Back to the office

I like to buck a trend. This year, while people all over the world embraced long-term homeworking, I did the opposite. After six years of working from home, I started paying to use a co-working office. It was a matter of space, really. The people embracing homeworking included my husband’s bosses, who decided there was no need for his team to have an office any more. And my eldest daughter kept reminding us of our pre-pandemic promise to turn the office into her bedroom.

The living room was redesigned to create an office corner. A cabin bed was purchased and its seventy million pieces assembled. And my husband and I embarked on a desk-sharing scheme; one of us would use the fancy new desk, and the other would grab any spare corner they could – the kitchen table, the sofa, the kids’ inexplicably untidy desks.

It didn’t take long for this arrangement to get really, really boring. For various reasons, my husband ended up getting the desk more than I did, and I began to mourn the loss of my little office space. Not just because my day-to-day work environment was now less comfortable, although it was. But that office had been mine, once upon a time. It was the place I did my first copyediting course. It was where I set up my business and watched it grow. I’d picked and paid for the furniture, set the room up exactly how I wanted. Even after I started sharing it with the husband, it was still, to some degree, my office.

But now even that was gone. The kids had their own rooms, which meant I got to hear about twelve fewer arguments per week, not to be sniffed at. But every single other space in the house was now shared, and I had nothing outside of it either, unlike my husband, who got to go out every weekend hitting things with sticks. (He’s a drummer, by the way, not some kind of twig-wielding vandal.) My life had shrunk to the size of whatever corner of a room I was crammed in that day.

So I looked into the idea of … gasp … leaving the house. And … double gasp … being around other people. And … endless gasps … paying for the privilege. (Look, I’m a half-Chinese northern Virgo. I’m never going to be one of life’s big spenders.) And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. I found a co-working office a short drive from my house that was very reasonably priced and included free tea and coffee and set up a trial day.

Reader, I loved it. I’ve been here for five months now, coming in a few days a week or however often I feel like it and circumstances allow. I brush my hair, put on clothes that aren’t joggers, and get to feel like a proper working professional adult again, surrounded by other proper working professional adults. Not, I hasten to add, that I have not been a proper professional for the last six years, or that anyone who doesn’t work in an office isn’t one. But running my own business and being constantly at home seemed to erode the boundaries between my work self and my non-work self. Having a new space is helping me redefine those, and I’m so much happier because of it. The place might not be exclusively mine, but it is, very importantly, not shared with the people I live with, and that’s made an immeasurable difference to my mental health.

This profession is full of introverts, but I’m not one of them. One of the things I love best about the office is being around people again. My only chance for regular social interaction over the last few years has been the school run, which I no longer have to do, so it’s great to have in-person colleagues again. We all do very different things and mostly keep to ourselves, but it’s nice just to say hello and trade small talk in the kitchen. Lately, we’ve even had a little office drama to bond over. In a normal workplace, the drama and politics create connections, but also often come alongside things that make your working life and relationships difficult in some way. But that doesn’t apply when you all work for different companies, so we’ve all been able to wade into the “was the new boiling water tap a terrible idea?” episode knowing there will be no mental, emotional or professional repercussions whatsoever. The most low-stakes drama ever.

And as well as all of this, it’s had a great effect on my work, too. There are fewer distractions here, and it’s easier to switch my mind into work mode. I’m more focused and efficient, meaning that this space should pay for itself by enabling me to take on more work.

So, if you’ve been considering renting some space for yourself and your business, I can thoroughly recommend it. And if you’ve been considering installing a boiling water tap, please consult all your stakeholders first and be prepared to have to give them their kettle back.

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