The last time I had a permanent job in an office outside of my home was in 1996. In those days, big shoulder pads, tartan jackets, above-the-knee tight skirts and black lycra were all the rage for office workwear.
In those days, telecommuting was virtually unthinkable. Email had been invented, but at my workplace, several editors shared a computer and an email address. The internet was made up of about 20 websites that took ages to open. Laptop computers were large, heavy and extremely expensive. As for ‘mobile’ phones, you practically needed a wheelbarrow to cart one about.
These days, of course, working from home is the new black lycra. I’ve been a remote worker, stationed in my home office full-time, for Thomson Reuters since 2001 – in fact I believe I was one of the first in New Zealand.
There are a few of us scattered around the country now – perhaps to the envy of some of our colleagues in Wellington and Auckland who share their glass-and-chrome enclosed work space with workmates. But is working from home all it’s cracked up to be? Or is it even better?
For starters, you can wear what you want in your home office and nobody cares (unless you’re visiting authors or customers!). Every day can be casual Friday if you want, and no-one will ever know if you turn up to work in your dressing gown, spiderman costume, or birthday suit.
A disadvantage of the home office is that people rarely respect it as your workplace. Interruptions can come from all sorts who would normally leave you alone if you worked in an ‘official’ office – door knockers include neighbours, religious organisations, vacuum sales, and people offering to trim trees. And on the phone are fundraisers, heat pump cleaning services, family from across the world, and Friends with Issues.
Back to the pluses, interruptions from workmates are few and far between. There’s no-one to corner you at the watercooler, no annoying cellphone tones, nobody chattering non-stop at the next desk, and no need to tell anyone about your weekend or your holiday. Even better, your cellphone tone can be as annoying as you like – fog horn, Megadeth, or a looped sound byte of your ‘cute’ two-year-old shouting “MUUUM YOUR PHONE’S RINGING”.
And it’s not just your cellphone that can be annoying without upsetting colleagues. You can tap your fingers, click your tongue, pass wind, or sniff repetitively to your heart’s content. Except in phone meetings, in which case noises beyond your control can be distracting – children shouting, home phone ringing, cats meowing, dogs barking, and once, in my experience, a sick lamb bleating.
Sometimes you feel alone, very alone, especially when technology doesn’t do what it should, or a task is particularly challenging, or your colleagues at head office are having a celebratory get together. There are no shared morning teas, or venting about office politics, or Friday night drinks (unless you buy and pour your own). You might feel invisible – which you are of course, unless your colleagues have stuck a cardboard cut out of you on the wall.
You miss out on the mutterings – you don’t hear about redundancies, resignations, relocations, new colleagues and office dramas until they are old news.
It takes a certain type of person to be able to work from home – self-sufficient, self-motivated, focussed, part-hermit. And the ability to hide your spiderman outfit when the neighbour drops by.