Home and the art of working

Mar 17, 2013, 11:19 IST | Chhavi Sachdev

Working from home is not about being Zen, it's about discipline, says journalist and editor Chhavi Sachdev, who spent a decade writing for media houses that allowed her to work from home, before she set up her own audio production house

By pulling the flush on working from home at Yahoo!, recently CEO Marissa Mayer sparked quite the debate online and off. On twitter, most of the people on my timeline were outraged (but, of course!) Everyone was for working from home.

But when a leading newspaper published an opinion piece that argued only a rare breed with ‘a Zen approach’ could possibly hope to accomplish anything at home, I was incensed (erm, clearly, I don’t have this Zen approach). Does it really take a personality type? I think not. What it does take is discipline and a few good habits.

I belong to a tribe of people who bristle at the implication that working from home means you’re goofing off. The truth — my truth — is that I’m much more productive at home without the constant interruptions that constitute ‘work culture’ here — and anywhere in the world.

Allow me to illustrate: When I was editing the international section of a US-based paper, oh-so-many years ago, one of my duties was to put together a 10-page pull out section every three months. I commissioned several smaller pieces but I had to research and write the main 5,000-word article myself. Four days before the deadline, pressure was mounting and I found myself asking the uber-editor, my boss, permission to work from home.

His response was more or less what Marissa Mayer of Yahoo! has gone on record as saying, except he took it further: He told me that he could picture me sitting around in my pyjamas, eating popcorn in front of the TV while on the payroll.

I was so offended at the idea, I went back to him and proposed a trial. He knew where in the piece I was — and if he didn’t have 5,000 words on his desk when I came back, he could fire me.

Of course, I finished it. I knew I would. Without chai breaks, smoke breaks, and general ‘faffing’, without staff writers and other editors wandering into my office to ask questions, brainstorm, and, without my favourite use of time in an office — gazillions of meetings, I was so much more productive.

I believe people only procrastinate so much. Ultimately you are responsible for the work and if you don’t perform, someone will notice. I currently work at an office that allows me the freedom to work from home when I want to, and honestly, if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be working there. What is an office for?

Face time over things that matter, I would imagine. Sure, collegiality helps — it’s nice to see other faces than your maid’s but I think there are plenty of benefits to staying put. You save on transportation costs, time, and you don’t waste as many natural resources.

So, how do we, the forces who manage to deliver from home do it? It’s easy. We treat it like work.

Which means, that we wake up in the morning, make our beds, finish our chores and routines, bathe, get dressed for work, eat breakfast, and then work.

Sure, like anything else, it’s hard at first. But there are things you can do to make it easier. So, set reasonable deadlines for yourself and make lists. Some days (just like at any office), it’s harder to concentrate. What works for me is breaking tasks into chunks. Reward yourself when you finish something. Make delayed gratification a game. And ultimately be afraid of what people will think of you if you under-deliver what you promised. If you have a work ethic, you can work from home. 


Did you know?
Just a week after Yahoo told its workers that they could no longer work from home, Best Buy,  an electronics retailer based in Minneapolis, ended its Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) programme, which allowed employees to set their own hours and work from anywhere as long as they got the job done. Telecommuting is not completely ruled out as an option for the company's 4,000 non-store employees, but workers will need to seek managerial approval first.
10 Tips to work from home
Set up a work station. Not your dining table, not your bed. Keep essentials within reach. Junk the clutter
Set work hours. Ensure you cannot be disturbed unless (just like at the office) it’s a real emergency
Don’t work in pyjamas. No one will take you seriously if you don’t take yourself seriously
Plan your breaks to reflect your life. If your maid comes at a certain time, schedule your lunch break for that time
Make lists and assign yourself tasks with reasonable deadlines, then stick to them
Split big tasks into attainable chunks. Don’t say “I will finish editing”, rather say, “I will edit chapters 1-6 today”
Reward your successes with whatever works for you: a break/tea/ chocolate/a little walk to the window, whatever
Turn off the kitten videos. I close all my browser windows except the search engine when I need to focus
Call your colleagues if you have a question, check in with other human beings at some point. Get your face-time in
Finally, have a set finish time. Leave work behind at your work station. Don't take it to bed, your couch or your dining table  

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