The Ups and Downs of Working At Home

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Curtesy of Jean Pedigo http://www.jpedigophotography.com/

Guest Writer:Delia Lloyd

I had coffee with a friend the other day at a swank café by St. James Park in London. I’d known her back in Chicago where we’d both worked as journalists. She arrived a bit late, Blackberry in hand, dressed in a smart, tailored suit.

“Sorry,” she apologized breathlessly, glancing at her cell phone as she took her seat. “Meeting ran late.”

As I listened to her describe her job, I felt more than one pang of nostalgia. I think it was her reference to people “scurrying back to their offices” that really got me. Until recently, I, too, worked in an office. Now I work from home as a freelance writer, where I can at best manage a saunter from the bathroom to my desk.

She also mentioned her office’s Wednesday lunches and how they made her feel part of a team. In my current set up, I’m lucky if I can catch the mailman’s eye and bond with him over my utility bill.

It’s only natural that working at home induces a certain discomfort. After all, when you say, “I work,” the logical follow-up is “Where?” And when the answer is “home,” it does sound less legitimate.

For me, the situation is particularly fraught because I’m self-employed. So when I’m feeling inadequate, I can’t console myself with a regular paycheck or a company logo. I always suspect that people think that I’m really home doing laundry and reading past issues of Vanity Fair while giving myself a manicure and Googling my next vacation site.

And there’s something to this. On a slow writing day, it can be tempting to investigate the origin of the random ankle sock inexplicably sitting on top of my jewellry box…just what is that doing up there?

Others bemoan the close proximity of squabbling children and the general inability to ever really “close the door.”

But perhaps the most difficult part about not having an office – for me, anyway, is the lack of social interaction. I love the vitality of office life: the gossip…the politics…the parties. I even love the cheesy management consultants force you to play elaborate trust games to facilitate group solidarity. I’m still not sure how I’ll cope this year without a Secret Santa.

Working from home can also keep you from climbing the corporate ladder. A patent lawyer I know who works at home as in-house counsel for a large company in Illinois told me that his job consists mainly of analyzing documents, rather than face-to-face interactions with clients. Nor is he required to spend time training younger associates and/or proving himself through billable hours, as he would in a law firm. Under different circumstances, however, working from home might have forced him to put his legal career on hold.

All of this must make working at home sound like one giant negative. It’s not. When I worked in an office, I always felt like I was stealing time from the company just to accomplish the most basic errands: picking up dry cleaning…grabbing some milk…mailing a letter. Now, I easily work those things into my daily routine – I even look forward to them as a break.

You also save money on the overhead costs of maintaining a separate office and save time by not commuting. It’s also very Green. Indeed, recent research suggests that  working remotely generally translates into  happier workers and greater productivity.

Finally, captivity has its advantages. You never have to chase down FedEx deliveries, your favorite cookies are right downstairs when you need them, and if you decide that you absolutely must try the new aerobics-on-trampolines class they’re offering at 10:45, you’re very understanding of the demands on your time.

An investor friend of mine who worked at home for one year while his wife was stationed in London confessed that, for him, the key benefit of working at home was sex during the day with his wife: “The kids were at school, so we had the house to ourselves, and it wasn’t at the end of the day when we were tired. I can’t think of a better way to procrastinate!” (Upon hearing this, my husband instantly penciled in an at-home day next week….)

In my own case, it’s entirely possible that after a year of this at-home thing, I’ll go totally insane. By then, I may be ready to shed my current uniform of yoga pants and flee to a real job. And, of course, the prospect of joining another office softball team does have an eternal appeal.

But for the moment, I think I’ll stay put. If nothing else, I’ve still got tons of Vanity Fairs to make my way through.

*Delia Lloyd is an American writer based in London. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times and on the BBC World Service. She blogs about adulthood at www.realdelia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @realdelia.

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