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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