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Where I WFH: Tom Cheesewright, applied futurist


In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, we’ve given a spin on our Where We Work feature.

With so many forced to work from home and the likelihood that our reliance on the office is likely to change post-pandemic, we will be catching up with a different industry figure each week to talk through their own out-of-office arrangements.

First up is applied futurist, Tom Cheesewright.

1. Where in the house do you work?

My workshop/lab – the front third of the cellars under our house that the previous owner had conveniently boarded out. It was a sort of wine cellar back then but I’ve painted the walls and ceilings white and added lots of lights to brighten it up.

2. Paint a picture for us of the view from your window

I’m halfway underground so I can’t see a lot! The front of my old Alfa, neighbourhood cats peering in, the occasional frog, and the legs of the postie as he comes to drop off parcels. That will usually see me bounding up the stairs to collect it, in case it’s anything exciting for me. 

You can see the tops of some trees and a sliver of sky, but if I need greenery I’m better off turning round to look at the little hydroponics setup where I grow salad leaves.

Tom’s hydroponics setup in his home workshop, where he grows salad leaves

3. If you have one, can you talk us through your home-working daily routine?

I get down to the workshop between 6:30 and 7 after a shower and some breakfast. I’m at my best in the morning so the first couple of hours are devoted to anything creative, whether that’s writing an article, a report, or for my next book, or preparing a presentation. There will be some interruptions from about 8 as the kids start to emerge. Normally they’d be getting ready for school but these days it’s for Joe Wicks. I’ll join them for that at 9 before diving back into work. I’ll push on through until about 11:30/12:00, usually getting stuck into emails and admin as the morning goes on. Then it’s lunchtime.

I love cooking so lunch is frequently an elaborate affair. My wife works from home too so I’ll make us both something. If there are leftovers in the fridge I’ll start with those, but I’ll just as often start from scratch.

In the afternoons, well, I’m not much good to be honest. Maybe it’s because of the lunch! I find my attention wavers and I’m not that productive. So unless I’m on a hard deadline, I’ll generally devote the afternoons to meetings, reading, or sometimes, a nap. Most often, you’ll find me making stuff.

As you can see, my workshop is called that rather than a ‘home office’ for a reason: there’s a big screen for computer aided design, 3D printer and CNC router (for cutting stuff out), full electronics bench, and lots and lots of power tools. Right now I’m experimenting with building my own electric car, so one corner is devoted to the disassembled innards of a wrecked Toyota Prius and a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

About three or four times a week I’ll get a call from a radio producer, either for the BBC, TalkRadio, or sometimes LBC, asking me to do a short slot about something future-related, whether that’s what happens post-lockdown or something like the robots being used in Singapore to patrol parks. That’s usually a fun interruption to the afternoon routine.

4. Which tools and technology do you rely on when working from home?

Having a proper wide screen where you can have multiple tabs side by side has been an absolute revelation. It’s great for productivity, especially when you are trying to do research while writing. Or in the afternoons, copying other people’s code examples.

Normally, a lot of my work is public speaking so during lockdown I’m doing a lot of livestreams, especially around the launch of the new book. I invested in a good quality webcam, and ensured there is good lighting at my desk, which has made a massive difference. For the radio interviews and recording podcasts, I bought in a good quality microphone with a shock mount and pop shield.

5. What do you miss most about working from an office?

I haven’t worked in an office for four or five years now. In fact I’ve been working from home, on and off, for 15 years. So the office is a bit of a distant memory for me. What I do miss is performing. Getting on stage is a big part of my job and I really enjoy it: the adrenaline, the feedback, testing new ideas and hearing the questions they inspire. I’m looking forward to getting back to that.

Tom does three or four radio interviews a week from his workshop

6. What tips do you have for increasing productivity while working from home?

Ignore everyone who tells you to try to recreate the office environment at home. Offices aren’t generally productive places so why try to recreate them? For a start, they bind us to schedules that don’t work for our body clocks. If you naturally wake up at 9 and don’t really kick in until 10, then unless you have to because of kids, work to that routine! Don’t feel obliged to keep the old office hours. If you’re really productive at night then don’t beat yourself up about slobbing on the sofa with a boxset in the day time. As long as you are turning up for scheduled meetings and delivering on expectations then you really shouldn’t be bound to the factory-style strictures of our outmoded offices. 

It took me a decade of self-employment to forgive myself for not sitting at my desk for 10 hours a day, even if half of those hours were totally unproductive. Don’t be me!

7. Will you looking to work from home more in the future?

No! Normally I’m away for a few days every couple of weeks, giving talks around the UK, Europe, or in the US. I’m really looking forward to getting back to that.

8. How do you think the workplace will change in the future?

Not as much as we expect! All that the lockdown has done is accelerate some existing trends and show everyone that the technology works. It hasn’t changed the culture of most organisations. And so a lot of things are likely to snap back to normal when the lockdown ends. There will be some enforced changes, through legislation and good health and safety practices. But don’t expect the flexible work revolution that many people seem to be promising. Culture change is difficult and slow.

Tom’s latest book, Future-Proof your Business has just been published by Penguin

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