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Ditch the fan: how to stay cool when home-working in a heatwave

This is set to be the hottest week of the year so far. Usually that doesn’t matter, because usually your workplace is comfortably air-conditioned. But now you are working from home, in a residence that has been specifically insulated to remain warm in winter. In short, things are about to get uncomfortable.

This is where I step in. For the past three years, I have worked from a garden office that effectively acts as a giant greenhouse and, in the summer months, runs between five and 10 degrees warmer than the air outside. It is hellish, but on the plus side I have developed some coping strategies. Follow my lead and you, too, can minimise the discomfort.

1. Undress

You are working from home. HR cannot be offended if you don’t get properly dressed. At the very least, remove your socks. As things become more and more unbearable, there is no shame in stripping off – but be sure to leave some clothes nearby if you do. That way, you will panic less whenever a delivery driver knocks. This is hard-fought personal experience talking.

2. Ventilate

The trick here is to open your windows but close your curtains. You want a breeze, because there is nothing worse than sitting in an airless room for an extended period during a heatwave, but you also want to keep the sun out.

3. Hydrate

Drink water and avoid caffeinated drinks. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

Even sitting still in a heatwave is a recipe for sweat, so be sure to keep your fluid levels up throughout the day. Get a water bottle and take regular sips. Avoid tea or coffee, because caffeine will dehydrate you. Your reward for drinking more water will be getting to spend more time sitting against the cold porcelain of your toilet. Don’t tell me that doesn’t sound like heaven right now.

4. Change how you eat

There is a reason why we eat salads in the summer – components such as lettuce, celery and cucumber have a high water content to keep you better hydrated – so these should form your new lunches. Meanwhile, try to cut meat from your diet. When your body breaks down meat, it expends extra energy, which causes heat. This is a process called thermogenesis, but you might know it better as meat sweats.

5. Don’t buy a fan

I bought a fan for my office during the last heatwave, and it’s rubbish. All it does is push hot air around, which helps nobody. If you do buy a fan, freeze a two-litre bottle of water and place it between the fan and you, which should help to cool the air.

6. Go outside …

If outside is cooler than inside, it makes sense to go outside regularly. Walk around your garden. Sit in a park. And leave your phone at home, because the last thing you need is a roasting-hot electronic device nestled next to your thigh.

7. But do not work outside

If you see someone sitting with a laptop in the park, know that they are an absolute WFH novice whose behaviour should never be emulated. Working outside is something everyone tries once and then quickly abandons. The glare from the sun stops you from seeing your screen. Your posture will be awful, and you will start to ache. If you are not careful, you’ll burn. There are too many distractions. And wasps. Working outdoors is a mug’s game.

8. Go for a drive

This is not ecologically sound in any way at all, but needs must. Your house does not have air-conditioning, but your car does. If you get a break during the day, drive around for 10 minutes to cool down.

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9. Cool your pulse points

The fastest way to cool down when things get too awful is to apply something cold to your pulse points. A cold wet towel on the back of your neck will cool your brainstem, which regulates temperature. A bag of frozen peas on your wrists or behind your knees will also work wonders.

10. Change your working hours

This, though, is the top tip. If you are working from home and your boss isn’t a complete monster, try not to do any work when the temperature is at its most brutal. I start working at 6am, for instance, because that maximises the amount of work I can get done before the heat becomes intolerable. I also know tenured home-workers who switch to night work during the hotter months. The main thing is that you leave the hottest part of the day free to relax. And this is why, the second I finish writing this, I am going to switch off my computer and sit in the park with my children. Once I’ve put some trousers on first, obviously.

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