One person I recently spoke to, who has adjusted well to working from home, was nonetheless wistful about something which sounded on the face of it surprising. He missed his commute to work.
Angelo is a senior administrator in education policy living in Sussex, near London. His role involves demanding responsibilities but rarely bleeds into out-of-hours time. Mornings were always about a brisk cycle to the station, followed by a relaxing hour on a not terribly overcrowded train. Living so far from the city meant a long journey, but a guaranteed seat with a table, where he enjoyed checking messages, but also catching up on the daily news and social media, over a cup of good coffee from the carpark cafe. After disembarking from the train in a very different place physically and emotionally from where he started, a five minute stroll along the South Bank completed the transition into his working day. He was now embedded in that unique London culture he first enjoyed as a student decades before, which had always inspired and energised him.
Missing the boundary between home and work
Since working from home, he had regained literally hours for himself every week, not to mention saving money on the season ticket, the coffee shop, and all those second-hand book stalls on the South Bank. Yet he felt like he had lost something, an important part of the ritual which created the edge of his working day and mindset. Despite the time he’d reclaimed to enjoy in his beautiful semi-rural home and community, he found himself procrastinating, and frequently starting work later than when he used to take that early train.
Part of the problem arose from the impact on mood and wellbeing of missing that cycle ride, which was an important part of his exercise regime in most weather conditions, so replacing that was essential. But it was bigger than that, and it took us a little while to come up with the right solution for him to try out: the “Virtual Commute”.
Angelo now starts each day with a brisk walk into the village, where he visits a different coffee shop and buys the paper, sitting outside to read it when weather permits, or bringing it home to enjoy in the living room of his comfortable cottage. His walk takes him in the opposite direction to the station but still gives him some exercise to start the day, which is usually supplemented by a bike ride in the early afternoon, which seems to be a time of energy slump and reduced concentration at his desk anyway.
Ritualising the movement, the media engagement, and the caffeine intake, and replacing these in a new context, has created a specific boundary to the working day. Just like on the train, he makes a point of not checking emails on his phone while he reads the paper, because he’s always had a healthy sense of that kind of boundary between work and life.
What he was lacking in the early days of working from home was a way of delineating time at work from time to himself, especially first thing in the morning, and he needed to find a way to ease between the two states of mind. Sure, he could have read the news electronically, or bought a fancy home espresso machine with a fraction of his savings on that season ticket. However, they represented more than the sum of their parts, and identifying this meant a significant uplift in his peace of mind, and his ability to rock on without procrastination.
This post is an excerpt from Finding Your Edge: Establishing And Maintaining Boundaries When You Work From Home, volume 2 in the Healthy Happy Homeworking book series