It certainly looks like working from home is here to stay.
As further COVID-19 restrictions begin to be imposed, it seems many of us Brits are looking at a long winter ahead, working and living in the same space.
Whilst working from home does have its benefits, many of us who have been shackled to home offices for the majority of the year are missing aspects of our old day-to-day routines. The thing I have missed the most is my morning Black Sheep coffee, but I’ve even found myself lamenting the lack of a commute, which is something that I never thought would happen!
My closest friend said it best the other week: the problem with working from home is often that it can feel like living at work. Whilst I am generally a supporter of giving your staff flexible working options where possible, nearly a full year – bar a handful of days - of working from the antique bureau in my lounge has started to take its toll on me.
It seems like the past month or so, the ‘fake commute’ has been talked about more and more. A fake commute is where a home worker will take a walk before and after finishing work for the day, and it is said to help workers slip in and out of ‘work mode’. As someone who has found themselves on occasion logging on an hour early because ‘I may as well’ or still sat at my desk well after finishing time, I figured that it was time to give my work life some structure.
My usual morning routine
I have one rule about mornings – I don’t look at my phone until I have had at least one coffee. The news cycle during the pandemic has been brutal, and honestly there is only so much bad news I can take without caffeine in my system.
I usually start work around 9am, so my alarm is set for 8am. Unlike my partner, who rolls out of bed maximum 10 minutes before he logs on for the day, I need time to wake up before settling down in front of a screen. I usually use this time to make a coffee (treating myself to a coffee machine when lockdown hit was possibly the best decision I have ever made) and settle down in my library to read for 45 minutes.
Lately, however, I’ve found this reading time decreasing, and I’m logging on earlier. I’m finding that I can’t really concentrate on my book because as I wake up more, I’m thinking about the workday ahead. So it’s time for a change.
Day One - Monday
My alarm goes off at 8am… and of course it’s chucking it down. It is Manchester after all. It’s also freezing, so dragging myself out of bed and into clothes is made just that bit harder, too. I keep telling myself it’ll be worth it, but my groggy brain and cold feet don’t believe me. Maybe I should have given this a shot during summer…
As a coffee fiend, my regular commute always featured a latte, but my stomach isn’t feeling up to coffee today. I dig out my reusable coffee cup (remember when we were allowed to use those?!) and make myself a big cup of tea. On goes the Big Coat and boots, and out into the rainy streets of East Manchester I go.
It’s cold, but not unbearably so. The worst part is the wind – we’re at the tail end of storm Aiden so it’s a bit blustery. I originally planned to walk for between 20 to 30 minutes, but the wind and rain chase me back inside after 10. Not the best start, but hey! I did it! And although it’s not the same as a trip into the office, I can see why people use a walk to separate work from home - coming back into my house feels similar to walking into the office.
At the end of the day I actually had a medical appointment, which I used as my ‘fake commute’. It involved a tram ride and everything – how exciting! This definitely felt much more ‘commute-like’ than a walk around the block, and it did help signal to my brain that my workday was over. When I returned home, I didn't even consider logging on for one last email check.
Day Two – Cheat Day/Tuesday
I have an actual commute today – I’m going into the office for a few hours! There are a few bits and pieces that I’m hoping to get done before not-quite-full lockdown is upon us and the office once again becomes a distant memory.
And oh, how I missed the commute. And my morning Black Sheep latte. Getting up much earlier than usual didn’t even feel so bad. I’m not ready to return to commuting five days a week yet, but I have to say that today felt a little bit like a treat to experience a small dose of normality.
Day Three - Wednesday
Back to the fake commute today, and it has been made much easier this morning by the sun shining through the windows. After a couple of weeks of miserable mornings, the sight of a bright clear sky is a welcome change and it certainly makes it easier to get outside, even if it is a bit brisk. The avid gardener in me notes that it appears we had our first frost of the year overnight.
At the end of the workday, I’m a little more tired than usual. I’m not sure if that’s because of my walk this morning or is just general humpday weariness, but I decide to keep my end of day walk to 10 minutes, just a quick once around the block. By the time I get home again and settle on the sofa, I’m exhausted… but I’m not tempted to check my emails one last time, which is an improvement.
Day Four – Thursday
One of my cats decides to wake me up by licking my face at 5.45am this morning, and despite my best efforts she just won’t relent, so around 6.30am I give up, get out of bed, and decide to go on a slightly longer walk this morning. It’s dark when I leave, so I decide to walk a mile up the road to the nearest Greggs and treat myself to a latte.
Clutching a large latte in my hands, I decide to walk through a local park, down to the canal, and loop back round to home. Although chilly, I enjoy the walk whilst the sun comes up, and the coffee certainly helps! Maybe I did a bit too long a walk, however, as when I sit down at my desk at 8.40am, I’m already quite tired.
I decide to keep my end of day walk brief after this morning’s big one. It’s a little bit drizzle-y, too. Just a quick once around the block before collapsing onto the sofa to finish binging Emily in Paris…
Day Five – Friday
Last day of my fake commute trial, and I think I’m getting into the swing of things now. It’s a little easier to get out of bed, probably helped by the fact the sun is already shining through the windows. I decide on a quick 10 – 15 minute walk around the block, which I’ve found seems to be the right length of time to wake me up without tiring me out.
It’s actually the end of the day, and week, walk that’s the hardest! I’m tired from a week’s work, the darkness outside is off-putting, and a large part of me just wants to collapse in a heap upon the sofa right away. But I’ve committed, so I pop my coat on and head out into the chilly late autumn evening. Another quick once around the block and I’m back home in the warm, ready to enjoy my weekend!
Does it work?
The fake commute does help get you in a ‘work’ mindset in the morning, and the ‘home’ mindset in the evening, and I can certainly see why many people swear by this method to help them start and end their workday. I feel like maybe I should have gotten into the habit of it during summer, however, as the short, dark days and worsening weather of late autumn don’t make the most compelling argument for heading outside!
It’s one thing to have to get out of bed every morning to go into the workplace, and quite another to try and trick your brain into it. First thing in the morning, my traitorous brain would try and talk me out of leaving the comfort and warmth of my bed early by reminding me I don’t actually need to commute. Be warned that it may take some serious willpower to get into the habit of doing this daily!
My top tip for getting into the swing of this is to make sure that you take a coffee (or tea!) with you in a reusable coffee cup. Not only does it add an air of authenticity to the whole affair, it can also act as a way to tempt yourself out of bed! (And it helps keeps your hands warm on the chilly mornings…)
I think that this is something I will do intermittently going forward, most likely when the weather is decent, but I don’t think I have the willpower to do this twice a day, every day, as the bad weather of winter sets in. Maybe if we’re still working from home in the spring, I’ll try doing it daily again. However, if you’re one of those people that thrives on structure then this will most likely work wonders for you!