Opinion: The ups and downs of ‘working from home’

Come November this year, my wife and I will have been practicing working from home (WFH) for 20 years.

My friends, many of whom ordinarily work in offices in London, have been forcibly experimenting with the concept for the past year.

They tell me it’s “really tough on a marriage”. Living in the same house together, day after day, “isn’t natural”, apparently. 

Some of them are even “running out of things to say to each other”.

See also: Ian Pigott’s take on the pros and cons of virtual farming events

About the author

ian pigottIan Pigott
Columnist, Farmers Weekly

Ian Pigott farms 700ha in Hertfordshire. The farm is a Linking Environment and Farming demonstration unit. Ian is also the founder of Open Farm Sunday.

Read more articles by Ian Pigott

Don’t get me wrong – my home is no bedsit in Bermondsey. We are enormously lucky to be surrounded by green space and a view of Luton Airport.

But the idea that none of my friends expected to find constant proximity to their partner “tough”, I find slightly amusing.  

That’s not because of schadenfreude. It is the subtle, backhanded compliment that life as a farming couple isn’t the rural version of Tom and Barbara in The Good Life they imagined. 

Mealtimes aren’t like dining at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage.

No weekday luncheons in the orchard, on tables draped in gingham tablecloths abounded with platters of marinated lamb and couscous.

Being together

The truth is, living and working together takes a lot of living and working on being together. 

My wife Gilly is from Canada, born and bred in Toronto. She had never met a farmer before she moved to England.

That’s hard to fathom when you are never more than 30 miles from a farm in the UK.

Downtown Toronto to the wheat-growing prairies of Manitoba is the same distance as Harpenden to Belarus.

So, when Gilly made the transition from city to farm, we both had a lot to understand about each other’s expectations and routine.

We learned how these were shaped by our upbringing and our culture.

Tradition v intuition

I had learned by tradition. She was learning by intuition. The former, I have come to realise, is not very understanding of the latter.

Farming, we are told, is a way of life. So too is having an office-based career – and both deserve to be valued and respected.

Over the past 12 months, the WFH “newbies” have had the worst of both worlds. Aside of the homeschooling and-house training the new cockapoo, they have been navigating a WFH relationship on Redbull.

An unnatural intensity, with no release valves. No more bouncing ideas off office colleagues around the water cooler – just a hamster wheel of Zoom meetings and boxsets.

Friends used to tell me how jealous they were of my WFH. Fast-forward to May 2021 and they miss that precious hour to themselves, commuting.

No off switch

What nobody tells you about the rural idyll is there is no time away, no off switch, no putting off jobs because they’ll wait until tomorrow.

We live amongst our work like a suspended solution and there is no manual to tell you how to separate the two.

As an office-based friend put it to me, “the office is where I work, and home is where I reward myself and my family”.

After 20 years of WFH, I am blessed that we have never run out of things to say to one another.

But if we didn’t talk about work so much, that would be good, too.

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