Patrick Freyne’s home working guide: Find a chair that’s good for your back. Mine is called a ‘bed’
And if you're missing the workplace, re-create the atmosphere with this office-noise simulator
Zoom etiquette: you only need to clean visible dirt from your person, and you only need to clear the food packages and discarded items of clothing from the part of the house that’s in your laptop camera’s sights. Photograph: iStock
There’s a bee in my office (my dining room) today, so I make small talk.
“How was your weekend?” I ask the bee.
“Bzzzzzzzz,” says the bee.
“Ha! Very true,” I say.
The bee is some character. Frankly, she’s my favourite colleague. “Did you hear what the bee said?” I ask my cat, just trying to make conversation. “It was very funny.”
“F**k you!” says the cat. “I’m going to scratch through the upholstery on this good couch. Then I’ll vomit on the carpet and then I’ll act stand-offish until you think you’ve done something wrong and apologise to me. That’s my plan for the day. Also: I hate you.” (She doesn’t say this in words, as such).
The cat is my least favourite colleague. She is an obstructive presence even by the laissez-faire standards of the Irish Times features department where I work in more normal times. I mean, Rosita Boland rarely, if ever, headbutts the laptop off my desk. Róisín Ingle does not typically walk into the centre of the room and begin shouting into the air until you let her out of the window. Jennifer O’Connell is not covered in twigs for some mysterious reason. Deirdre Falvey does not scratch and damage other people’s property until we have to pick her up and throw her out of the room (for the most part). And I, for the record, do not insist on making eye contact while pooing in a box of sand in the corner of the office kitchen.
Have your say: How are you finding working from home? Would you like to continue after lockdown?
Although maybe I’ll start. Who knows what society will be like when this is all over?
Generally, I have taken to working from home very well. I’m well practised. Before joining The Irish Times, in 2012, I spent most of my working life working from home, so I know all the tricks. Here are my tips.
1 You only need to dress from the waist up for Zoom meetings. Shirt, tie, hat. Nothing else. I call this “doing a Donald Duck”.
2 When on a Zoom call, you only need to clean visible dirt from your person, and you only need to clear the food packages and discarded items of clothing from the part of the house that’s in your laptop camera’s sights. But if the camera slips do not end up in an argument that ends with you shouting, “My life is not ‘unbelievably sad’, Marian!”
3 Use more office jargon to reinforce your professionalism and to offset the fact you’re scooping strawberry jam from a jar with your bare hands so that your face, bib and laptop are covered in it. “Revert” to your colleagues. “Action” their proposals on “the spend”. To jargon well, you need to verb every noun and noun every verb until people think they’re having an aphasic episode. You’ll be promoted within the week, jam stains notwithstanding.
4 Make use of the old-fangled telephone. It’s better for lying. “I have a call coming in on the other line,” is a great sentence on which to end a phone conversation. (Don’t tell anyone, but I only have one phone line!) You can say anything over the phone, really. “Of course I’m wearing trousers!” or “Oh no! My wife is on fire! Let me revert once I’ve actioned this!”
5 Reconstruct elements of your old life to create a sense of routine. I sit on a chair for half an hour every morning with my head against the sitting-room window to simulate my commute to work. Then, at the other end of the day, I do the same but facing the other direction and on the other side of the window, in the garden. By the time I’m at my desk/table after such a “commute” I’m more than ready to start conversing with the bee.
6 Find a good supportive work chair that’s good for your back. For example, I often use a special kind of work chair called a “bed”.
7 If you have issues with a colleague, complain to HR. By colleague, again, I mean my cat. And by HR I mean my wife, who is working in an upstairs room and loves to be interrupted. Do not complain to your boss at “real” work, because, if I know him, he’ll say: “For the last time, Patrick, I cannot ‘fire’ your cat.”
8 Don’t answer the door to the postman while “doing a Donald Duck”. Postmen can be very closed-minded, I’ve found.
9 You can organise your life much better when working from home, because you now control your own time and your own output. I haven’t actually taken the opportunity to do this yet, but knowing it’s possible is nice. After all, you are a strong, powerful man/woman, and success is your destiny. Or not. I’m easy either way.
10 When my cat is outside, or the bee is asleep, the silence in my dining room/office and the ringing in my ears (wear ear protectors when you start your rock bands, kids) can be a bit unnerving. Luckily, I find all of my aural needs can be provided by the nifty office-noise simulator that you can find on this interactive website, which was created by the Berlin-based Kids Creative Agency. Once you activate it on your computer, you can hear all sorts of ambient office sounds: typing, traffic, distant mumbles of conversation, office furniture squeaking, people striding around. You can add or subtract the number of colleagues in your aural office space. You can tap on a photocopier, a water cooler and a few computers to hear appliance-appropriate noises. Some of your simulated colleagues will even engage in loud sighing, atonal whistling, aggressive typing or loud, open-mouthed chewing – but, unlike in the “real” office, you can turn them off individually with the click of a mouse. Turning them off in the “real” office is called “murder.” (Not a court in the land would convict you over the loud chewer.)