Hang on, I’ll be right back – gotta grab one of those mini Milky Ways I picked up for Halloween before somebody else eats them all. May as well wash these dishes. Looks like my basil on the patio is drying out better give it a drink. Reminds me we are out of olive oil, I’ll need to make a grocery run, but let me make a bathroom stop first … ooooo who left that skidmark? Gimme that brush…
In case my employers – who I love dearly! – are reading this, this is how my typical day at the home office goes BUT!! I still get at least twice as much done as I did when I worked in an office office. In an office, especially in a cubicle like my last one, you know who’s watching you and how to avoid them, and when you’re not busy shirking you’re exchanging small talk, I mean information, with every gypsy pot mender who happens by.
When you work at home, though, every helicopter that flies over is onto your scam. Every car that cruises slowly past could be from the home office … if the KGB and the CIA were so good during the Cold War, you can only imagine how surreptitious a small Canadian online publishing house like the one that owns MO could be now … well, I can imagine it anyway. In the midst of taking care of my daily tasks around the house, I also crank out two, maybe three times the “content” I used to, out of sheer paranoia … is that grasshopper a drone? I know you’re out there! When I’m my own supervisor, I’m a terrible taskmaster.
Still, working at home is the greatest thing to happen to me since, well, this is a family magazine. I love being able to pedal my bike to the beach, go hit the tennis ball, or scoot over to see the latest motorcycle Redpath has un-barned over at MotoGPWerks whenever I feel the need. And I love setting my own work hours even though strangely enough, they seem to be mostly 9 to 5. Old sleep patterns die hard.
Not that I haven’t had some great office experiences. When I went to work for Motorcyclist magazine in the ’90s and was still a punk, I needed to get out of the house, and toiled out of a big window office on the 17th floor of the Petersen Building on Wilshire Boulevard in the throbbing heart of L.A. Mr. Petersen was in the penthouse with his stuffed polar bears and blunderbusses and things, and the other floors were packed with Hot Rod, Motor Trend, Teen, and 50 other magazines. Toiled probably isn’t the right word. I elf-bowled on my desktop a lot, remember that? Before the internet, I wrote a couple of stories a month in between lunch, cocktail hour, and flying all over the place on Ducatis and things. One magazine a month could only hold so many pages, and we had more people on staff than we needed back in that crazy time when readers paid for information. Imagine!
The internet, though, has a bottomless appetite and an empty wallet. Now I feel like a slacker if I’m not hunched over my screen those couple hours a day I used to burn up on my moto commute, and if I don’t pound out two or three stories a week there’s a problem. Lunch, usually a cold rice ball and a cup of water, takes 15 minutes instead of two hours at El Coyote… (I do miss the #2 Combo and house margie on the rocks with salt and the great company). Grooming and personal hygiene take about a half-hour a week instead of that much time daily. And anybody who’s spent any time in an office knows how long the rest of the socializing takes – the “Politickin’ and Bullshittin’” as old Sergeant Whatshisname used to say.
I’ve come to feel like there are two basic kinds of people in the world and therefore in the office: the socially adept who are good at the P&B, and those who do all the work. The former do well, rise in the organization farther than you’d expect, and thrive nicely right up until they bump up against a person with a slightly more refined patois and a higher-resolution bullshit detector. The rest of us sense our charm is getting us nowhere early on, and fall back upon our Calvinist work ethic, doing most of the heavy lifting and getting even with the politicians via the occasional not-so-veiled barb. That’s generally good for a few years or until the barbee finds a new person to do all the work for less money.
The best way to avoid all that drama is to simply not be present. When a colleague of mine in the marketing department of a company I used to work for saw the pattern, during the Great Recession, of people being let go on Fridays, he quit going to the office on Fridays! Genius!
And that’s the numero uno advantage of a good work-at-home environment. A lot of family problems arise from the simple fact that you’re with your family so much, and that’s true of the people at the office too. The few who cause all the problems anyway. Familiarity breeds contempt. Thank God for all the technology that seems to come along just in time to save my bacon! E-mail and texting got here right on schedule to save me from having to conduct all my business via telephone and my excellent stutter. Wifi means I can flutter from room to room with my Macbook, whistling like Snow White’s dwarves the whole time I’m June Cleavering around the house and playing with whatever motorcycles are in the garage. Cloud computing means we MO editors can share and “edit” each other’s’ work from any computer anywhere (with the added bonus that the thing you’re working on doesn’t suddenly vanish now and then like it used to, though I’m convinced everything will at some point evaporate all at once). And it’s also easy to meet virtually as often as we want (usually once every Friday) without having to put up with each other the other 38 hours of the week. I seriously think this is civilization-enhancing technology at work…
Let’s face it. Some of us are good in a room alone with our thoughts; some are better in a room full of others with no thoughts at all. I give you Congress. Lonely isn’t the problem I at first worried it might be: People call on you for all sorts of things when they know you can slack off, er, break free for an hour or two whenever. More and more places have free Wifi, and the Facebook drills further into the core of human depravity in ten minutes than I dreamed existed in decades of office coffee breaks.
Oi, you roll with the changes and do your best. I probably couldn’t do the home office if I were transcribing medical records or something, but the best part of my deal is that just when cabin fever does begin to descend, it’s time to head out for a nice motorcycle ride or some junket or other: This weekend I’m off to my first Barber Vintage Fest! It all adds up to increased productivity out the wazoo; I feel like I finally really do have the best job in the world, and even I haven’t yet found a way to screw it up. It’s 78 degrees as I sit here on the back patio typing with a nice iced coffee (thank you Ren Doughty) and the birdbath babbling, what could possibly go wrong? Say, what’s that noise? A trumpet, seriously? So, that’s what the little bas, er, kid next door was carrying home in that case. My army friend Mikey had a trumpet, and from him I learned one thing about that instrument: You cannot play it quietly. Neither can the kid next door. Sounds like it’s his first day learning. Let me just google up “noise-cancelling headphones,” and then I’ll get right back onto that Top Ten List … or possibly “tranquilizer dart gun”…