More than 4 million people work from home in the UK. If you’re one of them, how do you stop your family heaping all the chores on you because you’re “in” anyway?
Don’t become the house elf. If chores have been shared equally until now, change this to suit you, while always appearing magnanimous. It makes sense for the person at home to start dinner but that should also mean they’re absolved from all clearing-up activities. Any extra chores you now do simply because you’re based at home should be balanced by other members of the family taking up other duties, so make this the new routine from the start.
Pick your chores for minimum effort, maximum impact. If it’s a good day it takes 10 minutes to put the washing on, another 10 to peg out and again to take in. Ironing and cleaning are never weather dependent, take far too much time and don’t get enough appreciation. Starting up the dishwasher is sensible but anyone can empty it.
Get dressed and into a routine It makes you look more efficient and less likely to be mistaken for the housekeeper. Expect everyone to clear up after themselves at breakfast and stack their dishes – it may take a few reminders but stay pleasant until it becomes a habit. Do some obvious chores at top speed but then sit down to work at the same sort of time every morning and try to make sure you do so before everyone leaves the house.
Have an untouchable work area. It doesn’t matter if you normally work on your laptop at the kitchen table; make sure you have a desk or filing cabinet that is for work alone and put everything back there at the end of the day. That way your work never merges into the general family mess and, more importantly, has some recognisable status.
Going away for two or three days has more impact, especially if you announce you’ve made dinner for the first evening
Go away. There will come a point where your being at home means everyone is taking you for granted. Don’t take this personally or start moaning about it, just make them aware how lucky they are to have you by disappearing for a bit. First thing in the morning or last thing in the afternoon is ideal timing for a meeting as it leaves everyone else facing the chores you normally do, especially if you pleasantly ask the night before what everyone can do to cover your absence. Going away for two or three days has even more of an impact, especially if you kindly announce you’ve organised dinner for the first evening but you’re sure they’ll manage the rest without you.
Be disappointed, not angry, if you come back to a pigsty. Do not tidy it up. Assume some dire emergency has struck leaving everyone unable to do it and also assume that they’re going to restore the place to its normal glory immediately. Your darlings would never take you for granted, would they?
Have a crisis at work. Ask everyone to pitch in as you have a vital project. Sit immersed in work till all hours while they do everything around you, finish with a flourish and say “What a team!” and make everyone a cup of tea. Possibly order a takeaway in celebration of how well you work together, but don’t say thank you as that implies they were doing the chores for you.
What was going through your mind when you … asked why the fridge was empty, complained that you couldn’t find some clean clothes, were angry that no one was in for a delivery? This is the killer question to ask when it becomes clear that despite all your efforts you are simply the person now expected to do everything, just because you work from home. There is no right answer to this so leave them floundering as you wait patiently for a response that doesn’t make them look selfish and uncaring.
Take to your bed. If all else fails, a strategic illness helps to put your contribution in perspective.
Remind them how lovely you are. In winter, the only thing better than coming home to a warm, bright welcoming house and cheerful person is cake. It takes half an hour and everyone loves you and wants to keep you happy.