If this is the first time you have had to step out of the structure of an office, it may surprise you that working remotely isn’t easy. But until global health efforts render Covid-19 less threatening, we are just going to have to make working from home, work.
Working from home has been termed as ‘the future of work’, with progressive corporate types hyping it as an opportunity for increased work-life balance and productivity (good-bye traffic!). I should know; it has been five years since I have had to report to an office. I get to have slow mornings; meditate, go on a run, make and sit down for breakfast. I then walk across the room to my ‘office’ (a designated corner in the living room) and get to work. With only one or two work-related meetings within the week, I spend most weekdays in my neighbourhood, eating home cooked meals, writing in the garden, barefoot, going on long evening walks, and staying up late because I can sleep-in in the morning if I so wished.
Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Well, the truth is, this #mybestlife version is only half the truth. As most of you may have discovered in the few days we have been social distancing, there is something about working in your pajamas, spending the day with your loved ones and being within reach of your refrigerator that makes you appreciate, even long for, the structure of an office.
We spoke to two women who have mastered the art of working from home, and emerged victors.
Nellius Mukami, 28, married mother of one, founder of Posh and Pretty
Mukami's founded the events company in 2018 and has run it from home since then.
“Sometimes you will wake up early, other days, especially when business is low, you will not have motivation to do anything. It’s going to be on and off. That’s something you have to adjust to and accept as you work from home. Before I started my company, I was a knowledge management/ programnes officer for a health organisation.
In 2016, I had a difficult pregnancy that necessitated I be on bed rest. I did not work for most of the pregnancy. I delivered before term - at 28 weeks - and ended up hospitalised for the next three months. I went home with a very tiny baby who needed a lot of care. I ended up staying home for most of 2017. My contract was not renewed but nevertheless, I decided to start working from home so I could be near my child.
Luckily, I had a small office in the house. I bought events’ equipment and cleaned out my garage to use as store. But having work space doesn’t mean that you are in the frame of mind to work. One of my biggest challenges was coming up with a work schedule, especially with the baby around. I’d plan to start work early but then I’d decide to watch the baby for a minute. Before I knew it, I had only worked when the baby was napping, or late in to the night. Sometimes I didn’t even use my office space at all; I’d take my computer and sit at the living room where the baby could see me.
The other challenge was that my nanny assumed I wasn’t busy, just because I was at home. I had to let her know that she shouldn’t assume that I was free. But of course the baby doesn’t understand all this! Even today, two years later, I haven’t quite worked this out. Sometimes I have to sneak around the house so that he doesn’t know I am around. Otherwise I will be on an official phone call, and he will burst into the office and demand my attention. You cannot chase the baby away so you ask the client whether you can call them back. I feel as though those moments make you look a little unprofessional or disorganised. It is unfortunate because you don’t want to seem as though you are not giving a 100 percent. It’s at such moments that you have to trust in other people’s humanity.
My biggest distraction, after the baby, is chores. As a mother and wife in the house, you will subconsciously place your work after everything and everyone else is taken care of. Also, I think when you are a woman, you want household chores done in a particular way. These are things you would let slide if you were not there, but if you happen to be passing by and you see someone not doing it right, you feel the need to intervene and end up getting distracted.
Procrastination is a big one as well. Perhaps it has to do with the sense of comfort at home. Say my partner is watching TV/News, there is that pull to go join them. Perhaps it comes with comfort of knowing what sort of workload you have. The good thing is that working for myself is more about output than the hours I put in. In the office, it’s 8-5 whether you are doing anything or not. But here, I know I am supposed to write one proposal and send five quotes. I can do this in an hour and be done for the day; whether I do it at 9 am or midnight.
Of course I always plan my week on Sunday evening. Sometimes everything will work out according to plan, sometimes it will not. You will have a hard time working remotely if you don’t accept that sometimes you will be energised, and other times you will not.
When you are working independently, you also miss interacting with colleagues. I miss brainstorming on ideas within a team. Now I have to be intentional about reaching out. For example, I am a member of the Rotary Club. We also have an association of event companies’ owners. I try also to keep up with former colleagues.”
Loise Wambui, 30s, Founder of Acarde Insurance
Wambui's agency helps clients with their insurance, financial planning and long-term investment has been working from home for three years
“I love that I can get so much accomplished now in the comfort of my house. However, what I wasn’t ready for, what working from home doesn’t prepare you for, is the isolation. How much you have to do by yourself. To be your everything. I was not prepared for the silence.
Before I made the decision to leave, I was the marketing manager for two hotels, one in Elementaita and the other one in the Mara. At some point, the routine of an 8-5 wasn’t working for me. I like challenges that call for fresh ideas, which can be hard to achieve where hierarchy and systems have already been set. I also felt that there had to be an alternative to being stuck in traffic for four hours everyday. I was fatigued. I even got physically sick. I needed to get out of the rat race and have time to take care of myself holistically.
In 2017, I put the plan in motion; I talked to a couple of friends, made the decision, went back to school for insurance certification, put some savings aside, and started gathering contacts. Then I got out. I was not scared nor was I excited. I just went in with an open mind. It took me almost a year to land into the space (within insurance products) that my heart resonated with; which turned out to be long-term financial planning.
There are things about being alone that I loved; others that took me by surprise. The one thing I had going for me is that I am an organised person. So for example, I have always had a work station at home, which made the transition easier. Creating and marketing my brand was exciting. I also loved structuring my hours. But this is also where the first surprise came. I wanted control of my time but it took been in charge of it to realise how much out of control it can get if you are not mindful.
Initially, I wanted to do everything and perfectly - to neatly fit and tick off all my tasks. That didn’t work. Instead, I took note of the things that I was falling short on - say I have not met as many clients or pushed as many leads or exercised or read as much as I would have wanted. These are things I would prioritise. I would then start with one (say, the best time to meet clients) and create a routine around that. Once that was in check, I’d bring in the other thing, say, exercise, and I build on it. I allowed myself to be flexible. Setting up systems can be a challenge especially if you are CEO and janitor at the same time. One of the things I miss about a former work place is that it worked like a well-oiled machine.
I am aware that different structures work for different people. For example, I am not an early riser. This means that when I had to be at work at seven, I would end up being tired in the morning. Now, I love that I can get so much accomplished while all I did was come downstairs. However, I wasn’t ready for the isolation.
Sometimes I also just miss laughing in the office with colleagues, or doing random things like drinks after work…the human things. But I have learnt that you have to be your own greatest motivator. What others say can’t be your fuel; the drive has to come from within.
The other thing I had to do was get the 30-day work schedule out of my system. That was a learning curve. For example, there was a month I did so poorly and then the next month, I made enough to sustain me for months. It calls for being comfortable with uncertainty and shifting how you manage your finances. This is actually how I landed into helping people with financial planning.
One of my biggest distractions while working from home is…me. You know how some people will sit on the sofa and be engaged enough to work? I don’t know how to do that. If I’m on the sofa, I am lounging. So the comfort of home by itself is a distraction. I have to talk myself into going to the desk. Netflix is the other culprit. Funny enough, social media isn’t a distraction; I only ever go on Instagram because that’s my business’ main social media page. But Netflix! It got to a point where I thought maybe my mind just wants to see that Netflix is on, so I play things I have already watched in the hope that if I didn’t care what’s going on, I could work with it in the background. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.”