Working from home in a shared house

When the prospect of working from home cropped up in bygone times, most people envisaged a more relaxed and commute-free experience that would give them the benefits of a vibrant, exciting work life with the added upside of being surrounded by their own stuff. 

In reality, in the time of C19, when wfh has become compulsory for so many people, a whole new etiquette has revealed itself. Or rather, we are rapidly learning that there are lessons to be learned about how we should behave when wfh. Most especially when we live with housemates. 

All of us who have ever spent time working in an office environment know that there are ‘rules’. So it should not be any surprise to find that there are rules for wfh too. Here are a few we think should be, if not front and centre, at least somewhere on the list posted to the fridge door. Or, in some cases, stapled to your housemate’s forehead… 

Rota your team calls

On the plus side, now no one is late for the morning team meeting. However, unless you live in a small hotel with great wifi, if everyone has their team meeting at 0900 it means office gossip really will go viral and we all get hear one side of everyone’s boring roundup of what they’re planning to do that day. 

Be flexible with where you sit

Just because it’s your favourite seat on a Saturday evening, chilling with your housemates does not mean it’s the place to be when you’re talking with colleagues or clients. Everyone has nostrils, but we don’t all want to see them. Where convenient seating is limited, agree to swap and take it in turns. 

Set up a formal work station 

If there are more office workers than there are places to set up a laptop, plug, charger and scribble pad, why not work out how to create one good place where crucial video chats can take place and then agree to vacate it as soon as the chat is over. 

Mugs, plates and crumbs 

For some an unwelcome revelation, but it turns out that there are added responsibilities with working from home. One of them is washing up your own coffee cups and crockery.  

Dress warmly  

For people unused to sitting still, Monday to Friday, in their own home it will come as a shock to learn that their domestic heating system is set to switch off at about the same time as everyone heads off to the shops, work, the library etc (depending on household/flatmates). Whacking up the heating so that you can sit at your new ‘desk’ and tap away at the laptop wearing your usual work blouse is not going to win any friends when the month’s heating bill comes in. 

A clean desk policy 

Back in the office almost every desk will sport a range of personal effects, from the photo of the kids to a carefully curated selection of hand creams: over time these become essential to the work process, defining territory, encouraging focus, keeping us grounded (or whatever excuse you need to explain a chipped, ceramic honey-pot from Greece containing a couple of broken biros and some elastic bands). Of course, wfh means that the set up may seem cute and amusing during the Zoom, but come 7pm, that’s just clutter on the kitchen table. Clutter partially splattered with chopped onion. 

Bandwidth 

Back in the day, if one person in the household was always on the telephone, everyone else became quite used to hearing the ‘engaged tone’. The remedy was usually to either stand next to the culprit glaring and moaning or, if trying to call home, pleased with the operator to interrupt the call. Fun times. These days, of course, it’s all about the bandwidth and there is no operator. So, people will actually need to agree on when it’s okay to update SharePoint, host a Zoom for 30 plus or download the high-res files for the big presentation. Or even a pre-emptive download of the weekend’s film list for viewing in the garden over the Bank Holiday. 

Socialising

Suddenly, ‘going to the pub’ after work is ‘required’. As the Dept for Work & Pensions might phrase it, this is a mandatory team-bonding exercise. And as we all know, nothing says ‘fun’ like the word ‘mandatory’. 

Of course, the boss likes it as everyone buys their own round. The head of HR likes it because it seems like it helps with team morale and there’s none of the usual ‘tribunal risks’ associated with alcohol fuelled office events. However, the key to successful afterwork socialising to remember that voices carry – your funny joke about your flatmate’s colleagues may not sound so funny to your flatmate’s colleagues. Imagine you’re all in the same small saloon bar, and there’s no jukebox.  

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