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If I had a pound for every time I've been asked if I get lonely as a freelancer, I’d be a very rich woman. In fact, it’s become one of my pet peeves. What I find most annoying is that salaried 9-5ers often use adjectives such as ‘solitary’, ‘insular’ and ‘depressing’ to describe how they imagine working from home to be. There's also the myth that because you’ve decided not to follow the traditional trajectory, that your career is sort of a joke in which you don't really do much.
I’ve learned to brush these comments off over time but I secretly still find them a tad insulting and totally inaccurate. ‘Am I the kind of person that these words apply,” I ask myself. ‘Do I seem like a lonely, insular person?’ I like to think not.
The truth is, I’ve never found freelancing from home all that lonely. What I did find difficult was working in a very stressful and high-pressured office environment where mental health and wellbeing came below making money. In fact, I’ve had some of my worst working days chained to a desk while the person next to me has emailed me a work-related question or passive aggressive complaint rather than speaking to me directly. On those days, I’d dream of going it alone and getting out of an environment that really didn’t serve my personality well.
Of course, there are great things about working in an office: the camaraderie (if you’re lucky), the team to bounce ideas off, and a place to get dressed and go to each day. The the constant supply of birthday cake was always a bonus. I’ve also made some brilliant friends from working in permanent jobs that I would never have met otherwise. But what about the stressful commute, the other colleagues you can’t stand and the unpredictable manager that breathes down your neck each day? I can’t say I miss any of those things.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions of freelancing is that it’s just a normal office job that takes place in your kitchen or home office. But what it did for me personally was completely change how I worked as a whole. For the first time in my working career, I could simply concentrate on the work I enjoyed without spending a large proportion of my day bogged down with the latest office politics. And believe me when I say, in fashion there was more drama each week than an episode of Line of Duty.
Working from home reduced my anxiety levels significantly to the point where it changed my personality to a certain degree. I calmed down. I relaxed. I realised that there was more to life than the 9-5 and I felt happier. Much, much happier, in fact.
Why? The freedom mainly. Pre-Covid, one of my favourite places to write was in the Tate Modern café. I’d catch an exhibition and then grab a coffee afterwards while completing deadlines and admiring the London skyline. I also liked to regularly meet up with freelance friends to spend the afternoon working together and sharing ideas.
I also worked in the garden, at the gym, and would often get up extra early to fire off a feature before heading to a 12pm showing of a new film at the cinema. I became quite a regular with the retired film buffs of Wimbledon, especially during Oscar's season.
I've worked on trains on Friday afternoons so I can zip across the country and spend the weekend with a best friend, and even on one very bougie occasion, written in the bar of a five-star hotel just because I fancied it. (I must confess, I had been watching a lot of Sex and The City at the time and felt a Carrie Bradshaw moment coming on).
What I’ve found most interesting is the impact that the pandemic has had on other peoples’ perceptions of working from home. It proved that working flexibly, seeing more of your kids and avoiding a long commute can actually, shock horror, lead to decreased anxiety and increased happiness. It wasn't, as many thought, just about sitting in your pyjamas all day and chatting to the cat. (Not that there's anything wrong with that if it makes you happy and able to meet a deadline).
According to an article in The Economist last week, working from home is a trend that’s had an impact across the world. The piece reports that before the pandemic, Americans spent 5% of their working time at home. By spring 2020 the figure had increased to 60%. While many people have reported working longer hours during this time, they’ve also reported higher levels of happiness and productivity. No wonder the average employee has said they’d like to continue working in this way for at least half the time once the pandemic is over.
I’ll be the first to admit that working from home is a lot different during a pandemic. The flexibility of choosing where to work went out the window, boundaries have often been blurred and work and personal time have been hard to separate. And then, of course, there was the challenge of schools and nurseries closing, and having your partner invade your carefully cultivated home-working space.
And yes, as we all know, working alone is not without challenges. It can be tough when you’re having a bad week, dealing with a difficult client or really in need of some guidance. I think this is when freelance buddies, mentors and support networks such as Leapers really come into their own. I wrote about the different ways we can find that support here in case you missed it.
But as the world starts to reopen this week, I’m very much looking forward to tapping away in a busy café again when it’s allowed. I can’t wait to meet up with my freelance pals and enjoy a quick swim in my lunch break. Maybe I’ll even head to a posh hotel before the baby comes and I have the freedom to enjoy such luxuries.
One thing’s for sure, I definitely know I don’t want to be in an office making small talk by the water cooler. Perhaps my opinion will change over the next few years, but until then you'll find me at home - or wherever the wind and the free WIFI takes me.
Until next time.