To the tens of thousands of newbies who joined the WFH ranks this past week: welcome to the world of working from home!

In addition to the torrent of news about all things related to the dreaded C-word, the internet has been bulging these past days with advice on how to successfully tackle the seemingly onerous challenge of staying productive in a workspace that isn’t an office. Set boundaries, manage distractions, stay in touch, take breaks, remember to eat – the tips on how to work well from home go on and on.

This burst of guidance and information creates the illusion that remote working has sprung up out of nowhere, like some unanticipated companion of Covid-19. But as more than one million UK home workers already know, that is certainly not the case.

Whether a member of staff or self-employed, the number of people working regularly from home has been growing steadily for more than a decade.

This has been driven by a combination of factors, the primary one being the rise of the gig economy, with increasing numbers of people working as self-employed contractors. That trend has been supported by businesses that are increasingly adopting remote working, either to cut down on their costs or to promote staff satisfaction and retention levels.

Labour Force Survey figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that more than 1.54 million Brits worked from home for their main job in 2018, a 74% increase from 2008. Add in those who regularly telecommute at least one day per week, and the WFH tally surges to more than four million people.

Because the WFH community is significant and growing, it’s easy for members of the tribe to forget that most people have still never worked in this way – at least, not until now.

But a quick glance at pretty much any social media channel is all it takes to confirm just how unfamiliar this territory is for much of the UK’s newest cohort of home workers. The volume of tweets, posts and pictures from the office diaspora has been quite remarkable.

Pets perched alongside laptops has been a popular theme, along with “new co-workers” comprised of children’s action figures ranging from Deadpool and Darth Vader to Captain America.

Another interesting theme has been the hastily-arranged home office set-ups that people have been forced to throw together at short notice.

Efforts to create standing desks have resulted in laptops balanced on piles of books, atop ironing boards or even supported by multiple packs of hoarded toilet roll.

With so much social media frippery flying about, it’s fair to say that this enforced surge in home working is proving a distraction for many. However, it’s also a safe bet that the novelty factor will wear off as the weeks progress.

There’s been a good deal of debate in recent years about the merits and drawbacks of working from home, with experts unable to agree whether working from home is the best development since the internet, or the worst thing that’s ever happened to productivity. Add to this the reams of conflicting research to support either side.

From the viewpoint of one who has spent significant and sustained periods working both remotely and based in an office, the reality is that each has its pros and cons.

There are certainly fewer interruptions when you’re working on your own – pets and children notwithstanding. With little banter, queries, meetings or idle gossip to contend with, it’s generally much easier to focus on the primary tasks at hand.

But that chit-chat also serves some important functions. If you encounter a problem with your computer, for example, a nearby colleague often knows a quick fix. Similarly, if a critical bit of information temporarily slips your mind, it’s much faster to ask and co-worker than to go Googling for the answer.

Collaboration is also vital for sparking new ideas, which is why the chief executive of Yahoo famously banned working from home in 2013.

What much of the newly-inducted home workforce will struggle with most is the sense of isolation that working from home veterans have been aware of for years. It affects some people more than others – with extroverts particularly susceptible to the lack of stimulation provided by the office environment – but everyone ultimately gets at least a touch of cabin fever from time to time.

Limited face-to-face communication goes against the grain of being human. We have evolved to be social creatures and generally crave interaction with other people, which is why some experts are already warning of what has been described as a “social recession” as measures to control the current pandemic leave people feeling increasingly cut off.

Some who are new to WFH may not even be aware of this potential trap, and won’t realise why they’re feeling disjointed or lack their usual focus. The most important thing is to identify this pitfall and do what you can to avoid it. If you are a bit out of sorts, remember to cut yourself some slack – these feelings are a normal reaction to an extraordinary situation.

That said, there are the benefits of working from home that many more people are now beginning to enjoy: wear what you want, no hassle with commuting and less money spent on lunches. Those who successfully negotiate the downsides of working from home may well decide that these are perks they would like to hold on to beyond the current crisis.

Lord Simon Wolfson, the chief executive of retail giant Next, suggested this past week that the pandemic may well accelerate the underlying structural shifts that are driving consumers towards online shopping. It’s reasonable to assume the same could be true for widening the adoption of working from home.

For most people, a hybrid model that combines the office with remote working will be the optimal formula to maintain the social interactions we crave alongside improved flexibility. Working from home doesn’t suit everyone, but once the dust settles on Covid-19, be prepared for a new wave of employees looking to incorporate these “temporary measures” into their permanent working pattern.