Work At Home or Work Away From Home? Helen Black helps us to decide

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Work At Home or Work Away From Home? Helen Black helps us to decide.

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Summary: It's very tempting to think that someone else's grass is greener than your own, but in the matter of working at home or commuting to your job Helen Black has experienced both and wants us to know that there are a few things you need to consider, not least the fluff in the tumble drier.
Date: 6 May 2011

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It's very tempting to think that someone else's grass is greener than your own, but in the matter of working at home or commuting to your job Helen Black has experienced both and wants us to know that there are a few things you need to consider, not least the fluff in the tumble drier.

Work At Home or Work Away From Home? Helen Black helps us to decide

My working day used to begin with a fifty minute commute across London.

I hated it. You could never get a seat on the tube or come within a foot of a pole to hang on to or one of those dangly leather hand grips. Instead, you had to lock your knees for balance, and pray you didn’t crash into the psychopath opposite, when the driver slammed on his brakes with the abandon of Jeremy Clarkson on speed.

I looked at a map and discovered that my office was in fact less than fifteen miles away from home. Fifteen miles! Why had I been taking the devil’s own sweat box when I could drive in style, steaming coffee in the cup holder, radio four on in the background?

One attempt gave me my answer. Traffic jams, tail backs, pollution and a flat tyre in the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

So when I finally gave up being a lawyer to write full time, I knew the journey to the office wasn’t something I was going to miss.

In fact I couldn’t imagine there was much I was going to miss. No boss breathing down my neck. No constant interruptions. And I could spend more time with my family.

Yep, working from home was going to be paradise.


The no boss thing. Turns out that without anyone sighing deeply and glancing pointedly at their watch, I find cracking on with the job in hand a challenge.

It’s not that I’m lazy, I have after all written four books and am in the process of editing my fifth, it’s just that there always seems to be something much more important to do. Naturally, the main culprit is t’internet. That single wonderful source of all knowledge. You can spend literally days watching documentaries on YouTube about the ravaging effects of Mountain Dew on the teeth of the people of Appalachia. No really, you can. Then you can call it research. And if even a sentence about fizzy pop and fillings sneaks into the first draft, you can tell yourself that all those hours were completely justified.

Next up is the never ending distraction of household chores. I’m so not the type to plump cushions or iron shirts but given a choice between writing two thousand words or scraping off the crispy cheesy bits from the inside of the sandwich toaster...no contest.

Of course, if I were fifteen miles away in an office, I wouldn’t give the fluff in the tumble drier a second thought. But I’m not and I do. Locating a safety pin, straightening it out and picking along the filter calls to me. I can’t help myself.

As for spending more time with my family, indeed I do. I am here and so are my kids. Thing is, they don’t always get that I’m working and just when I’m about to call my agent, they set fire to the Wendy house or decide that next door’s dog needs a shave. Then I run around screaming, ‘can’t you see I’m trying to write?’

To be fair, it must be quite difficult to guess, what with all the cheese scraping and fluff picking.

The question is though, would I change it? Would I go back to work in an office?

Sometimes, when the writing’s going badly, when I’m up against a tight deadline and all I can think about is how better my life would be if I just ordered my elastic bands by colour, I think it might be best for all concerned.

Then I think of my commute. Twenty seconds from bed to kitchen. No tubes, no roads, no psychopaths. Or only those that I make up.

It’s a no brainer really.