Everyone who works from home is better at it than me
Jennifer O’Connell: Working from home wasn't working, until I tried ‘co-working’
Jennifer O’Connell: ’There is no commute to work, it’s true. There is also no getting away from work.’ Photograph: Getty Images
There are so many things to love about working from home. You’ve heard them all before – go on, go ahead and chew your arm off while I recount them again.
When you work from home, nobody cares if you’re filing your column in tatty tracksuit bottoms. Woot! You can put a wash on in the middle of the day. Yee-haw! You can eat delicious, wholesome salads for lunch and exercise when you want to. Hurrah! You never have to face a commute, colleagues, or the pungent remains of what might conceivably be someone else’s tuna sandwich or part of a human body part decomposing in the fridge -- unless you put them there yourself. Yass!
There are loads of benefits to working from home, and if you’re unfortunate enough to meet a work-from-homer on one of their rare outings into the outside world over the next few years, they’ll bore you to tears cataloguing them. But show a little mercy. We don’t get out into actual human company much.
The truth is that in all the years – the many, many years – I worked from home, I could never escape the feeling that everyone else who worked from home was so much better at it than me. For instance, I never once filed a column in tatty tracksuit bottoms. I don’t actually own any tracksuit bottoms. Instead, I put on make-up and nice leather jeans and blowdry my hair to work from home, for much the same reason as Shirley Valentine had full conversations with the microwave. (I prefer to keep my small talk for the coffee machine).
I may have put the occasional wash on in the middle of the day, but only in true and dire emergencies, such as the time my children started refusing to see pyjamas as acceptable outerwear. I never made myself delicious, wholesome salads for lunch, because I’m not Nigella, and do not have a fridge full of watermelon, braised tofu and caraway seeds. (If there’s a delicious, wholesome salad that can be made from yoghurt, sliced cheese and leftover Bolognese, please write and tell me about it.)
There is no commute to work, it’s true. There is also no getting away from work. I did exercise whenever I wanted to – i.e. virtually never.
I recently noticed my lovely post lady trying to politely back away from me, as I desperately tried to think of another ploy to keep her in conversation, and realised that what I actually needed was colleagues, and soon. In a previous job, I had my personality tested and ranked 94 percent on the extroversion scale, which basically means I am not one of those people with a rich interior life. I have no interior life. Without other humans around me, I cease to exist.
I’m sure they would find a space for me in the Irish Times had I asked, but as I live 90 minutes on the other side of the Red Cow, the commute would not be entirely practical. Instead, I had my eye on a co-working space.
Co-working is working from home with other humans and better snacks
Co-working spaces, for those of you unfamiliar with the concept, are described by the Harvard Business Review as “membership-based workspaces where diverse groups of freelancers, remote workers, and other independent professionals work together in a communal setting.” Studies have shown that co-workers thrive more and more productive than people in traditional offices. The HBR found this is due to feeling part of a community, but not having to deal with office politics; having some autonomy and structure, but not too much.
The space I had my eye on is located in an old salt house in Waterford. It has cement floors, chandeliers, couches in primary colours and old school phone boxes for people who fancy themselves as Dr Who. It has the Tesla of coffee machines. Most importantly, it has people: architects, start-up founders, videographers, web designers, business consultants and graphic designers. Clever, creative, considerate people who don’t leave anything in the fridge except mince pies and trendy tonics with ‘drink me’ written on them. I desperately wanted to be among them. I turned up at events there and took way too long to leave. I eventually got a generous offer of a scholarship desk there.
But by the time an actual office came free, I was on the verge of moving to a bigger home, a place with space for a dedicated home office and the giddying prospect that I would no longer have to push aside cereal bowls to work, or bribe the children to be quiet while I took calls after work. On paper, there was no longer any need to join a co-working space.
But my new home office would not have the Tesla coffee machine or the phone boxes. It doesn’t have the sense of community. It certainly doesn’t have the colleague who dropped by my shiny new office in the co-working space while I was writing this, with a big box of Magnums for everyone on the floor. (He swears he didn’t even know I was writing this.)
Co-working: it’s working from home with other humans and better snacks. Woot, yass and hurrah.