Telecommuter? You Barely Know Her! Meet Our Home Office Columnist

telecommute

Marmite is a British institution, a mud-colored, yeast-based gloop that you either spread on your toast or use as a cooking ingredient. It's got a real love-it-or-loathe-it reputation—rather like working from home. My friends who work in offices are divided on the subject. "Poor you," some of them sigh when they discover that I spend the majority of my working day—that's 8:30 a.m. until around 6:00 p.m. or so—like Macaulay whatsisname, Home. A. Lone. "You jammy bugger," say the others, who see my status as a telecommuter through envious, green-tinted glasses, envisaging my days wafting round in a peignoir, eating violet creams and doing as little as possible. The truth is somewhere between the two—although, for the record, I would like to state categorically that I loathe and detest violet creams.

An estimated 40% of the working population in the U.S. spends at least some of their time telecommuting. (A nonsense word that, for some strange reason, makes me think of James T. Kirk but in reality is a complete non-phrase. The daily commute is what happens between kissing your other half goodbye at the front door and swiping your security pass at the office gate. For me, it's rubbing the sleep from my eyes, turfing the dog out of the back door for his morning ablutions, and switching on the kettle, before I settle down at my desk and go through my emails. And the FAIL blog.) While 50 million folks in this country have experience working from home, there are just 2.5 million of us who currently do it on a day-to-day basis—although a 2005 report on MediaBistro claimed that 9 million individuals have, at one time or other, stayed at home, on their own, doing their work. On their own.

Telecommuting is good for the bottom line of businesses. It saves money on staffing, not to mention office space—one firm that makes home office spaces suggests that housing just one employee in an office costs firms $13,000 per annum. And then there's the benefit to the environment. According to the American Electronics Association, if every U.S. worker who could telecommute did so for 1.6 days a week, then 1.35 billion gallons of gasoline would be saved, preventing the release of 26 billion pounds of CO2 into the air. And as for us home workers, well, I get tax back on anything I buy for my work—including one-third of all utility bills, office equipment and pajamas. Just kidding about the PJs. But you get the idea.

At times, working from home can be a lonely job. And yeah, sometimes it does feel like that. There are moments when I miss the camaraderie of colleagues, the water-cooler moments, the in-jokes, rolling their eyeballs at the office dunces (and hero-worshipping their more capable team members, lest you think my attitude is too negative) and that great, much-maligned feature of physical offices: the after-work piss-up. But, whether we like it or not, working from home is here to stay. Just ask Charles Handy, who reckons that three factors—globalization, demographics, and technology—are going to cause a revolution in working practices.

I'm lucky. I love the freedom that working from home affords me. I started freelancing after two-and-a-half years in offices and almost doubled my salary in the first year. Then I moved abroad and spent almost four years in a foreign bureau before returning to the U.K. and, bar the odd stint as a permanent freelancer on newspapers and magazines, have spent the past seven years in my own office (sometimes the sofa, sometimes my bed, but for the past year, at a desk in my front room. Here it is. Nice, isn't it?)

home office

I get to choose what I stick up on the wall (which is not painted a fetching shade of cubicle-jockey gray), what I listen to, when I take my lunch break—and, most important, when I work. Sometimes I get up very early, other days I wander downstairs and plug in when it suits me, although I know my rhythm well enough to realize that, after about 7pm, my brain ain't what it should be. If I can't get inspired, I break off for an hour and go for a run with the dog. Sometimes I gossip on the phone with my friends. I can get admin or chores done during office hours, go to the bank, break off for a slice of buttered toast and Marmite (yep, I'm in the Love It category) or just while away half an hour on YouTube.

Starting from today, I'm going to be writing a column for Fast Company about the highs and lows of working from home. It will touch on a whole heap of subjects, from the serious stuff like using the best software and systems to keep the admin side of your work from bogging you down, as well as sneaky little cheats to keep your I.T. costs down. And then there's the really serious stuff, such as:

  • What to wear when you're pounding the keyboard chez toi
  • I say power nap, you say siesta, he says skiving off
  • Using TV zapping to increase your concentration
  • The call of the refrigerator
  • Wrestling with the IKEA flat-pack printer trolley
  • The distraction of the firewall-free Internet
  • Kids say the funniest things (when you're on deadline)
  • Hello, is that me in I.T.?

Thanks to the glory of the comment system on the Internet, a columnist is only as good as her readers. What is sauce for me may not necessarily be sauce for any of you who have their own home offices. So, my fellow telecommuters, come to the party and tell us what you think of the work-from-home gig. It's just me for the moment, but anyone's welcome to pull up a La-Z boy and join in the fun—either via the comments, or on Twitter.

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19 Comments

  • Ann Hensen

    Hi,
    It's very enlightening to read your blog. I hope to find a similar type of job as a telecommuter. I am disabled and need to work at home. I don't qualify for Social Security disability payments and I'm 55.
    I live in San Diego, CA. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd be very grateful. Thanks!

    Ann Hensen

  • Sara Fell

    Hi Addy, so happy to see your telecommuter blog! Not only am I a fellow telecommuter, I also run a virtual company that employs telecommuters in every timezone (continental US, still working on Hawaii... maybe me someday??) AND helps other people find telecommuting jobs (www.flexjobs.com). To say I'm a true believer in telecommuting would be a very accurate statement. I could go on and on about the benefits, but no need to ramble when preaching to the choir. :-)

    Looking forward to reading your blog regularly! Many cheers,

    Sara Fell, CEO
    FlexJobs.com

  • Sara Fell

    Hi Addy, so happy to see your telecommuter blog! Not only am I a fellow telecommuter, I also run a virtual company that employs telecommuters in every timezone (continental US, still working on Hawaii... maybe me someday??) AND helps other people find telecommuting jobs (www.flexjobs.com). To say I'm a true believer in telecommuting would be a very accurate statement. I could go on and on about the benefits, but no need to ramble when preaching to the choir. :-)

    Looking forward to reading your blog regularly! Many cheers,

    Sara

  • Sara Fell

    Hi Addy, so happy to see your telecommuter blog! Not only am I a fellow telecommuter, I also run a virtual company that employs telecommuters in every timezone (continental US, still working on Hawaii... maybe me someday??) AND helps other people find telecommuting jobs (www.flexjobs.com). To say I'm a true believer in telecommuting would be a very accurate statement. I could go on and on about the benefits, but no need to ramble when preaching to the choir. :-)

    Looking forward to reading your blog regularly! Many cheers,

    Sara Fell, CEO
    FlexJobs.com

  • Sara Fell

    Hi Addy, so happy to see your telecommuter blog! Not only am I a fellow telecommuter, I also run a virtual company that employs telecommuters in every timezone (continental US, still working on Hawaii... maybe me someday??) AND helps other people find telecommuting jobs (www.flexjobs.com). To say I'm a true believer in telecommuting would be a very accurate statement. I could go on and on about the benefits, but no need to ramble when preaching to the choir. :-)

    Looking forward to reading your blog regularly! Many cheers,

    Sara Fell, CEO
    FlexJobs.com

  • Addy Dugdale

    Dogs, cats, dolphins or gimps, Tyler? And Greg, I second Noah's reply. A great idea. Will have to do some research, since I'm a pure home bod.

    Bobbi, thanks for the nice words; Virginia, I'm very jealous (see above); Lydia, I totally agree about dressing up (although no heels, or I can't fit my legs under my pathetic desk). And, finally, Nancy, I'd love to meet you, but I fear my terrierist dog would have something to say about your housemates. He's with Conan O'Brien, I'm afraid. I am, shall we say, a little more ambidextrous...

  • Virginia Green

    My home office overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and big distractions are the surfers (who look like skitterbugs from the fifth floor) and the dolphins (whom I call, "the boys.") When I go to my other office -- the one with insurance coverage -- I leave my dog Gracie in charge. Sometimes I wonder why she gets the view. She doesn't even like dolphins, though I doubt she has met one.

  • Bobbi Woods

    I am so looking forward to this column! I love your writing style, and of course, the fact that you are a Briton (assuming), that's a big bonus in my book. I love you people! PS - I don't kiss much butt, that was sincere :)

    As a fellow home-worker myself, it gives me warm fuzzies to hear about others in the same situation as me. I am ALREADY really excited about the ideas and plans you have listed.

    I also have a cat, a Persian named Queen (adopted, I kept the name she came with) and as Her Highness' needs go, food, water, cartoons on the TV, and a heating pad to hover over once in awhile (I have cold, stone flooring) is about all she requires. That, plus the occasional belly rub/head scratch when she decides she is humble enough to acknowledge my existence!

    As you can see, I too, could stand to get out more. But when I feel the urge to see beyond the walls surrounding my little nook of my livingroom where I spend between 5-12 hour days, I zip up my laptop and whizz off to the library, diner or coffeeshop. As a former prisoner of The Man, I completely empathize with and do not envy those who have to succumb to the typical office setting, complete with a cubicle maze, droning management types, the commute headaches, not to mention politics/drama.

  • Tyler Gray

    Another mini-idea for future topics: Who makes the better office mate, dogs or cats?

  • NoahRobischon

    @Greg Your comment made me think of a topic that I'd like to see explored on The (Home) Office: coffee shop etiquette. How often do I have to order food to continue freeloading off the WiFi? What are the best foods to eat while working? Is it inappropriate to talk out loud to myself while writing in public? Do I have to change out of my pajamas if the coffee shop is on the same block as my apartment?

  • write4unj

    Following the pet theme, I have two cats (Crystal and Charley) who are my home-office companions and at least pretend to be interested when I talk to them (but only in the hope that I will go downstairs and get them "snackies"). I do belong to several women's business organizations which give me breakfast, lunch, and dinner opportunities to interact with fellow businesswomen. I'm looking forward to reading more.

  • Greg Easter

    I am a 2 year vet of working from home.. Some days I love it and some days the walls close in on me and I have to escape to the local coffee/office shop to see other humans. I look forward to your articles..

  • Lydia Dishman

    Hi Addy: Just wanted to chime in and wave a virtual hello from my home office as a fellow Fast Co. contributor. I have one strict rule, I get dressed (up) every day. Everything else is flexible. All best, Lydia

  • Addy Dugdale

    Very nice comments from you all - thanks a lot.

    Proof that you are saner than I am, Kate, as I think I talk to myself. I definitely talk to the dog. I sometimes talk to the fridge, but I try and have a bit of a gossip on the phone at some point during the day. It's the glare of the computer screen that gets me down. And Drew? Heyyyyyyyy, great to see you here.

    Funny that both of you - and Kit, actually - have cats (Kit's is called Meep, after the sound that gadgets make, I think). Tim, any animals in your home office? I think we might have to have a little column about the ideal animal for the homeworker. My money's on a gimp, akshuley.

  • Andrew Meehan

    I am so happy to see my favorite blogstress at Fast Company writing about an issue so close to my heart.

    My home office is my sanctuary and my dungeon, sometimes simultaneously. While I'm continuously looking for work outside my home office in a search for creative stimulation, I now have such a deep-seeded fear of the grey cubicles, brown-nosing managers, and socially acceptable attire which I toiled in for years that I'm not sure I can go back.

    I roll to the office when I want, surf the web at my leisure, and don't need to pretend to be busy if I'm not, but the lack of stimulation can be frustratingly lonely at times, to be sure. The cat provides entertainment and distraction, but his conversation skills are still at least one level below your average office coworker.

    I look forward to Addy's column being a telecommuter's survival guide (Dear Addy?) and look forward to more insight and hopefully a thriving community of home workers to commiserate with.

    So...thermostat vs. electric bill, that's my challenge at the moment (we can't all be at the beach in blazing sunshine Kit)!

  • Kate Rockwood

    I'm back to riding a desk now, but wanted to say that as a former at-home freelancer, I'm really looking forward to the column. For me the many, many, many perks of managing my own schedule/environment far outweighed the one negative that continued to nip at me: that feeling, come 6 pm, of still being in your pajamas and desperate to use your voicebox. (Because electronic chat is great and all, but only actually talking to my cats kind of freaked me out.)

  • Addy Dugdale

    Heya Kit. *pulls out drink and cigar from arm rest of chair she stole off Jimmy Saville.*

    I never leave my house for work (too tight-fisted to pay for t'internet, you see.)

    However, I do have a Dogbert, who can sometimes be persuaded to do some light administration of an afternoon. Does that count? Actually, you know I have never, ever, EVAH worked in a cubicle. I've got a vision of Norma Desmond in some mooky office right now, saying rather dramatically, "I AM big. It's the offices that got small."

  • Kit Eaton

    Helloooo Addy! *flips lever on the La-Z* As a co worker from home, I can sing nothing but praises for the practice. I know and interact with my colleagues on as good a friend basis as if I were sat in the office, and the coffee is better (I suspect). Plus, and here's the biggie: If my office doesn't suit my mood, (or like today the place is too noisy as workmen are fixing the drain) I can zip off and work somewhere else. Currently I'm at a coffeeshop on the beach front. In blazing sunshine. Honestly.

    The only downside I can see is that there's no Dilbert equivalent for us non-cubicle dwellers.

  • Tim Archambault

    Great blog. Looking forward to reading regularly. Thinking of starting my own web analytics consultancy out of my home. Great stuff1