Home Work Vs. Office Work
Working at home is all the rage. There are even magazines devoted to people who bring home the bacon without leaving the house. I am one of millions of Americans whose daily commute is measured in feet: from the bedroom to the "home office" in the basement or, in my case, the guest room.
After more than a decade of penning freelance articles from my humble abode, I was recently asked to fill in for two months as an editorial writer for a large metropolitan newspaper. My stint is over, and I am now home alone again — with a vivid perspective on working in these two vastly different environments.
Culture shock does not do my first day at the office justice. I was astounded at the amount of resources, both natural and unnatural, a working person consumes even before he or she starts spewing hydrocarbons all over the interstate: water, soap, linens, shampoo, conditioner, disposable razors, shaving cream, Visine, deodorant, hair spray, skin cream, mouthwash, baby powder, Rolaids, etc. Now that we're dismantling our nuclear arsenals, perhaps it's time to consider a treaty limiting personal hygiene products.
And clothes. Having signed up on short notice, there was no time to shop even if I had been so inclined, which I wasn't. But I realized on Day One that it was going to be tough convincing my colleagues that two pairs of shiny slacks, one jacket and several politically relevant neckties from the 1960s represented a professional wardrobe. These regalia were fine for sporadic sorties into civilization, but day-in and day-out they would wear mighty thin — perhaps literally as well as sartorially.
Thank goodness my brother is a banker and lives nearby. Besides suits galore, he also has built up a strategic reserve of clean dress shirts. I have a half-day's supply. Despite the monograms , I borrowed several dozen. Like the proverbial teapot, I am a tad shorter and stouter than he, but this was an emergency.
Almost everything seems to be an emergency when you work eight or nine hours straight every weekday and commute almost an hour each way. Take dinner, for example. My wife, who also works, my son and I ate pizza or Chinese take-out for two solid months solid.
I don't want to be too hard on office work. It's not wrong, it's just different. Take vending machines. We don't have any in our house, but they're all over the newspaper office. They are quite popular except for the ice cream sandwich and industrial-strength coffee machines. My favorites were soda and candy — quick pick-me-ups for those afternoon doldrums when any respectable freelance writer would normally be napping.
There is a routine about office work that can only be described as "work, work, work." There is a boss and a slew of other people nearby who are working, exerting peer pressure to beat the band. Not so back home, where there are any number of near-work experiences to choose from, like doing the laundry or chasing squirrels away from the bird feeder.
In the winter, when the ponds are frozen, you can go skating. For me, this is one of the primary fringe benefits of the home office. I call some semi-employed friends and we make an afternoon of pick-up pond hockey. It was my distinct impression that if I tried this while working for the major metropolitan newspaper it might show up on my year-end job performance evaluation: "Disappears for hours at a time in cold weather and returns with apple-red cheeks and facial abrasions."
At home, personal calls are unlimited, although you do have to pay for them. Now, before you get the wrong impression, we home aloners have time for such frivolous activities because, as mentioned earlier, because we don't spend an hour each morning preening and another couple of hours contributing to global warming. We are ecologically responsible and efficient. By week's end we tend to resemble Grizzly Adams.
Obviously, there is a case to be made for the corporate office regime. There are people there. And where there are people, gossip flourishes. At first I didn't realize what my co-workers were up to, huddling together and whispering in ill-lit corners. Soon, however, I was blathering away about one and all like an old pro.
Then, of course, there is that weekly paycheck. Very convenient, regular and civilized. By comparison, freelancing from home is like hunting and gathering for a living. An automated teller machine and cafeteria right in the newspaper building are nice, too. Now if the publisher would only add a dry cleaners, supermarket, video mart and hardware store, workers wouldn't have to spend half of their weekends running errands.
Choosing between toiling at home and in an office would be tough (since no one has tried to hire this 43-year-old permanently so far, I am writing hypothetically here). There is something to be said for the structure of a regular work environment, not to mention a pension, health insurance, paid vacation, sick days, personal days, impersonal days, etc.
Of course, the flexibility of being a one-person operation has its benefits, too. For example, if you want to inhale a jumbo bag of corn bugles at your desk, there are no societal restraints. Heck, wash 'em down with a quart bottle of RC Cola if you want. Napkin optional. Indeed, in the heat of the summer clothes are not de rigueur. I have done some of my best writing . . . well, never mind.