Comedian Viv Groskop works from home with three children, a husband who thrives in an office and a very aggressive cat called Julian. What could possibly go wrong?
If you had asked me a year ago whether I like working from home, I would have laughed. I love it, of course. Why else would I have done it, joyously and uninterrupted, for the past two decades? No one is more committed to working from home than I am. No one is more allergic to a glimpse of a security turnstile, more resistant to the wearing of a corporate lanyard or more averse to the dull hum of a workplace canteen. I love working from home. It’s great!
Or, at least, it was.
My work schedule used to consist of enjoyable unpredictability. ‘Work’ meant going to a comedy club, a theatre or a podcast studio. And, when I needed to write, I found my ‘office space’ on trains and planes, in cafés and bars and, occasionally, at home in my bed, where I could sit and write for hours, sometimes not in my pyjamas.
I loved all these things. But, most of all, I valued the independence. Be yourself! Be free! Work from home! When the pandemic hit, although I was traumatised by the blinding white space that had replaced my packed diary, there was one thing I was quietly smug about: working from home. I mean, come on. Working from home is my forté.
Wrong side of the bed
Then it hit. With my husband banned from his office and three kids off school, all our schedules collapsed. It turned out I really knew very little about this thing people were suddenly calling ‘WFH’. I knew way more about ‘WFS’ (Working from Starbucks). And this was very much not Working From Home On My Terms. It was Working From a Cramped House Containing My Entire Bloody Family Who Never Go Anywhere.
I have three children aged 10 to 17, a husband who thrives in an office and a very aggressive cat called Julian. That’s five humans (including one vegan with an insatiable appetite) and a feral rescue animal in a four-bed Victorian semi with no designated office space. And Starbucks was only open for take-out.
For the six months when schools were closed in the UK and, later, since they reopened, from 3.30pm onwards on weekdays, my office ‘bed’ morphed from an occasional place of refuge to the place where I do everything.
When lockdown is upon us, I don’t go anywhere else apart from my bed or a desk next to my bed for days on end. Overnight, I have become like the grandparents in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Just bring me my cabbage soup and I’ll be fine.
The doorbell often pushes me over the edge. One afternoon I interrupted an important call three times over the course of half an hour to collect Amazon packages when there were four other people in the house who could just as well have answered the door but were all busy doing their ‘important work’ and ‘home schooling’.
As I trudged up the stairs to resume my bedridden non-existence, the phone in my pocket buzzed simultaneously with seven text messages: “R U FREE 4 ROBLOX?” My ten-year-old son, banned from owning his own phone, had co-opted my number in order to run his lockdown social life.
Too close for comfort
The lowest point was the moment my husband’s gigantic, space station-sized desktop computer and editing suite arrived courtesy of his employers (he’s a radio producer). It was a set-up superior to anything I had ever devised for myself in 20 years of working from home. And it took over the entire sitting room. Another room lost.
When will it end? When will I get my workplace back? Is it possible for domestic broadband to handle the simultaneous use of Fortnite, Minecraft, Among Us, four Netflix accounts and multiple international video-conferencing calls? Answer: No (as I watch myself freeze on screen yet again and pick up my phone to text: “I’m logging out and coming back in again. Sorry”).
There have been too many Last Straws to count. But maybe my favourite (i.e. my least favourite) was the time when I was presenting a one-hour ‘show’ at an online launch event for hundreds of people to celebrate the publication of a book I had spent three years writing that had just come out but was not available to buy in book shops as (d’oh!) all book shops were closed.
It was a high-stakes moment for the part of the bedroom near the corner cupboard that I call my ‘live studio’. As I reached the heartfelt and moving climax of my talk, designed to motivate every viewer watching to click eagerly through to the ‘Buy Viv’s Book Now!’ button, the hand of my 14-year-old daughter reached round the side of my laptop.
Fearing a pressing domestic emergency (had Julian gone on the attack again?) and trying not to lose concentration, I glanced down at a note which read: ‘STOP SHOUTING. SOME OF US ARE TRYING TO SLEEP’. To which I can only say: stop being at home. Some of us got here before you.
Viv Groskop is a British writer, comedian, TV and radio presenter and the host of the podcasts How to Own the Room on women, power and performance on women, and We Can Rebuild Her, a series of interviews on reinvention, change and resilience, designed for the post-pandemic era.