It’s the dream, right? Short commute, no need to do your hair (although, with a buzz cut, that was never really an issue), and the ability to leave the office and spend time with your family at any moment. And, there were some really good parts about it. I was able to walk to my kids’ elementary school and have lunch with them (and ponder the suicide rate of elementary school lunch aides—God bless you all for giving me some idea of what the jungles of Vietnam may have been like). I spent almost nothing in gas money during the time that I commuted to the basement.
And, it was a nightmare.
Working at home may be a wonderful experience for some, but for me it wasn’t. Here’s why:
1. I struggled to maintain a healthy line between work and home.
I never had a problem with my home life creeping into my work life. I’m pretty self-directed, ambitious to a fault, and wake up every day in a mild panic that if I don’t work as hard as I can that day, I will end up without a job and experience the long slide into misery and unemployment that I saw my parents go through (it’s not always a fun place inside of my head).
When you take someone like that, and make their office a few feet away, it can go south in a hurry. I started to live my life in 10-20 minute moments away from my computer. I couldn’t seem to do anything without checking my email first. My family understands that my career pays the bills, but life needs to be experienced more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time.
2. I turned my wife into my sounding board. For everything.
I’m happy with what I do, but some days suck. Some people suck. Some people that don’t suck end up sucking at times, and at times I know I suck too. All of that suck, and all of the normal tension that comes with any career, was all getting funneled toward my wife. She heard about it all. I didn’t take it out on her, but she heard about all of the tension and stress I face, because working at home limits your ability to share that with others. And by share, I don’t mean that you share every little challenge or frustration with your coworkers.
But when you work in an office, there are people there to share that burden with that do not share a mortgage with you.
3. I just missed people.
When I’m not traveling, I really could go the Howard Hughes route and stop clipping my toenails, and/or grow a beard that I could store things in. I didn’t, but I could. Because there were stretches where I didn’t really leave the house for a few days at a time. That wasn’t the plan, it just happened that way. I would get busy and work all day, my kids would get home from school, chores and homework would start, dinner would get cooked, and by the time I realized I was talking to my stapler like he was Wilson in Castaway, and needed to go out, it was too late.
I realized I need to see people.
Lots of people work from home, and make it work. I’m a strong supporter of it, and believe it can be mutually beneficial for the employee and the company. In our economy, more and more jobs do not require you to be physically present at an office. Telework is also a powerful recruiting and retention tool, and gives working parents a chance to be present for some of the things that parents in previous generations just couldn’t be there for.
But for some people, like me, it just doesn’t work. I was lucky to find an organization in my hometown, and am now working in shared space with a lot of innovative and exciting companies.
I see people. I have interaction, insignificant interaction, but interaction that allows me to diffuse challenges that I face without bringing them all home.
And those people aren’t even weirded out by the whole stapler conversation habit I’ve held on to.
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