Remotely challenged: 10 tips on working from home


Today was one of those days. It was pouring with rain. It was cold. There was no internet. Not an uncommon occurrence in our neck of the woods. If it’s not the weather it is baboons wreaking havoc with our wireless mast up on the mountain or thieves stealing the battery and solar panels that power the mast.

It can be challenging working from home under the best of circumstances, never mind the disruptions to wireless, sporadic cell phone reception and the Telkom line does not cope very well when it rains or is windy. Not to mention the frequent power outages that can last a whole day.

Here are the 10 things I’ve learned to help me cope and remain reasonably productive working from home.

  1. Make sure you have a good view from the window. It’s soothing rather than distracting, but some days the view is better than others.

    The view from my desk in late Autumn. A white bellied sunbird feasting on resplendent red hot pokers.

  2. Activate your internal firewall against Facebook and blogging during the day (please share any ideas on how this can actually be done… I’m not winning. The only thing that seems to help is if the internet is out!)
  3. Make sure the animals are happy. Unhappy pets can be a distraction, especially if the only spot the cat can get warm is on top of your laptop… if it’s cold give her a nice warm spot to sit in front of the fire. Let the dogs in if they are going crazy about the lightening outside… but in this case you are probably not working anyway as there’s unlikely to be electricity or wireless.

    Happy warm pets mind their own business.

  4. Keep earplugs handy for when calves are being weaned. They cry incessantly and loudly for their mothers for 48 hours which can deprive you of sleep and be a distraction.
  5. Don’t live and work at home for 8 months on a building site… it takes years off your life and is extremely unproductive for anything other than building. Trust me on this one.
  6. Keep a 3G card handy. If the wireless stops working don’t panic. Get in the car with laptop and drive 3 kilometers to the nearest GPRS or 3G signal and download and send urgent emails. If necessary sit in the car and work until it’s done. Ignore people that drive past and stop to enquire if something is wrong. If there’s a lot to do, drive 17 kilometers to Living Life Station Café and set up shop there for the day. The coffee is great and David will welcome you with open arms, a big smile and an extension cord to get you set up.
  7. Always keep your laptop fully charged and plugged in to deal with unexpected power outages. That way you can at least carry on working for another two hours or so until the battery dies. If that’s not enough drive to Living Life and carry on working for the day, but first find out if they have power.
  8. Buy a gas stove so that you can at least have a cup of tea during the day if the electricity goes out. Whatever you do don’t try to power the coffee machine with an old farm generator… you don’t want to know.
  9. Keep warm. When I read back on my Facebook posts from last year I feel so sorry for me… I was constantly freezing! I remember a particularly bad day last autumn when the electricity went out for the whole day. We had no fireplace, no lights, no gas plate and no insulation in the house. It was truly miserable. Even Quentin felt sorry for me. Believe me when I say that working in an Eskimo suit is not comfortable and you cannot type with gloves on. Things seem to be going much better this year since we installed a fireplace, an AGA, under-floor heating, a gas stove, double glazing and ceiling insulation. I am warm and happy and Poepsie cat is no longer sleeping on my laptop.
  10. Get an I-phone and switch to the strongest network provider for your area. Since we converted in April we can now receive sms’s in our office and occasionally listen to voice messages. Best of all I can sit at my desk and do internet banking instead of driving out to the nearest reception to receive my one-time password. It’s a revelation! On wireless it’s also great to be able to FaceTime and Skype from our phones.

With these handy tips you should do just fine if you ever need to try it.

Welcome to my world!


Hi everyone,

The past 18 months has been a period of immense change and adjustment for me. I have moved from my comfort zone in the city to an entirely new life living on a farm with my amazing husband Quentin. I can happily say that I’ve enjoyed every minute so far and look forward to growing into and becoming more accomplished in my new role as farm wife.

Of course, I’m not a typical farm wife… I don’t get anywhere near cow dung (except if it is dry and being added to my garden)… I’m hopeless at opening farm gates… I don’t dig or hoe or fix machines… I can’t speak the local vernacular SeSotho and I don’t have a brood of children of my own yet. Mostly I just observe and learn and busy myself with the job of making a home for us. And when I’ve had enough of the quiet I simply get in my car and drive to the city where I still have a job as an economist and enjoy all the lovely luxuries that cities have to offer.

But what is luxury? Living on a farm has allowed me to appreciate very simple things in life. Time. Home made rusks. Making jam. Fresh flowers from the garden. Walking with the dogs. Sundowners in the veld with my husband. The quiet before sunset. Changing seasons.  Weekend visits with family and friends. The community of a small town. Every time I go away I appreciate coming home more. And I very much do see Vastrap as my home now.

Over the past year I have shared some of my experiences on the farm with friends on Facebook. Many people have followed my progress with interest and I am constantly amazed at the positive responses I receive. This is one of the great things of our age. The fact that you can be far away from anywhere but still feel connected, and loved and included. So I have been encouraged to start this blog as a more official record of my progress.

I have been following two other farm blogs over the past year. The most well-known is Pioneer Woman with Ree Drummond and the other is a more low-key blog of a farm wife in Western Australia called My Life in the Country. I haven’t seen anything like this for South Africa so hopefully I will have something to add even though I’m not an expert at much! It is surprising and comforting how similar our experiences across three continents have been and I can’t explain why I read these updates from complete strangers, but I do and I enjoy it.

So, welcome to my world and I hope you enjoy the journey with me!

M xx