The transition to ‘office work’ after a long Work From Home stint

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I’ve spent the better part of the last 3 years working from home, before that, John did a lot of work from home and I’d done a few stints here and there. I’ve gone onto client site every now and then but never for more than a few days at a time. Between the two of us, it’s probably the longest period in 10 years that there hasn’t been one of us working at home. I recently spent 13 weeks working on client site and found it quite tough and not for the reasons I first thought. Here’s my top 10 list (in no particular order) a few of the main things that grabbed me about being on client site after a long absence at home.

  • Office noise – At home it’s lovely and quite. You can hear the wind in the trees, the kookaburras and other native birds outside. Sometimes it is so quiet I can hear the fridge kick in from the other end of the house. Sometimes, I’d turn on the radio or play music through the house if the neighbours dog was barking non-stop but quite often the serenity ruled the house. Going back into an office was a bit of a shock to the sensory system. You could hear the sound of keys clicking as people typed and a lot of people spent a lot of time on the phone so you were bombarded with their loud phone voices. After being in a quite house for so long my hearing seemed to get overwhelmed with all this noise. The easiest way to get through this was to turn on my ipod and listen to music all day. Getting used to wearing earphones full time did take a few weeks as my ears would get a little sore by the end of the day.
  • Wearing shoes – Being home for so long I was used to running around the house in bare feet, occasionally putting on thongs outside or sneakers for anything more substantial. Having to wear shoes for 9+ hours straight a day took a bit to get used to. I wear Docs – so they’re heavy and quite warm. Luckily, I spent this time on client site in Winter when I’d normally be wearing thick socks or knitted booties around the house to keep them warm. Also clothing is a bit different. Now that I’m very much used to being at home I quite often wander around in some of my oldest and daggiest clothes. Having to wear slightly less daggy and certainly less comfortable clothes every day was a bit of a shock.
  • Sitting Down – After using my standing desk for 6 months – sitting down all day really took its toll at first. I’d be sore from sitting and i’d feel totally exhausted from sitting down all day.
  • No thinking spots – Slightly related to the standing desk – but I really missed my “thinking spots”. At home when I need mull time over a design, how to do something, need another activity so my brain could solve the problem when I’m not concentrating on it, thinking that there’s got to be a better way, need to draw someone up and think it through, I’ll get away from my desk and sit on the couch in the office, the seating in the dining room, on the lounge, on the sunlounge on the deck, on the retaining wall, go for a walk to the post office. In the office I was really just stuck at my desk and could really only scribble on paper or carefully surf the internet waiting for the answer to hit me.
  • No control over the environment – At home – I have a well lit room with a view of trees. I have a decent laptop, a colour calibrated monitor, equipment that I like and software that I need to use. Client site you are at their mercy. Chairs, mice, keyboards, screens, computers, software – none of which stacks up to your usual standards – you are stuck with. If something breaks at home – like a light or the kettle I either fix it myself or get someone in to fix it. Again, at client site you can’t fix things, and you don’t have the authority to get someone else in to fix it.
  • Lunch options – At home you can have ANYTHING you feel like – try the local food places or cook anything you like in your full kitchen. Client site can feel like the middle of nowhere – limited lunch options, tiny and/or poorly equipped kitchen and nowhere to really enjoy your lunch. I’d quite often sit outside in the garden at home and soak up the rays or the shade. In the office there isn’t many options. I did take to sitting out on the footpath just to get away from my desk. I’m sure I almost caused a few accidents with people staring at me as they drove past – probably wondering why i’m sitting on the footpath with a plate of sandwiches munching away.
  • Transit time and “watching the clock” – this one is obvious – you spend a lot of wasted time driving, or sitting / waiting for public transport. Worse still, is your morning and late afternoon is worked around using this transit. Do I start a new task or get too in the zone and risk missing that bus and have to wait for another 1/2 hour…do I stop now and race out the door in hopes the bus won’t pull off just as I reach the door. I was surprised how much more I “watched the clock” on client site – when i should get up to eat to beat the lunch time crush for bench space in the kitchen, when i should be preparing to leave to catch the bus. All these things never bother you at home so much.
  • Isolation – This one surprised me a bit too. I felt more isolated and alone working in an office full of people than i do working at home. A few weeks I didn’t physically speak to anyone in the office for 4 days in a row. I’d turn up, do my work, go home. While at home I don’t necessarily speak to anyone in person I’m in constant contact on skype, phone, twitter, facebook with people.
  • Odd jobs on hold – I knew this one would be a problem but it really highlighted all the little things I do during the day. The magic Friday washing fairy didn’t come – so we had to wash our clothes on the weekends. Getting parcels delivered – nobody is there to sign for them. Getting a tradie in to quote/fix something – nobody is there to let them in / supervise them. Small things like washing, washing up, tidying etc. that I’d just do between things just had to wait till I was at home or the weekend.
  • Inconvenient Office Hours – Trying to re-work my day was quite a struggle. At home, I’ll jump on the computer fairly early and do some admin and/or real work for a few hours. Then about 10am I’ll go through my list of people I need to call – chasing up work, chasing payments, calling the bank, arranging meetings etc. as everyone else works “normal business hours”. Then I’ll go back to real work for the rest of the day / evening. Working on client site – while i can get there early – it’s really just not a good look (not to mention anywhere really appropriate) to spend up to a few hours a day making “personal” phone calls. I did a bit of it on my “lunch hour” but the obvious problem there is everyone else is at lunch too. There’s also not really appropriate places to make the calls – again I ended up sitting on the pavement on the side street with my surface and wireless dongle so I could take notes/look at my calendar while talking on the phone.