Monday, April 29, 2013

Home. Work. Homework. Work@Home.

I’ve been working from home for a long time now; twenty years or more. When I held a staff position, I often worked from home when deadlines and the general craziness of a large organization intruded into my worktime. It took a bit of discipline at first, setting goals and reaching them, rewarding myself with a cup of coffee or even lunch or dinner (I’m not a “snacker”). I valued those times when I could justify leaving my office, letting the rest of the staff do what they had to do, and focus completely on one project. Of course there would be interruptions: questions from my staff, calls from the person I worked for, anything that had to be dealt with “now.” But for the most part my office left me alone.

Like most people who work at home (part-time or full-time), I accomplished more, but I also worked longer hours. That seems to be the case with most people today who telecommute, and while most of us who do that sort of thing won’t admit it, there is a part of the workday we miss. You can e-mail your colleagues, or even pick up the phone, but if you are like me, when I get on the phone my first thought is to get off as quickly as I can. There is something about talking to a piece of plastic that doesn’t encourage real dialogue. I want to see you, but I also want to experience subconsciously, your breathing, your warmth, whatever scent you may exude. I want to know, when you get right down to it, that you are alive, living, breathing, and that I am alive as well. It’s no small thing, is it, to know you are in the presence of another human being?

Since I have come to live in a remote and underpopulated part of the world, except for an occasional face-to-face meeting with a client, or my more regular meetings with a group of other writers, I work alone, for myself, in a small office in the house. I still begin my day early, get out with my dog, then eat breakfast and “go to the office.” As quickly as I can, I dispose of incoming mail, check the headlines (I get a lot of ideas from them), and then begin work on whatever I left unfinished the day before. Today I’m focused on this essay, but when it is ready to go, I’ll turn to stories or other projects that I have committed to (to myself, if not to a client).

A writer never really stops writing or working on stories or ideas, but I don’t work full-time any more. Mornings are for things I do in my head. Afternoons are for physical things: maintenance of equipment, wood cutting for the furnace, necessary trips to town, jobs that occupy my hands more than my head. Reading time begins usually around nine or ten. My days are full every day, seven days a week. Yet there is something missing.

I call it “water-cooler time,” but you know what I mean: in college it was called a bull session, but it’s the same thing, no matter where you are: conversation that, although it may seem to be meaningless or just “bull,” is really a way to sort out your ideas, get responses to things you are thinking about, and even hear something that starts a new line of thinking in your own mind. Ideas come from that sort of thing, which is why some companies are now taking a second look at telecommuting. To remain competitive today takes more than people typing away in a cubicle. It is that interaction of ideas, coming at times from unlikely sources, a kind of conflict creativity perhaps, that leads to everything from identification of problems to original and successful solutions.

A water-cooler for one just doesn’t do it.

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