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Visions of Cubicles Dance in My Head

The ups and downs of working at home

by delia lloyd  |  1706 views  |  2 comments  |        Rate this now! 

I had coffee with a friend the other day at a swank café by St. James Park in London. I’d known her back in Chicago where we’d both worked as journalists. Now we both live in London where she works for a major international magazine. She arrived a bit late, Blackberry in hand, dressed in a smart tailored suit. “Sorry,” she apologized breathlessly, glancing at her cell as she took her seat. “Meeting ran late.”

As I listened to her describe her job, I felt more than one pang of nostalgia. I think it was her reference to people “scurrying back to their offices” that really got to me. Until recently I, too worked in an office. Now I work from home as a freelance writer, where I can at best manage a saunter from the bathroom to my desk. She also mentioned her Wednesday editorial lunches and how they made her feel part of a team. In my current set up, I’m lucky if I can catch the mailman’s eye and bond with him over the utility bill. On really bad days, visions of cubicles still dance in my head.

It’s only natural that working at home induces a certain discomfort. After all, when you say “I work,” the logical follow-up is “Where?” And when the answer is “home,” it does sound less legitimate. For me, the situation is particularly fraught because I’m self-employed. So when I’m feeling inadequate, I can’t console myself with a regular paycheck or company logo. I always suspect that people think I’m really home doing laundry and reading past issues of the New Yorker while giving myself a manicure and googling my next vacation site.

And there’s something to this. On a slow writing day, it can be tempting to find the match for that errant sock. Or investigate the origin of the yellow bath toy inexplicably sitting on top of my jewelry box…just what is that doing up there?

And so those of us who work at home devise all kinds of tricks in order to make our existence seem…well, more work-like. For instance, I’ve noticed that people in offices never count how much time they actually spend “working.” If they stop to chat in the hallway with a friend, they don’t deduct it from some imaginary tally. But when you’re at home, you count every minute: Should I count the 15 minutes I just spent on that email if it was only half-professional? In my own apartment, I actually keep my personal email on a separate computer so I won’t be tempted to cheat during writing time.

But perhaps the most difficult part about not having an office is the lack of social interaction. I freely admit to being completely enthused by the sheer vitality of office life: the gossip…the politics….the parties. I was devastated when the last company I worked for cancelled “bagel Fridays”—we practically launched a sit-in to protest And I’ve always secretly loved the cheesy management consultants who come in and force you to play these elaborate trust games to facilitate group solidarity. I’m still not sure how I’ll cope this year without a Secret Santa.

About the Author

Delia Lloyd is a writer/journalist based in London. Her essays have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, The Guardian Abroad, and on the BBC World Service.

Read more by delia lloyd

2 comments so far...

  • wow good to read this as i will think of this when i am annoyed with one of my cube neighbors and his afternon sneezing fit! Thanks for showing us some of the downside! but just so you know, too secretly love those cheesey games which can be fun if the group just gives up and has fun. AND i do count my time spent on non-work items so that i dont get quite so frustraited when i am working from home in the evenings and into the wee morning hours after having spent all day in the office....

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Kate on 28th November 2007

  • The grass is always greener on the other side, isn't it? Our cubes are so teeny tiny, that my fantasies don't involve sitting in one, but rather setting it on fire and finding a more productive way to work.

    I haven't found the right balance when I work from home either. The office has distractions in water cooler conversations and in-person escalations. But my house seems to have a distraction in every room - from watching soaps to doing laundry to organizing the sock drawer.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Robyn Roark on 26th November 2007