.45 tomorrow, so if I go to sleep at 1.45 then I still get seven hours.”
Yes, true. But believe me, rolling out of bed, stumbling to your laptop and making sure you’re logged into the intranet on time for your boss to see it is about as pleasant as a dog plop-scented candle.
Keep your sleep patterns healthy and well-regulated, and going out and getting fresh air is a big part of that.
AND FINALLY: Don’t Panic
For many of you, the next few weeks or months will be a massive culture shock.
Not being able to socialise in the same way as we normally do is going to take something of a toll on your wellbeing.
This is fine.
Not being able to visit elderly or frail relatives is going to be hard.
This is fine.
Completely altering the way that you spend your time may well uproot you and make you feel uneasy.
This is all fine.
As someone who’s also suffered from both anxiety and depression, the first step to take when a massive change happens in your life is to understand that it is absolutely, 100% ok to not feel ok.
At the start of this year, we felt quiet unease about this absolute spunk trumpet of a virus, but at least it was mostly on the other side of the world. In just two weeks, we have seen our whole society entirely upended.
None of this is even remotely normal.
What is completely normal is to feel sad, worried, or angry. Do not, ever, judge yourself for not being ok with what’s happening to the world around you. Reach out to others (especially so if you’re living alone), and make sure you talk about how you’re feeling. It sounds like nothing, but it is utterly vital to your own wellbeing.
Whether its spirituality, meditation, or any other means of making yourself feel grounded, make sure you do it, and make sure you take care of yourself.
COVID-19 can absolutely f*ck offid-19. But, at the risk of sounding cheesier than a Wotsit dropped in a vat of camembert, one way or another, we will get through it. I’m going to try to keep writing here and there, but not critical, satirical articles so much. In these times, we need to band together. Whatever you make of Joris Bohnson, I do honestly think he’s handling it relatively well so far.
Which is a bit like a cow doing calculus – you’re not sure how it’s doing it, but you’re pleased for it anyway.
Look after yourselves, look after those around you, and I wish you and your loved ones all the best in these strange times.