You know how it starts.
You’re sitting in the office, the strip light overhead is flickering, Halitosis Harriet insists on leaning over every few minutes to show you photos of her new kitten and Paul from accounts won’t stop sniffing.
John brought in a cake for his birthday which means the diet is out the window for another day and you’ve calculated that if you walk to the printer and back 550 times in a day, you’ll make your 10,000 step target.
The commute home is a fine balance between getting home late or being sandwiched between the guy who neglected to shower after his run and the woman who has overdone it on the Chanel for her post-work date.
You get home; it’s already nearly 7 pm and the pork balls from Wok Inside are suddenly very appealing. How lucky you have them on speed dial.
As you sit and contemplate a repeat of your day, everyday for the next thirty years, that faint idea comes back. The one that’s always hovered on the horizon; that notion of leaving it all behind, becoming your own boss and dictating your own agenda.
The freedom, the lack of commute, the lack of annoying co-workers, the peace and quiet, the ability to settle down and focus and get so much done! The utopian dream.
It’s time, you decide, to go self-employed. You’re going to enter the realm of the freelancer. You’re going to make the transition to working from home.
Surviving the work from home transition
It’s both scary and exciting. There’s a whole wild ride ahead and you’re going to get to experience the varying stages of transitioning to working from home
There are two brilliant real-life perspectives on this from a working dad and a mum who set up her own business in the print edition of The Homeworker magazine.
These stages are also accurately documented in the brilliantly-observed BBC sitcom, Motherland. Watching Julia (played by Anna Maxwell Martin) navigate the early days of ‘going it alone’ is a masterclass in how (perhaps not) to work from home. But relatable it is. From treading the fine line between self-employment and unemployment to discovering the pitfalls of being always available.
She has it all together, she’s flying high and you’re barely able to feed yourself a slice of toast. It’s part envy, part admiration. You want to ask how they do it while secretly hoping you witness them self-combust.
If you haven’t yet seen Motherland, you’ve missed a very real look at the mess, chaos and unspoken rivalry of middle-class motherhood. Whether or not you live in West London and have a cleaner, the painful reality of dealing with motherhood and juggling a career are all too relatable. Julia’s homeworking journey also provides endless opportunities for a wry, knowing smile to laughing-out-loud with an appreciation for the situations she finds herself in.
Here is how we see the evolution of the homeworker through the eyes of Julia:
The work-from-home lie-in
Everyone jokes about the fact you no longer have to get up, get showered, or wake to an alarm. You soon realise how much that morning routine is still important.
Very quickly, Julia is caught out when found dozing under the duvet by the cleaner. Cue lots of mumbled excuses along the lines of: “I was working… I’m my own boss, I run my own company, we deal in higher-end… I’ll get back to my work…”
Suffering from Comparisonitis
When Julia meets Meg.
Starting out working for yourself can be daunting and part of working from home requires building your own personal resilience.
There’s always that one person who seems to do what you do only better. Someone who does what you do twice as fast as well as having three times as many children. She has it all together, she’s flying high and you’re barely able to feed yourself a slice of toast. It’s part envy, part admiration. You want to ask how they do it while secretly hoping you witness them self-combust.
The working from home office set-up
Then comes carving out the home office, or “worky corner”. Part of the transition to working from home involves visions of an airy, bright office adorned with motivational prints and bespoke shelving slowly crumple to the reality of the kitchen table or a dressing table (as in Julia’s case).
In your mind, your workspace is insta-worthy interior porn but it’s generally still piled high with school letters, random hair bands, surplus notebooks, coffee cups and receipts.
The “It’s going well” conversations
Your parents and friends who have ‘regular jobs’ don’t really understand but ask polite questions about how it’s going.
You smile and nod enthusiastically and reel off your to-do list which, for Julia, includes: Getting a carbon monoxide detector installed and having skin tags removed.
You quickly realise that you need to actually get work and clients and a revenue stream.
You’re still trying to convince everyone you’re fine and have plenty of work as you slowly descend into looking more and more like Worzel Gummidge on a bad day (or as your friends might say: “A mental patient”).
The “While you’re home …” conversations
One of the hardest parts of the transition to working from home.
Explaining to others that just because you’re home, you’re not suddenly available to pick up shopping, do all the housework, take all their calls and sign for deliveries is a rite of homeworking passage. Often, you’re explaining this while taking their call, catching up with all the laundry and answering the door to sign for and take in another delivery.
The ‘work-from-a-coffee-shop’ hacks
The moment you realise working from home doesn’t always work and you give up and head to the coffee shop. You quickly learn to leave significant dregs in the cup so they won’t clear it away and it looks as if you’re still a legitimate customer. Either that or you drink your earnings in coffee.
You stalk out the best tables with access to plug sockets and furthest away from children. Wo-betide if someone gets that ideal corner table before you.
The obsessive hunt for a wifi signal
The phrase: “Yes, I can work from anywhere!” comes with a caveat: as long as there’s wifi.
As Julia hunts out reception on her phone while everyone else tries to enjoy their countryside break, we see stress levels and tensions rise as she struggles to get online.
There’s freedom in working for yourself and being freelance but the downsides of not being in a well-resourced office or feeling the need to be ‘switched on’ at all times, can throw a spanner in the works.
Outsourcing when you’re working from home
You realise you need an assistant. More than an assistant, maybe just a carer. Someone to feed you, remind you to drink and brush your hair.
Personally, we recommend the Homeworker Directory for this. You won’t find someone to brush your hair but you will be able to find an awesome VA, business coach, proofreader, marketing experts… The people who’ll make life that little bit easier.
Try not to do a Julia and take advantage of the generous fellow homeworker in the aforementioned coffee shop and start treating him as your PA. However, do occasionally answer each other’s calls so that your ‘new PA’ can deal with those awkward customers.
Embracing work-from-home freedom
Finally, you realise that occasionally you have to embrace the fact you have freedom and flexibility.
As part of the transition to working from home, there is often an element of unease and anxiety, something well-described in The Homeworker guide (Will I earn enough? Will people think I’m working hard enough?) Eventually, you manage to brush guilt aside, leave the house, go shopping when no one else can and take yourself off for a haircut without children by your side.
While the hard work continues, you can also attend sports day, those Christmas assemblies and use the gym when it’s quiet. Sometimes you just go and take a walk in the sunshine because… you can.
Have we missed a stage? What stages of homeworking have you experienced?
If you’re a homeworker looking to improve your lifestyle and avoid the pitfalls, subscribe to The Homeworker magazine. It’s a quarterly dose of valuable, expert tips and tools to help you achieve a more productive and healthier work from home life. Find out more here.