Writer Deborah Singerman has worked from home for more than a decade, but has found the restrictions of lockdown very unsettling.
I have worked from home for more than 10 years. I run my own writing, editing and proofreading consultancy, mainly in architecture, design, health, culture and humanities. That was voluntary (and, let’s face, still my most economical business location) but, of course, lockdown was compulsory. For people transitioning quickly from external workplaces to home, the emotion of the change was totally different. They were answering the call of government, and not of their own circumstances.
For me, a long-time WFH person, it was unsettling to be barred from libraries, favourite cafes, shopping centres, hotel lobbies, office foyers, the occasional coworking space, all of which I have given a go over the years.
My office is in the second bedroom, upstairs in a modest two-storey townhouse in Sydney’s outer inner-west. It is not a dedicated office space, but a majority office space. An ottoman folds out into a single bed. I joke that this is a daybed and, in fact, it is probably the most glamorous part of the room.
My workstation, with drop-down keyboard, is well over 10 years old, and though I keep meaning to buy a more compact, modern one, I have not yet done so. I bought a new, more ergonomic chair just before the pandemic struck. I also use a special cushion for my back and a footrest. I added a couple of pot plants but have changed little else during this time.
Two sets of windows open, and two sets of blinds close. They cut out most glare, though since the neighbours massively pruned two trees, there is far less cover than there used to be, much to my disappointment. There are two filing cabinets, another couple of small storage units, another chair and a small bookcase. Eschewing etiquette, this is not overflowing nor in the line of fire for the often exhausting Zoom meetings and video chats, essential communication at the moment (and ongoing), but tiring nevertheless.
Even now, as lockdown eases, everything seems to need more pre-planning, with exact meeting times, sitting at the screen, ready to join in. How I miss wandering into an evening event and checking out who is there, en masse, rather than screen-sharing images of participants. It is more relaxed though, than those heady days of scouring supermarkets for toilet rolls.
My wife is also working remotely (indefinitely), to strict office hours. Working from home does not necessarily mean working flexibly. It all depends on what the managers want. Some of her Zoom meetings have had more participants than my weekly total.
We rejigged the front room for her computer, keyboard and monitor. After some negotiation and manoeuvring (and acceptance that we would just have to put up with noise from next door’s boisterous children), we came up with a workable routine.
We live, luckily, near a park, a shopping centre and a network of walkable streets. YouTube exercise videos, mainly walking and dancing, have also helped massively. I carry hand sanitiser on me at all times and still try not to share lifts at the station. The only times I wear a mask are on any relatively crowded trains, but I mainly travel at off-peak times. I have a post-box in another suburb and have been checking out the CBD to see if the streets are getting busier or if more cafes have opened (lots are still closed judging it still uneconomical to open).
I must commend NSW Transport staff for the cleanliness of the platforms and trains. I hope this remains as the weeks go by.
I have, like everyone else, Zoomed the days away, mainly at design, writing, marketing, new software and self-care seminars and meetups. I email a lot for work and to friends and family. Many live overseas and finding good times for both of us has been difficult. I consistently post to Twitter, LinkedIn (posts and articles) and Facebook, more than I have ever done before, on work organisation and design, city, culture, and how-life-is-at-the-moment. I also add to a website used widely for self-published stories. I have two current clients for editing and two in the pipeline, and an ongoing book project that I must ramp up soon. I am also on a transition-to-retirement superannuation scheme and will be sending pitches to the ever-shrinking list of publications.
I try to stick to a routine, which includes morning stretches and resistance exercises and afternoon walks, inside and outside, and regular YouTubes. My wife, I must admit, cooks far more than I do, but I clear away and wash-up the old-fashioned way, which I find peculiarly relaxing. We have kept pretty much to our tried-and-tested meals – healthy, meet the needs of our various allergies and conditions, and taste good. There is no point in changing something for the sake of it.
We talk together and watch (and nod-off) to television. I never thought I would watch so much MasterChef. My sleep patterns, never that brilliant at the best of times, are more interrupted now, though cumulatively not as bad as I at first feared. But, gee, I do miss fronting up to something at least once a week, and do not talk to me about cinemas. Oh, the joy of being transported to another world, seated among strangers but joined in empathy with what is on the screen. I know numbers will be reduced but I am closely monitoring anticipated re-opening dates.