When working from home turns out ok

Julia Langdon started working from home nearly 30 years ago after being unceremoniously sacked from her job as Political Editor at the Sunday Telegraph: ‘a “personality clash” which had found me out on my ear … I had never been out of a job and I was afraid we were all going to starve’. Looking back, considering her daily commute to the bottom of the garden, she thinks it might have been one of the best things ever to have happened to her. Journalism is probably easier than most jobs to do from home, but if you are considering making the shift a permanent one once lockdown is over, take heart from her article.

Guest blog by Julia Langdon

As many of you have learned by now, the secret of working successfully from home is all about bums on seats. If you don’t sit down and get on with it, then it won’t get done. Some call this discipline, but what makes it work for me, as a journalist, is the deadline.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that I don’t procrastinate. I am as adept as anyone else at discovering an urgent need to walk the dogs, post a letter or turn out the bottom of the bathroom cupboard. I emailed a friend this week with the lineage I had researched on Wikipedia of a distinguished political family about whom we had been talking. “Ah,” she replied. “I detect diversionary tactics. You must have a piece to write.” Right, indeed!

Give me a deadline, though, and I’ll meet it. One of my regular occupations involves writing political obituaries and – this sometimes shocks people who haven’t thought it through – that includes writing about distinguished people who haven’t actually died. Yet.

(I have had to “do” David Cameron twice – once when he became prime minister and, again, when he left office, having by then somewhat rewritten his own story. The second time round I found myself thinking that if all goes well for him, his obituary is one that I am unlikely ever to read in print).

The trouble with this line of work, however, is that it is not often I spring from my bed and, having nothing else to do, start researching an obituary of someone who maybe isn’t even showing signs of age, let alone being unwell. Yet give me a deadline and I’ll meet it. Lunchtime Friday? That’s fine – and I’ll happily get up at 6 a.m., if I’ve somehow let Thursday go by.

Researching this piece, I have now discovered, to my complete astonishment, that I have actually been working from home for half of my professional life. I spent 28 years putting on a suit, metaphorically or literally, and going to “the office” and I’ve also spent exactly the same number of years going down my small garden to the shed. I was horrified when I was fired, 28 years ago – I had never been out of a job and I was afraid we were all going to starve – but it didn’t take long to discover the advantages of WFH.

Image above: Julia Langdon by her garden shed / office

Three months after the –er – “personality clash” which had found me out on my ear, I was offered another job, as political editor of another newspaper, and I can remember gazing across the table at the editor’s generous offer with a mixture of gratitude and downright dismay.

My brain said: “He means put on a suit and go to Canary Wharf at least once a week! It means an end to independence!” I had secured a year’s money (and the car) for the insult of my new-found self- employment; I had negotiated a continued lobby “ticket” as a Westminster journalist; and I had plenty of work. I also had a four-year-old, a six-month-old baby, sufficient help to enable me to work when I wanted and I ran my own agenda for the first time in my life. What’s not to like?

I stayed in the shed. That’s where I am today. The shed (and the baby) are both 28.

Until recently, however, I did continue to go out for work purposes. Under normal circumstances I go to parliament and pubs; I go to meet people and attend press conferences. I go to receptions and meetings and events. I go to interviews and broadcasting studios and coffee shops. Well, I did. Now I just go down the garden. Life just got a whole lot easier.

Those among you who have joined these ranks now also know, WFH has some huge advantages over the alternative. Of course, I appreciate and understand that this is not the same at all for those with babies and children at home, with no child care, no help and home schooling to organise as well. All that and maybe no garden either. Such families are run ragged. I am writing here only about my own experience of how working life has changed under lock-down and, despite the horror of the pandemic itself, staying in is certainly simpler.

No trains, no travel, no timetable. No make-up, no hair-cuts, no need to change clothes. No packed itinerary, no inadvertent running late, no cringing apologies. No stress. I miss my family and friends. I like my life but, I now realise, not all of my lifestyle. And yes I know I’m lucky.

But I have reverted to following what were once the two rules of child-rearing: Rule One: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Rule Two: compared to the world outside the front door, it is all small stuff. As a result I think I might also be a nicer person to be around. If there was anybody there to notice.

Julia Langdon has been a political journalist since 1971 and became a lobby correspondent in 1974. Leaving The Guardian in 1984, she was appointed political editor of the Daily Mirror, the first woman to hold the position on a national newspaper in the UK. She’s been a freelance writer since 1992.

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