Working from home: how to avoid the biscuit tin


It’s such a mainstream concept now, the home office thing, and those three little words are firmly built into common office parlance (though the acronym WFH still needs a bit of explaining to some people alarmed by its oddly blunt appearance).
That’s not all that needs explaining, though – every now and then we need to make it clear that when we are at home all day it usually means we’re busy.
When we don’t leave the house to go to an actual office, there will always be someone who thinks we’re tucking into the biscuit jar all day, or watching box sets on Netflix, confident that we’re happy to wait around for hours while they slowly make their way to the lunch rendezvous (stop panicking, it’s not you, I’m only talking about generic repeat offenders).
OK, so us home-workers have all been known to take our lunch at weird times and sneak in the odd extended ‘tea break’, but mostly the clock is on a timer because we are working.
Good mates know they can still have lunch with us but we are organised and will need to return to HQ at some point: people in real offices have lunch so we can too. We just can’t stay out all day, and the best companions will understand (and most are equally busy, in any case).
I love working from home. I get loads done and I still have my water-cooler moments with friends who can meet up easily and then drift off again. I probably have as many meetings throughout the week as office people do. Many companies, like my husband’s, actively require staff to WFH these days, so he does this about once a week, taking loud calls in our living room from 8am until 7pm. Not a bad input of hours when you consider there’s no commute, so it’s an efficient set-up. Plus it means we can eat biscuits together.

My mother worked from home. She had a little office with a door, and when that door was closed it meant she was busy. Simple as that.
However, a guest standing at the main entrance couldn’t see into the flat, therefore had no clue whether she was working or not (apart from the fact that she’d told them several times), so we had a constant stream of visitors ringing on the bell, often sad ones in some kind of strife – all this I recall from being a sixth former who was also around a lot during the day, supposedly RFH (revising from home).
Although naturally on the tetchy side, Mum had a lot of time for friends, and an endless supply of patience. The bell would ping, the door would open to a weeping person (why so many unhappy people in the 80s?), the kettle would go on, the guest would be parked at our big kitchen table, then Mum would shoot a little eye-roll my way before sitting down with The Weeper to drink tea for however long it took.
How she found the time I’ll never know, but the late-night tapping of her old Olivetti gave a clue as to how the day would pan out if she was interrupted. Time spent mopping tears meant an ominously late close-of-play for her.
Well: I’m not Mum. But I am very prone to distractions. I’ve made some notes and I’m going to pin the list to the biscuit tin. Tomorrow. Probably.

Top 10 tips for those considering a home office setup:
1 Write out your hours in advance then notify colleagues to make arrangements permanent.
2 Use a Timesheet app and don’t forget to press pause when you get up for biscuits.
3 Make an office space that works – if you’re easily side-tracked, sitting by a window will be disastrous.
4 If you hot-desk with flatmates, get them to clear away before you sit down, and do the same for them.
5 Organise your lunches and snacks in advance then stay out of the kitchen at all other times.
6 You don’t have to respond to every little ping of the phone. You wouldn’t chat to mates all day in the office, so don’t do it at home.
7 Switch off Facebook unless you use it for work.
8 Don’t be a slave to supper. You’re in the office, not the kitchen. If there’s a family rota, stick to it.
9 You can still go for lunch, but always clockwatch, and add social dates to the diary alongside work ones.
10 The world is small. If you’re ordering a second latte from that nice café just as the boss walks by, you might as well wave. Maybe the boss is WFH too?