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Working from home... it's harder than a day in the office

As coronavirus spreads, more people are being told to avoid the workplace and log on at home, but as seasoned professional Tanya Sweeney says, don't expect it to be much of a holiday

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Full plate: Tanya Sweeney

Full plate: Tanya Sweeney

Tanya with baby daughter Isola, has worked from home for 15 years

Tanya with baby daughter Isola, has worked from home for 15 years

Balancing act: Tanya works on her computer as her daughter Isola plays

Balancing act: Tanya works on her computer as her daughter Isola plays

Full plate: Tanya Sweeney

Whatever about fighting in the supermarket aisles over antibacterial soap or stockpiling canned goods, there's something about all this 'working from home' talk that seems to signal the end of days for some.

Industry might just collapse under the weight of workers lolling about on sofas and doing flip all, some people seem to think. Working from home, it's assumed, means snuggling under the duvet, lunching on Pot Noodles and settling down in front of a steady stream of Judge Judy. You know, all the productive stuff.

I've met a few friends who have been told to bunker down following the spread of the coronavirus. They deliver this news with a slightly mischievous glint in their eye. They're thinking, no doubt, of the naps, the Netflix binges, all the life admin they're able to get done.

"Yeah, I'll be working from home," they cackle delightedly, using very heavy air quotes. Oooh, more fool them.

Alas, I'm here to tell you that if your workplace decides to send its team home en masse as the coronavirus wends its way through the country, you won't be on holiday.

There is no downtime. In fact, you might be working harder than ever before.

I've worked from home for the best part of 15 years, so I have it down to a fine-ish art. I do get to keep on top of the laundry and sometimes even dye my hair in between assignments.

But working from home is no slacker's paradise. I'm still at my desk at 6am to beat the onslaught of deadlines.

Some working days don't end until 8pm, or later if I need to interview someone on the US West Coast (this isn't even half as glamorous as it sounds).

In the very beginning, the TV would hum away idly in the background as I worked. I felt I needed to stay connected to the outside world: besides, radios and TVs - multiples of them - blared in any newsroom I had worked in.

Without fail, I'd get sucked into the sirensong of the small box. The news would morph into a chat show and next thing I know I would be giving Home and Away a lash for old time's sake, or Cash In The Attic out of pure curiosity. My productivity dwindled to a blip.

I know better now. The TV doesn't get switched on until night time. I get up each morning, shower, dress and put make-up on as though I am going to an outside workplace (I don't even allow myself to wear slippers). It's very useful for putting me in a 'work' frame of mind.

Just because no one sees me doesn't mean that I need to dispense with civilisation entirely.

Another useful tip for successful working from home is to find a dedicated space to work. Not many have the luxury of a spare room to turn into a home office, but harvesting some space away from your house's rest zones (the sofa, the bedroom) is a good way to get into work mode.

Certainly, the traditional Irish office isn't without its merits: there's always water-cooler chat, cupcakes on someone's birthday and the thrill of switching off the computer at day's end. At home, workers do miss out on these perks.

Isolation can be a huge factor for some people, which is why they often have 23 tabs open with Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Slack/any other platform where they can feel plugged into the grid.

This, dear reader, is a bit of a false economy. You're not connected to anyone at all unless you count the 14 cats you've just watched fall off a windowsill.

Don't fall into the same trap that I have in the past: watching viral videos, going down the rabbit-hole of looking up old school friends on Facebook and following a particularly heated online debate.

Unless you actually work for one of these companies, keeping on social media throughout the day amounts to little more than extreme time-suckage.

Don't even log into those sites on your home computer: allow yourself a brief dabble on your phone, but only after you've hit a work-related target.

Even though I have no team, there is no shortage of people who want to make sure I'm not too lonely. This is not a good thing.

When a few friends find out that I work from a home office, there's an automatic assumption that I am on the razz all day long.

Honestly, I wish I had the life that these people presume me to have: heading for leisurely lunches, counting down until Martini O'Clock, open to all callers, waiting for someone to distract me from my little job (if you're working from home, you can't be all that serious about it, right?).

This is why some pals feel entirely comfortable coming to the house for a long natter and a cuppa.

First things first: banish these visitors. Impress upon them that if you were working in a bona fide office, they wouldn't be able to swan past the security guard, take the lift to the fifth floor and park up on the desk beside you for a girly chinwag, even if they have brought biscuits.

The daytime visitor is the absolute scourge of the home worker. Nip them in the bud.

Don't be lulled into a false sense of security either that you're not under surveillance from the powers that be.

If anything, bosses keep a closer eye on what their teams are doing when they're working from home. If you get a 'any sign of that report/presentation/feature...?' email from your boss, you really are messing up. 'Any sign of…' is code for 'you're not keeping up and you and I both know it'.

Working from home has gotten harder since I acquired a partner who also works from home and a baby (not strictly the result of us both working from home, it must be said).

On the days that our daughter is not with the childminder or a family member, we tend to pass the baby back and forth like she's a hot potato (a hot potato with the coronavirus, come to think of it).

When she naps, we bolt wordlessly to our desks and work like the proverbial clappers until her wails put a stop to things.

Tag-teaming is fine if you have kids, but one parent always needs to be on duty if the other is working. Otherwise, you're on a hiding to nothing: with both trying to parent and keep a boss happy at the same time, you end up doing both terribly. Trust me on this one. I've done the field research.

The only problem now is that I find working in an actual office excruciating. I've tried it briefly over the years, only to scurry back to the quietude of my home office. I find other people's outfits, conversations and weird in-office peccadilloes distracting.

The economic landscape is shifting beneath our feet. Coronavirus aside, more and more of us will be 'telecommuting' in the years to come as workplaces inch towards a more flexible working model.

Just be sure to make the most of this supposed 'perk' - and make it work for you and your workplace.

Otherwise, you'll be back under that horrid fluorescent lighting, listening to Rita from accounts blathering on about her dull weekend before you know it.

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