I was having dinner with a friend the other night when her phone dinged on the table, and as she checked the text with obvious exasperation, she looked up at me and then out the window at the dance of headlights playing on the street beside us and whispered wistfully, I wish I could work at home like you so I could hang out with my kids all day and work when I want.
To which I naturally responded by jumping across the table and stabbing her repeatedly in the throat with the cheater chopsticks they give children at P.F. Changs because, I don’t know, I’m tired and had too much wine and my hand-eye coordination is off.
Just kidding, I’m super awesome at chopsticks.
But seriously, her vision about what working from home is like is adorable. And I realized, prior to actually working from home, that I’d had the exact same vision.
Lazing about the house, watching daytime television, running errands, snuggling with my children, lunching with friends, joining a gym, volunteering at school… the world would be my oyster, right?
Sure, if by oyster you mean unwashed, gritty, slimy and notoriously hard to pry open. Great analogy, you should be a professional analogy writer.
Listen, there’s lots of drama in the news right now about Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, and her decision to bring all the Yahoo employees out of their at-home locations and back into the office, and I think everyone is standing on different sides of the line in the sand throwing words at each other like “mother” and “feminist” and “woman” and lots of other strange terms we don’t hear when non-lady CEO’s rescind telecommunication privileges.
I’ve been on both sides of this coin. And as a current work from home-er, I’ve been paying attention to all the talk, and it feels like an opportune time to chat a little bit about what exactly working from home entails, and well…how much it sometimes kinda blows.
So, I partnered with one of my best friends, Amber Doty, who is a blogger, managing editor of Go Mighty, and a real life work from home veteran like myself, to dispel any dreamy connotations and expose the sometimes (okay, often) dirty, unshowered underbelly of working from home.
We’re about to ruin the honeymoon, y’all.
Fantasy: You can work in your pajamas. Okay yes, you can work in your pajamas. But, I think people assume that that equates to a clean pair of lululemon yoga pants and a super cute tank top. Hey, in this daydream, can our thighs also not touch, and can the sports bra we have on make it look like we have two boobs, not just one giant tube looking boob? Because the reality is that we’re not in any of that, we’re in a nightgown, borderline muumuu, with holes and food stains reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock piece, but it’s not paint, it’s Hot Pocket sauce and cheeto dust.
Reality: No one believes you have a real job. Can I watch your kid? Pick up your prescription? Get your dad from the airport? No, we can’t. Why? Because we still have fucking jobs, dude. We have deadlines, monthly goals, conference calls, we use words like “collate” and “ROI,” and look, we have business cards from Moo and LinkedIn profiles and everything. Don’t let the lack of office fool you, we’re honest to goodness productive members of society (wanna see our 1099’s?), it’s just that the majority of our productivity happens in our underpants.
Fantasy: You don’t have to deal with asshole co-workers. Listen, just because they don’t get paychecks or pay taxes, the little people who run around our home offices are tyrants with no concern for anyone’s needs but their own. Sure, Jan from accounting was a douchebag to deal with sometimes, but at least you didn’t have to wipe her butt or cut up her food.
Reality: There is very little human interaction. We’re in a creative field, so we’re weird and socially awkward by default, but the truth is, when you work from home, aside from the random video Skype or Google hangout, the most person to person contact you may have is with the mail guy, and he doesn’t have all day to sit there and listen to you talk about feelings or last night’s episode of New Girl, apparently. Your spouse is working, and your friends have jobs, too. Even if you had a second to chat, nobody else does, so eventually you just start talking to random strangers on Chatroulette, but even then, they only have so much time to ask your age and to see your boobs before their moms come down to the basement.
Fantasy: You can drink on the job. Alright, I guess you can technically drink on the job. In fact, some of our best work comes from the bottom of a wine bottle, but a warning, you can only confuse words like “public” with “pubic” so many times before people are like, what the fuck is wrong with you and why do you smell like you just threw up?
Fantasy: You save money. Working from home means saving money on things like gas, vehicle maintenance, and those weird polyester blend business slacks that can only be worn over two layers of shaping undergarments, lest your ass look someone shoved two giant dimpled golf balls down the back of your pants. Only, chances are if you’re a freelancer, the money you save is now being used to refill your ballooning Xanax prescription and to purchase paper hyperventilation bags in bulk.
Reality: You don’t get to clock out. This is especially true if you own your own business. There are no set work hours, because all the hours are work hours. We work where we live, so every moment feels like a moment we could/should be working, until eventually you have this claustrophobic breakdown where you feel like you never leave your office and it melts into, like, this creepy Jodi Foster panic room, and you never ever get to escape, ever. It’s hard to turn that off. If we sit down to take a shit and realize we don’t have our phone with us, you can bet your wet ass we’re doing the pants down shimmy to grab it fast. If we go out to eat, before you ask for a refill we’ve already checked in, tweeted, status updated and instagrammed our entire encounter, you know, for work.
Fantasy: Being your own boss is awesome. By in-office boss standards, you are awesome. The kind that values an employee that spends two hours catching up on Ben Affleck’s facial hair and Kim Kardashian and Kanye’s lovechild. But when you’re still up working at 1am making up for all those hours spent celeb-stalking and pinning shit, you begin to miss the fear your old boss instilled in you that kept you continually meeting deadlines despite having to look over your shoulder poised to drop your browser window at the faintest sound of their approach. You know, the kind of boss that would call you on your bullshit idea to institute afternoon naps to “jumpstart your creative process.” Ugh, fact is, you’re probably the worst boss ever.
Fantasy: You get to be home with your kids. Here’s the ugly truth. We spend less time with our kids working from home, than we did working in an office. Okay wait, let us clarify that. We spend less quality time with our kids. Yes, we’re physically home with our children, but mentally, we’re checked out and working. And let us assure you, it’s not fun explaining to your kid why you can’t play with them, or having them associate time with you as time you spend always at your computer, or scrolling through your phone, or circling around the block one more time and tossing fruit snacks at them so you can finish up a conference call in peace and quiet. In the end, you tell yourself it’s worth it, that you do what you have to do, and that it is, very much, and amazing privilege to be home. Because it is. But, the stress and guilt and responsibility is there, and most times, it feels like crap.