This post, which is an ‘outtake’ from my regular series of Virtual Teams posts with Martin Hawksey, is me thinking out loud about how working from home can lead to doing a lot of housework. I reflect on how to avoid being landed with all the chores because you are based at home and how maybe you can make housework work for you for reclaiming some balance.
Working from home = doing the work of the home
When I started working from home full-time, I suddenly started doing lots more chores. I didn’t mean to or plan to and it look a couple of weeks before I even noticed. I was fast turning from a home-worker to a house-worker….! Although I have a dedicated work space, it is also where we dry laundry. So part of my day to day routine from day 1 involved sorting out the laundry in order to clear my work space. Then, when I go to make tea in the kitchen, I see mess. Last night’s dishes. Bins that need emptying. The coffee maker that needs to be descaled. Every time I went anywhere in the house, I saw chores that needed doing. I seriously envy people who don’t see those things. Maybe it is a gendered perspective, too. In any case, being at home also meant I was able to accept deliveries, sort out meter reading visits, engineers, plumbers etc. It became quickly normal for me to do things at home because I was at home. And it sucked up time and energy that I wouldn’t have spent on chores and housework before I was working from home… . It made me realise that in order to find a better way to work from home for myself, I needed to adjust my idea of what my own professionalism means to me.
Avoiding the trap…
Now, other home workers may not have encountered this issue or indeed welcomed the opportunity to sort things out around their homes. I did not.
So as well as building new habits myself (setting aside time to do chores rather than doing them as I saw them, learning to ignore things that weren’t urgent, reminding myself of sticking to my working hours…) I also had to communicate that to everyone around me (no, mum, you can’t come over this morning, I am at work… or no, I can’t do this on Wednesday afternoon, I am working…).
It took a while, but eventually I developed the awareness to build new habits and norms of behaviour that supported my professional work, stopped me from doing more chores than I need to and helped my family to acclimatise to me being home-based on a full-time basis.
That said, there are many upsides I discovered once I felt I had achieved a better sense of balance. For example, going to the post office or popping to the shop to buy milk is a welcome bit of exercise that fits well into my working days. I like getting outside, getting some fresh air and seeing something other than the fours walls inside my office.
Also, doing laundry and drying laundry gets me up and down the stairs every few hours, and also prompts me to take breaks from staring at my screen – so that’s a win.
My cat, who doesn’t usually fall into the “chores” category, but who still needs caring, is always good for an unpredictable break and we often end up sitting outside the back door for 5 min and watch the world go by (me) or the birds in the garden (him). The fact that food and water bowls get replenished on the way is a nice side effect of a short break away from my desk.
What’s also helped over the last two years is learning from colleagues, who have built similar routines and found their own rhythms to their days… so some days there is a flurry of “going to go walk the dog…”, “going to lunchtime gym class…”, “popping to the shops…”, “going for a walk” messages in the middle of the day, when each of us departs for lunch. Walking through the kitchen, I am now perfectly happy to ignore any chores that may need doing. They can wait.