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Quirks and perks of an introvert’s home office experience

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The COVID-19 pandemic brought many changes all over the world and a number of measures have been taken to limit the spread of the highly infective virus. Amongst these, millions of workers started their home office experience (regrettably, millions of others lost their jobs instead).
I have been in home office too since the start of the lockdown. I would like to share my   home office experience, citing some things that worked for me and those that didn’t.

No more daily trips with public transport
I am fairly sure nobody misses being packed (like sardines) into public transport each day, surrounded by loads of strangers – some smellier than others, some louder, and some always on the verge of pouring their coffee on you! Let’s not forget the occasional biker who persistently takes the bus with their bicycle on board, during peak hours!

One office, one person
My tiny office houses 4 people. I like my colleagues and enjoy talking and laughing with them, but I am glad to finally have my own space. Now I can control how long the window should stay open (I am a window-opener…or else get extremely grumpy), or listen to music without headphones while working. These may seem like small perks, but they make a difference.

No more thoroughfare in the office
With four people coordinating various programmes, our office is usually a place of  “heavy traffic” with researchers, colleagues, PIs, or the boss walking in and out all day. Phone calls are also part of the daily work life. Home office is less disruptive, which leads to a higher productivity in the same amount of working hours. Although, beware you are going to spend an awful lot of time video-conferencing with your colleagues because you cannot just pass by their office to ask them a quick question.

You need to adapt to home office life
Like many others, I don’t have a dedicated office room in my flat; just a dining table, which now doubles up as a work desk. I organised the table, to have a small eating area on the side and to use the rest of the space for my office set-up. Psychologically, it can be tiring to always sit in the same corner of the apartment, and physically, it is challenging to not have ergonomic aids, like my nice office chair. To make up for it, I exercise every now and then and try to break up the working hours into various segments. Doing house chores is also a good idea. Yes, you got me right. While home office experts (or at least all blog articles I’ve read) say you should not get distracted by house chores while you are in home office, I say you should try to alternate them with your home office schedule. Starting the washing machine, hanging the laundry, vacuuming the flat, etc. are all ways to move your body and keep it active. It also helps break the long hours of screen time. This helps reduce the risk of back pain, eye fatigue and other occupational disorders.

Food is better (and more!) at home
Being home every day, you need to think carefully about your eating schedule. As I cannot just go to the cafeteria or get catered food from in-house events, I now cook my meals more regularly. As a result, I am eating more home-cooked food and have a more varied diet because I take more care in preparing my meals. To be completely honest, despite the fact that I like the chili con carne from the cafeteria, my food is better and healthier (I thank my mum, my grandmothers and the generations of Italians before me for this). The downside is that we all end up eating more because of the frequent snacking, and/or occasional binge drinking. As a result, we dread the number that will appear on our scales! I don’t really have a solution for this problem, so if you find it out, please let me know before I need to change size (again).

Yes to comfortable outfits!
While you are in home office, the kilograms gained (a negative effect of home office) don’t seem to matter that much (the silver lining). You don’t fit into your office outfits any longer? So what!? It is perfectly fine to wear loose, comfortable home trousers. While many articles suggest wearing regular work clothes (to avoid embarrassing experiences during video calls, or reduced productivity because you feel you are not in the office), I feel that as long as they are simple home pants, they are fine. Moreover, if you’ve gained weight, you don’t feel comfortable wearing clothes that can constrict you and cause discomfort. Just leave the extravagant tracksuits in the wardrobe, please!

Yes to a natural look, no to makeup!
A plus for most women (at least those not linking their self-esteem to their external appearance) is that you don’t need to wear make-up. A bit of moisturizer (with SPF, because I dread melanoma and associated illnesses even if I stay locked up at home all day) and that is all. Your skin thanks you for letting it breathe!

Technology, here we come!
During this pandemic, many employees had their first video-conference and several institutes paved their ways to regular virtual events. Technological updates dominated the first weeks of my home office, to figure out tools and set-up online lectures and events. Now I feel more like I work in the present and am up-to-date with online working tools. Thanks to these tools, I can continue working; the institute keeps on offering virtual training and events; my team stays in touch to meet and discuss. Countless virtual coffee breaks keep me connected to my teammates. Beware though, because it can be exhausting to constantly have back-to-back video calls. As mentioned before, try to take  mental and physical breaks in between.

It is expensive
One thing not everyone might be considering is the consumption of electricity, gas and water for our households have considerably increased (sic!) while in home office. We will see it in the balances of our bills. I wonder if this can be accounted for in this year’s tax declaration?!

Overall, I am glad to have a quieter working space…well, except for the cat that entered  my garden door looking for a cozy place to have her kittens (true story, ask my colleagues about my hilarious reaction during our video call)! However, after more than 3 months, I feel the need to introduce some changes in the office routine, to get out of home and see people besides my team members. If your situation allows it, try to mix working in the office with home office, to keep healthy and motivated (but follow hygiene & distancing rules).

Note from the author: I live alone and as a good introvert I cherish my solitude. I don’t have to deal with homeschooling etc., although I experienced (second-hand) the crazy working shifts of my colleagues with children. This is my personal experience encompassing difficulties and contingencies of my everyday life. We are all living the home office experience in many different ways. I hope that by sharing my own, I can make yours a little more tolerable.


Written by Chiara Galante; Edited by Radhika Menon. Featured Image: NGC/Design.

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