opinion: keep the telecottage, I'd rather work nine to five

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Indy Lifestyle Online
"You're so lucky, working at home," chorus my friends at this time of year. There they are, they argue, all cooped up in stuffy offices, while I am my own master. I can go outside and enjoy the sunshine, or stay in and watch the cricket, and I don't have to worry about seasonal hazards such as train strikes. The worst that can happen, they assume, is that the sun might be too bright for me to read my laptop's screen properly in the garden.

But after working from home for a year I am itching to get back to nine- to-five. My friend Phil came to the same conclusion a while ago, and moved into a small office after running his publishing company from home for a few weeks.

"It was a nightmare," he says of his home-working days. "I used to get up late and not do much in the morning, but by late afternoon I'd just be getting into the swing of things. By the evening I'd feel bad if there was work I could do that I wasn't doing. At the end of the day I wouldn't stop. I'd still be sitting at my computer at nine o'clock."

This is the widely overlooked drawback of working from home: you need a great deal of discipline to prevent yourself from being in a permament "work" mode even if, as in my case, at a very low level. Doing next-to- nothing all day is fine, as long as you can stop doing next-to-nothing and just do nothing in the evenings and at weekends. But I can't.

So it is hardly surprising that home workers often institute rituals to mark the start and end of the day. My favourite is the painter Magritte, whose studio was at home. Each morning he would rise and put on his suit. He would then go out through the front door of his house, walk once around the block, re-enter the house and go into his studio, where he would change into his smock and spend the day painting. At the end of the day he would change back into his suit, leave the house, go once round the block in the opposite direction, and return "home" for the evening. Anyone who has ever worked from home will understand Magritte.

Alan Denbigh of the British Telecottage Association, a support organisation for home workers, suggests that commuters do not realise how lucky they are. "One of the advantages of commuting is that you've got this 'decompression time' when you can mull things over as you travel between work and home," he says. Winding down on the train home is something I really miss from my nine-to-five days - and I had the chance to read for two hours each day as well."

Perhaps the ideal is not to work at home or in an office. This is an idea that Mark, another friend, is trying out. He works wherever he feels would be most suitable: "I needed to spend time with a client without being interrupted, so I said we'll go to Paris for the day. We'll have lunch, we'll be on the train on the way there for three hours, we'll have three hours on the way back, and it will be more productive than if we had sat in your office for the whole day being constantly interrupted."

This sounds fine in theory, but I know what would happen if I tried it. A mobile phone means you can work anywhere - so I would work everywhere. There is only one answer: I need an office again.

TOM STANDAGE

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