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The Involuntary Recluse
Working from Home
Corporations are doing everything on the cheap these days. I’ve been lucky enough (depending on my mood) to still have a job, and so far we still have health insurance and don’t have to buy our own pens and notepads. But while the residential real estate market may have taken a dump, commercial properties still go for a premium; those pressed wood cubicles and ergonomic chairs apparently don’t come cheap, and they’re sending a lot of us home. No pink slips involved yet – just our walking papers back to our own dining room tables, living room sofas, laundry rooms or, if we’re really lucky and have the space, our own home offices. In order to save on overhead costs, The Man is opting to have a lot of us desk jockeys work from home, and I was volunteered to be one of them. With today’s technology, I really don’t have to be in the office, skulking the hallways and making vague terrorist threats against my ailing software. As an editor, people send me electronic files of their chicken scratches and tell me to put it in English and make it look pretty. If I have enough coffee, I can do that anywhere.
So a couple of weeks ago I started working from home. It’s not a completely new thing by any stretch; given that it’s not unusual for me to get a last-minute assignment that requires me to literally work all night to make a deadline invented by someone clearly far removed from reality, sometimes working from home has been a necessity. And sometimes one has to work from one’s personal space to accommodate sick children, repairman visits, and inconveniently scheduled and temporarily disfiguring dentist appointments. But working from home once every couple of months is an entirely different ballgame than doing it full time. Sure, I still go in on occasion to make copies and attend the random meeting but, until I win the lottery, it looks like I’ll be rewriting operations manuals and drawing piping schematics while wearing my moose slippers instead of heels.
I know a lot of people would be dancing in their tattered bathrobes to be able to work from home fulltime. And it certainly ain’t all bad. No more ironing skirts and dress pants and starching button-down shirts. No more packing lunches and messing around with trying to find the correct hosiery and shoes and complementary jewelry and eye makeup. No more commuting in whiteout blizzards with pinheads too busy talking on their cell phones to pay attention to the 4-ton SUV they’re supposed to be commandeering. I literally roll out of bed, fire up the coffeemaker, feed the cats, and hit the computer in my pajamas and moose slippers with the reindeer bells. Sometimes I get started before 6 in the morning and have already accomplished half my day’s goals before anyone else is even out of bed. No one comes up behind me anymore wanting me to work on their much more important project instead of the task at hand or asking how to use the new printer. On the days when my kid is in preschool, I can crank the tunes or have court shows on in the background. I can throw in a load of laundry or take the hamburger out of the freezer while I’m waiting for a file to upload. Again – it ain’t all bad.
But it ain’t all good, either. Each day is virtually indistinguishable from the next. Since I live in a crackerbox with precious little space, I have to work from the living room or dining room. There is absolutely no separation between my personal space and my work life. When I’m working, the dirty dishes and cluttered floors are taunting me. When I’m vacuuming or trying to unwind by watching TV or crocheting, the computer and pile of papers are mocking me. There is no more coworker camaraderie or just having somewhere different to go. I hate the phone, and anyone who’s known me for 10 minutes knows I hate the phone, but since everyone knows I can type like a mutha, I communicate almost exclusively now through email and instant chat. It’s very isolating, and I can already feel what was left of my career identity slipping away.
And let’s talk about the domestic dynamic. My boyfriend usually doesn’t go to work until the afternoon, and he’s generally very good about leaving me alone and more importantly, keeping our daughter out of my hair while I’m working. But she only goes to preschool two days a week, as I don’t sweat diamonds and can’t afford the $1200 a month it would cost to send her to school fulltime. So I spend a lot of hours trying to tune out the pinging xylophone, clacking Hungry Hippos, and chittering Curious Freakin’ George and warbling mermaids in the background. And just when I’m trying to come up with a brilliant yet accessible paragraph on ultraviolet disinfection, she’ll decide she’s bored with Daddy and want Mommy to read Where the Wild Things Are. Again. After I make her a peanut butter sandwich and broccoli trees. One of my worst fears is that my kid is only going to remember me as the bedraggled lady grumbling at the computer and clanging around in the kitchen. When I put her to bed, she usually says, “I go to sleep. Mommy go work at the computer. Get some sleep, Mommy.” Something tells me a therapist is going to make a lot of money off my kid someday.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll actually slap on some mascara and wear a nice cardigan instead of jeans and a Vegas t-shirt before I slump into my chair in an effort to feel like more of a human being. Nah. I guess I’ll just keep hoping that they don’t get me a Skype.