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TIRED OF THE OFFICE? WORK AT HOME HAS QUIRKS, TOO

If you dream of quitting the rat race for a mountain in Sun Valley or a beach in Aruba and working from home, this column is for you.

Surveys show telecommuting raises productivity and morale, and cuts commuting time and office-related costs - assuming you can do your job from anywhere and you like working alone.After deciding four years ago to try for a better work-family balance by working from home, first as a free-lancer and then as an Oregon-based telecommuter for The Wall Street Journal, I find that the flexibility works like a tonic and eases my own juggling act. But I've discovered another truth about long-term, full-time remote telecommuting, one to which the surveys hold not a clue: I am getting weird.

As much as I like it, all this working alone at home by phone and computer is causing persistent changes in the way I relate to people and places around me. Though most of the changes probably arise from my own peculiarities (I have plenty), some may have meaning for others dreaming of an escape to the virtual workplace. With that in mind, I've been keeping a journal on the changes.

Feb. 8: I struggle to break out of a slump. Career anxiety hovers - an unfamiliar feeling to someone who has never worried much about climbing the corporate ladder. I know telecommuters live and die by the rule, "I produce, therefore I am." My morale plunges on the corollary: "I don't produce, therefore I am not."

I have to admit that face time - time spent being seen at one's desk, a pretense that I've made fun of in the past - works two ways. Managers too preoccupied with it can be unduly rigid, but it's nice to be credited with being on the job when crawling to your desk is all you can manage.

Today, my bosses can't see me laboring at my computer; for all they know, I'm out climbing Mount Hood. When I go to bed, I dream I have been reassigned to the Philadelphia bureau. My newspaper has no Philadelphia bureau.

April 19: I always enjoyed easy-going relations with my neighbors in the past, but now my role-juggling confuses some. After seeing me rushing from my car to my house and watching delivery people come and go, a neighbor confides that she long suspected I was an agoraphobic having an affair with the Federal Express man. Today, I scare two kids by answering the door in my telephone headset. Later, a friend knocks just as I am drawn into coverage of the tragic Oklahoma City bombing. "There are nine!" she announces happily.

"What do you mean?" I reply, rushed and distracted.

Her face falls. "Puppies. We have nine puppies," she says, backing away. Too late, I realize I have forgotten her joy over a pet's expected litter. Though I apologize, the moment is lost. Telecommuters' presence is supposed to be an asset in their communities, but today I am hardly "present"; I feel instead like a Type-A Typhoid Mary, spreading stress where it doesn't belong.

May 23: Today, both my computer keyboards jam. I race to my computer-services company, where my car breaks down in the parking lot. To the bewilderment of onlookers, I abandon the car (towing it can wait) but make sure I have a loan keyboard before I catch a cab home.

I am becoming fanatical about maintaining my home-office equipment, the sandbag dike between me and le deluge: isolation from my employer.

Aug. 9: Freed from such temporal boundaries as commuting or the need to wait until the people around you wake up, the home-based worker gains a great advantage: time-zone flexibility. From my West Coast home, I regularly work an East Coast day, starting early to improve my access to people there. This week, I forget to factor sleep into my schedule. After work Monday, I take a red-eye flight to New Jersey to make a speech, then fly back Tuesday night in time to make several calls to Europe before dawn today.

After three days of working in six time zones, I am wiped out. My friend the Federal Express man (we are just friends) laughs when he arrives with a 2 p.m. delivery to see me through my office window dozing at my desk. By evening, as I bathe my kids, five and seven years old, I learn they have made up a song, "Mean Old Mommy," which they sing to drown out the sound of my yelling.

Aug. 11: In the office, co-workers used to kid me into easing up, and commuting was a buffer too. But now, as I move seamlessly from home to work and back, I forget to turn off my rapid-fire, demanding work style. As I talk with my daughter after day camp, she grows reticent and protests, "Mom, you're asking me too many questions!"

Aug. 18: The bottom line, I think, is that a long-term remote worker must have a strong incentive to make the arrangement work. In my case, working at home eases my own particular work-family conflicts. I know others who like such work because they travel all the time anyway or are building a house on the San Juan Islands in their free time.

But as telecommuting grows, predicts Gil Gordon, a Monmouth Junction, N.J., management consultant, the vast majority of salaried homeworkers will strike a more fluid balance than mine, spending a day or two regularly in a central or satellite office and the rest of the time at home or in a mobile office.

I must stop now. I think I hear my boss on my voice mail; she seems to be saying something about Philadelphia.