The New Zealand Herald
From the lonely office outpost
Alan Perrott reveals why working from ‘home’ is more likely to be from the cafe
I’m a social creature and I miss having lots of people around.
The first thing to say about working from home is that it’s largely a lie. Take that first sentence. It popped into my head as I was striding through the West Lynn shops. And then there’s this one, which is being banged out at a cafe table as I await my coffee.
Oh, and the stats that will pop up a bit later? They were found courtesy of a supermarket’s free Wi-Fi.
Yes, I do work at home on a fairto-middling basis but my point is that what I do these days is less about working at home than it is about not working at my employer’s premises.
Which is something of a leap back in time, because — though I'm not going to hang my hat on this claim — I suspect most people didn’t start clocking in for a day of wage slavedom until the industrial era. And if you accept the old trope about the world’s oldest profession, then clearly the first workers were also working from home, so you might say we’re returning to our natural state.
Technology forced change upon us, along with economies of scale and the need to ensure everything was being done to a standard. So those early factories quickly filled with the increasing numbers needed to get stuff done.
That’s the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make as a home worker; I’m a social creature and I miss having lots of people around.
One of those people is the IT wallah, the person who may have prevented me from tossing my last laptop across the room.
Another is the payroll office. I hate, hate, quoting for work. Somehow charging your actual worth feels a little big-headed and it’s taken me some time to shake the idea that employers are doing me a favour.
Oh well, I have to say getting the kids to school then kicking back on the couch to think about writing is a pleasing way to start the day. Which is why I’m at the cafe. Newsrooms are — or were (judging my last visit) — noisy places. A suburban lounge on a weekday morning isn’t and I like some noise.
Lots of people seem to agree with me, considering the numbers here peering at their screens. But there are growing signs that this migration to what is essentially a bigger version of the office water cooler is having unwanted consequences.
In the United States, where in 2016 an estimated 43 per cent of employees were already doing some of their work remotely, some cafes no longer offer Wi-Fi because they fear becoming catered libraries. Where there was hubbub and banter, there are now furrowed brows as people crack into the day’s work. Where there was a constant flow of new customers, there are immoveable lumps who can make a coffee last as long as their device’s battery. It’s only a matter of time before this trend reaches the pubs — and we need WiFi there to settle important arguments over the origin of Fanta (the Nazis).
And that brings me to my next point. Working from home makes every day feel like the weekend. And what happens at the weekend? You have a couple of glasses of something nice followed by a few more, etc and so on — and I’m going to put my hand up and say it’s taken way too long to get my head around this fact. Again, this piece of personal redevelopment is a work in progress.
Where was I? Oh weaponised procrastination.
To illustrate this, I can tell you that the space between the last two sentences actually contains more than 10 minutes of Twitter, Facebook and sundry news sites. If I can’t have people around, I can at least have people’s pseudo-social interactions to make me feel like I'm still part of the wider world.
But if I’ve managed to keep cat photos at bay, I have developed an unhealthy obsession with American politics, to the point where I can tell you how old a photo of US congressman Trey Gowdy is based on his hairstyle (he’s had lots). Is that useful? Not at all. yeah,