Leslie Willcocks, London School of Economics,
After much confusion, clarity! Working from home, and now self-isolation, brings the chance to simplify my life. In some ways, as an academic, I am lucky because I have been doing this on and off for many years. And many academics, let’s be honest, have monastic tendencies anyway! What have I learned about coping with the coronavirus shutdown?
1. My first rule of thumb is to structure the day—every day. There are five things you need to make time for: work, exercise, socialising, eating, and sleeping. (Looking after loved ones is socialising and, for many, it is probably work and exercise as well!) One joy is that you can do these, while self-isolated, in virtually any order. I give myself enough time, daily, for all five. One thing you discover about home working is that 4.5 hours of focused work each day gets you a long way, and frees you up for other commitments. Exercise is a must, at least an hour a day: indoor exercises—outdoor when permitted—and there are plenty of apps on the Internet to help motivate you. Substituting home eating for cafes has worked out well—we eat less, more sensibly, and at regular times. The long promised early dinner—so good for the digestion—is now a reality. Hopefully this is enough for you to draw up your own agenda.
2. “Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened” says the marvellous Rumi poem. Here I borrow from Viktor Frankl: “You need purpose and meaning to drive the day”. You will find maintenance and unexpected issues deflect you, unless you have great clarity on what you want to achieve by the end of today. Do not let maintenance overwhelm your sense of progressing. I get my benchmarks here from, for example, writing; moving a book along; deeper contacts; planning a year ahead. Whatever yours are, feed your sense of progress and purpose, but set limited, doable goals daily, allowing slack for the unanticipatable.
3. My third point is: stay informed. Use the media very selectively; find the best sources but verify even those by cross checking. Reading is a real plus for the homeworker. As we know, books should be sold with the hours needed to read them. You have now been gifted (some of) those hours! It is useful to structure your reading. For example, I read across four broad areas: subject area (in this case automation and the future of work): current affairs (in this case deglobalisation); fiction (a great opportunity to re-read ‘Middlemarch’); and educational (most recently The Idea of the Brain by Matthew Cobb). Friends can be great recommenders of books, videos and blogs. That’s how I got to read The Spy and The Traitor by Ben McIntyre, and watch the Inspector Nardone series (the running joke being that, as a Neapolitan, he hates Milanese coffee).
4. A further point—use the Internet. This is what it was originally designed for… well, sort of! We certainly use it in present circumstances for home delivery; virtual house parties; and developing work, social and family communities. It’s obviously a great tool for getting things done quickly and globally, but be skeptical about its reliability. So I have three browsers—a mobile, a portable and a desktop machine; and I save every piece of work three times, including on external memory storage. Believe me, I learned the ‘Willcocks Rule Of Three’ the hard way!
5. Finally, you need a philosophy. So carpe diem (‘sieze the day’)—Horace’s much over-interpreted phrase. Some say he was addressing a servant, and really pointing out the advantages of sleeping with him… hum, not the Horace I remember! Carpe diem is about taking back your life, and living it in a fulfilled way on a daily basis, while working towards meaningful long-term goals. Homeworking gives you more time to think through the implications of this idea for your own life. Courtesy of adversity, we have the opportunity to renew self-sufficiency and stop outsourcing the self. Ironically this is as much about rediscovering sociality and community, as it is about self-centeredness. Certainly I am finding that disconnection is channelling me into better, more focused reconnection. As one example, I realise much more than ever before how dependent and thankful I am to people who deliver goods to me, and do things for me. An attitude of gratitude, as the Dalia Llama has put it, may well grow more widely in our communities out of the coming months, and then we will recognize the wisdom of the conclusion of that Rumi poem: “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground”.
Leslie Willcocksis professor in the department of management at LSE, and co–author of four recent books on service automation. His latest book ‘Becoming Strategic With Robotic Process Automation’, is available to purchase onlione at www.sbpublishing.org.