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Book Review: Work from home tips for some universal WFH problems

Neck pain? Check. Overheating laptop? Check. Managing family expectations when you have work to do? Check. Grace Paul's 'ultimate guide' is a comforting book of practical advice on working from home

April 03, 2021 / 07:31 AM IST
WFH comes with its own set of challenges for each of us.

WFH comes with its own set of challenges for each of us.


Work from home (WFH) was a new experience for a lot of people when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Today, WFH is pleasurable for some, annoying for others, and evokes mixed feelings in those who fall in neither category. Regardless of their reaction, the common thread is that the people have not voluntarily chosen this style of work. It is a situation that they are expected to get used to.

Grace Paul’s book The Ultimate Guide to Working from Home (2020) is a handy little manual filled with practical advice on how to set up a workspace, a routine, and effective boundaries. Her objective is to put readers at ease with her comforting narrative voice and helpful recommendations that can be easily tried and tested.

Published by Sphere, an imprint of the Little, Brown Book Group, this book is divided into five short sections, apart from the introduction and the conclusion. These are: 1. Why Work From Home? 2. Working Well 3. Looking After Yourself 4. It’s Not Always Easy 5. Making Work Work For You. The structure is easy to follow. The writing is lucid and to-the-point.

The author begins by orienting readers to the benefits of working from home. It helps people save on time and money spent in commuting. It opens up employment opportunities for the disabled and the elderly. It enables young parents to juggle childcare and their career more effectively. It allows people to explore job options anywhere in their country or the world.

Employers have access to a wider talent pool. They also save on office-related costs.

While the book rightly celebrates the additional facetime with family, it does not seem to recognize that this can create its own set of problems. People who live with abusive partners, unappreciative in-laws or overbearing parents look forward to stepping out and going to work. The commute and the office space give them a chance to breathe. In the Indian context, working from home can also increase expectations related to cooking and other household work from women.

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When working from home is a compulsion, readers can benefit from the author’s tips. She writes, “You might think that working from home simply consists of sitting down with your laptop and getting on with it but there are a lot more factors to take into consideration. Do you know how to behave on work virtual calls? How are you going to avoid ‘tech neck’? And are you allowed to reward yourself with food? (the answer is always yes on that last one).”

She suggests investing in an ergonomically designed office chair for physical comfort but readers who cannot spare the extra cash for new furniture can also simply designate a particular spot in the house as their workspace. Over time, entering that space can signal to others at home and oneself that one has stepped into work mode and does not want to be disturbed. She adds that a pillow can be used for elevation, and to relieve the pressure on the spine.

Examining one’s relationship with food merits a full-fledged discussion, but the book shies away from it. Food is a common reward that people use to motivate themselves. That in itself may not be a problem. However, it is helpful to identify the kinds of foods that make one feel lethargic or sleepy so that the tastebuds do not interfere with work deadlines. This could change depending on the season. People with eating disorders might need to be especially careful.

Maintaining good posture, taking breaks to stretch, and stepping away from the workspace while having meals or a beverage, are healthy habits

'The Ultimate Guide to Working from Home', by Grace Paul. Published by Sphere. 'The Ultimate Guide to Working from Home', by Grace Paul. Published by Sphere, an imprint of the Little, Brown Book Group.

that can be cultivated with practice. They help one avoid neck and back pain as well as strain on the eyes. The author also advises readers to pack up all their work-related equipment, stationery and other materials to mark the end of their workday. Else, one might end up working extended hours.

She prefers desktop computers over laptops because the former “have more power, a longer life and are normally easier to set up at the correct height.” If that is not an option, one can use a laptop stand. She adds, “They also have a more powerful fan so they’re less prone to overheating. A top tip I had to learn the hard way – working on a laptop in bed fries the insides of a laptop as the soft duvet cover blocks all airflow through the machine.”

The book has a wealth of smart ideas to enhance mood and productivity. Some of these are using noise-cancelling headphones, listening to music, making to-do lists, creating a timetable with blocks dedicated to exercise and video calls with colleagues, splitting housework with others at home, planning activities for children that do not require adult supervision, setting boundaries with family and colleagues, and treating yourself with compassion on tough days.

The author also assures readers that it is okay to discover that working from home is not working for them. The situation can improve if they communicate their challenges and mental health needs to employers, who can provide the necessary support. She also urges employers to trust more, not jump to conclusions because they do not know what employees are dealing with at home, and to remember that people take time to develop new habits.

Why does one even need a book like this, published in August last year, when so much advice is available from friends, columnists, relatives, colleagues and others sailing in the same boat? Readers who have settled into this new work arrangement may not gain much. However, readers who are struggling would benefit from knowing that they are not alone. They have support even if it comes in the form of a book.
Chintan Girish Modi is a writer, educator and researcher who tweets @chintan_connect)

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