the end of the no-pants era (or, how I stopped telecommuting and learned to love the office)

I telecommuted 1,865 miles to work, full-time, for three years, three months and three weeks before starting a new (in-person) gig at a place that’s 2.5 miles from my house.

My transition to telecommuting coincided with an even bigger experiment: moving from a big city in Texas to a small town in California. I was lucky to be able to keep my job of three years when we moved, going from being the person who cracked inappropriate jokes IN the office to the person who cracked inappropriate jokes on conference calls WITH the office.

Though I consider both experiments to have been successful, I learned some valuable lessons about telecommuting that I’ll keep in mind if I go down that road again. If you’re considering making the transition, maybe something here will help you.

  • Stay in the same general location as your employer. That way, you can pop into the office for important meetings, meet new coworkers in person and attend the occasional boozy after-work function (the cornerstone of any successful team-building effort).
  • Lean on your friends. Whether you like your coworkers or not, you’re still getting a certain amount of human interaction from being around them 40 hours or more a week. Once you’re working alone in your home office, you can quickly feel isolated. Hit your friends up for the occasional coffee, lunch or happy hour so you don’t go full-hermit.
  • Break for lunch. Though you might have fantasies that your at-home lunches will be a rainbow of healthy foods, freshly prepared, the reality is you’ll probably grab whatever’s easiest to munch on and eat it at your desk while continuing to work. Regardless of what’s on your plate (or, more likely, wrapped in a napkin), taking a real, 30-minute lunch break is important for your mental health. You don’t have to leave your house–just get far enough away from your desk that the crumbs that fall from your mouth don’t land in your keyboard.
  • Ignore the haters. No matter how much work you crank out, there will always be someone in the office who thinks you roll out of bed around 11AM, smoke a bowl, watch cartoons and occasionally call in for meetings in your underwear. Because that’s probably how they’d do things. As long as the person who signs your paycheck knows how much work you’re doing (and you never miss a deadline), you’re good.
  • Take a shower. Though being able to go an entire week without putting on “real” clothes can be wonderfully freeing (you’ll be surprised at how quickly you grow comfortable having calls with your coworkers while wearing a startling lack of clothing), keep up your commitment to your morning toilette. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself on the back end of a long, busy day feeling gross that you haven’t gotten around to bathing yet.
  • Find safety in numbers. The more telecommuters at your workplace, the more comfortable everyone feels. If there are a handful (or more) of you, the people tethered to the office get more used to the idea and roll with it. Your telecommuting coworkers are facing similar challenges, so check in with them to lend and gather support.
  • Keep it professional from the waist up. If you have video calls on the regular, you don’t have to go full-professional. A nice shirt and clean face can pair just fine with shorts. Just remember not to stand up in the middle of your call.
  • Hide your desk/computer. Your office is part of your house, which means your job is always just kind of there. Lurking in the background. If there’s a way to put work to sleep for the night and weekend, like shutting the door to your home office or covering up your computer, do it. The stronger the division between work and personal life, the happier you are with both.

There are some great perks to working from home, from the mundane (not having to take time off when the cable guy is scheduled to show up) to the meaningful (being able to take good care of an elderly, ill dog). I did the best work of my career so far working at a cramped table in my kitchen nook, and I’d absolutely consider telecommuting in the future. But for now, I’m enjoying the ebb and flow of in-person officing. Surprising even myself, I like being part of a team.

I’d love for this to be a resource to future telecommuters, so if you have experiences you’d like to share, please leave a comment.

the view from here

office number two
outdoor office is set up – now I can spend my work day hoping a bird doesn’t poop on my head – it’s worth it for the view of the Santa Cruz mountains and the bay
PG beach
standing on a beach in PG and looking back toward town
birdman
(pardon the shitty quality of zoomed photos – I’m stuck with using my phone until I replace the camera I killed on that hike) the dude and the bird stared at each other for quite a while (and I stared at them) – maybe they were communicating
squirrel
beach squirrels are tame from too many people feeding them
van of my dreams
I want this to be my daily driver – as my father pointed out, I’d need a vintage German mechanic to basically move into the back of the thing
pryor
purchased at the record store in PG
stella
Stella
lanterns
this week is the Feast of Lanterns festival in PG – it’s the biggest event of the year, and houses all over town have Japanese and Chinese lanterns hanging out front – here we are, acting like locals (oh yeah, we live here) (I keep forgetting)
living room
our living room, featuring a small dog on the couch
office
I had to record myself talking about my play for an upcoming production in Boston – I was reminded of why I’m a playwright and not an actor (this is a still from the video shot in my indoor office)
fog
some pretty amazing fog in Big Sur
fog 2
sometimes we were above it and could see blue skies
fog 3
sometimes it looked like the world just dropped off into a gray void
fog 4
don’t go into the fog, dude, you have so much to live for
partington cove
in my continual documentation of how busy Big Sur is these days, here’s the road around Partington Cove – this is a little place in a bend in the road that isn’t marked – there are two trails, one going down to the water and the other going up in the mountains – we’ve been here many times when there were few, if any other cars – not no mo’

have laptop, will travel

I’m free! Free to soak up someone else’s wifi! Free to eavesdrop! Free to be a jackass writing on a computer in a coffee shop!

When I made the move to start working from home, I was really excited about being able to write on location. Inside, outside, any place I could get wifi. I was going to rid myself of the drudgery of sitting in the same chair at the same desk for 8 hours or more a day and instead plop my ass in a lot of different chairs.

What I didn’t count on was killing my six-year-old laptop right after we got here.

We were stuck in a hotel for 10 days while we searched for a place to live. Ten days of desperately driving past house listings (please be the one, please be the one, shit) and working full-time while stuck in a 150 square foot hotel room with two irritated dogs and an irritated James. On the next-to-last night in the hotel, I was working late. Stressed out. Going a little cray-cray. Maybe my motor skills were also depressed because I spilled an entire glass of water on the keyboard of my laptop. And I was tired and over it enough that I just said fuck it and went to bed. Didn’t take out the battery or attempt any sort of life saving measures. My lack of effort was rewarded the next morning when the computer wouldn’t stay on for more than 60 seconds. It never did recover.

In the ensuing three+ months, I’ve been stuck working on my desktop in my tiny home office. The cray-cray was creeping back in, so I bought a new laptop. It’s currently on its first trip to a coffee shop/restaurant a short walk from my house.

Crema
sitting in a comfy chair next to an open window with a cool breeze and ambient noise

When you start working from home after years of being in an active, open office, at first you appreciate the silence and increase in productivity. Eventually, the quiet begins to press upon you. And you realize you miss the sound of humanity. Other people’s phone conversations, recitations of what they did over the weekend, where they bought those crazy shoes. It’s not the content you miss as much as the noise of it. The aliveness of it. The other-people-ness of it.

Now that I’m untethered from my desk, I can sit in a public place, hear the sounds without really listening to them, and feel like I’m still part of the world. It’s nice. And since I’m a bit of a hermit at heart, it’s enough.