The recent move towards working from home as a response to the Coronavirus pandemic has flooded the internet with cries for help from people who aren’t coping with it, and advice for how to make it work for you. The fact that it’s proving so difficult for so many people, and requires so much adaptation, has really flagged up to me how relatively unusual my preferred way of living and working actually is.
First, some disclaimers. I don’t (any longer) work for a company, where I have to account for my working time at home, be available for virtual meetings during normal office hours, virtually ‘clock on’, and have my productivity monitored. I appreciate that for many, that’s the kind of working from home you are doing. Also, I don’t have children, so I’m not attempting to home educate/entertain them 24/7 while simultaneously working. That must be the stuff of madness, and if that’s your situation, I salute you. I have not lost my job, and I’ve not been furloughed on reduced salary. I have the good fortune to have a home that’s large enough not to have to share my workspace with the other inmate, and some (albeit small) outside space. And above all, we are both well, and I realise that a lot of readers of this blog will be experiencing illness or bereavement and may feel that my comments are shallow and facile. I’m just writing about how things are for me.
We are sticking diligently to the rules: only going out (singly) once every few days for essentials such as shopping (we’ve not been able to get supermarket delivery slots) and picking up prescriptions, and going out together once a day for a walk in our local area, keeping social distancing when we encounter anyone else. From that point of view, we’re in the same boat as everyone else in the UK.
What has struck me is how little my life has changed during lockdown. The main components of my working day are reading, researching online, and writing, with a bit of work-related social media (mostly Twitter) and some of the boring administrative tasks associated with self-employment. None of that has changed. I’m still writing, I’m still planning my book and doing research for it, I’m still submitting commissioned articles, I’m still blogging. My working life is almost totally solitary, and I need it like that to be able to think, to be creative, to make work that I’m happy with. The only exceptions are when I interview people for a piece I’m writing, or when I do a ‘field trip’ to somewhere I’m going to be writing about, or when I occasionally go on a writing-related course.
Travel, of course, isn’t happening – and frankly that’s the main impact of lockdown on my work, as I was just at the stage when I was going to spend the late spring and summer travelling round the country doing a dozen field trips in preparation for the book. I’m having to completely re-think how I can use this time to research effectively until such times as I can make those field trips, while hopefully not delaying the completion of the book more than I can help.
Lockdown has demonstrated that there are times when being an introvert is an advantage. Mostly, it isn’t. Societally, extraversion is seen as preferable, and introverts are regarded with either pity or suspicion (being perceived as a ‘loner’ isn’t good in our society – being a ‘people person’ or a ‘team player’ is). I used to feel lesser, like however hard I tried I was never quite good enough because I found being around lots of people knackering rather than stimulating. To be honest, I find meetings and socialising with groups of people exhausting, I prefer humans in ones and twos (any more, and I long to lie down quietly in a darkened room to recover), and I’m happiest on my own or with one or two carefully chosen people, ideally with a pile of books to lose myself in. Susan Cain’s book Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking was a revelation. It isn’t just me – it’s about one third of the human race. It’s OK to be an introvert. We are not failed extraverts – we are successfully, happily introverts – well, we’re happy and successful if we’re allowed to live and work in ways that allow us to thrive. Don’t put me in a noisy, busy open-plan office with a dozen other people and expect me to be productive and creative. And certainly don’t expect me then to be sociable in the evenings or at weekends – that’s when I need peace and quiet to recover from being all peopled-out during the working day. I know there’s a lot of concern about the impact of social media on people’s mental health, but for me it’s been a boon – I can keep in touch with people, in my own time and when I’m in a place to welcome and enjoy it, rather than getting peopled-out by socialising. I have joined online groups of people with shared interests, and I love it – for me, it’s the best of both worlds.
It also means that during lockdown I’m in the fortunate position of not missing the stimulation of colleagues and friends around me. People I’m collaborating with for work are still there, via email, phone, social media or Zoom, as are my friends. I’m sorry that a couple of large events and conferences, which I had geared myself up for because the content was sufficiently interesting to make it worth the crowds, have been cancelled – but it’s the content, rather than the buzz, that I miss. I’m just getting on with what I do every day: reading, researching, writing, pitching to commissioning editors, keeping up to date with the writing industry, invoicing. When I’m not working, I’m going on my daily walk, reading, knitting, planning weaving projects, spinning, weaving, playing with my camera, baking.
Actually, that is one thing that is different because of lockdown – I am baking more than usual. Going out for coffee and cake is one of our favourite treats, and as the cafés are closed, I’ve stepped into the breach and baked cakes and cookies, scones and parkin. Fortunately we had just acquired a coffee machine, so at least we have decent coffee while we can’t go out!