But I am not talking about those who choose to work a few days from home and a few days from office. I am talking about some of us who work solely from home, day in, day out. I’m talking about me.
I need not get dressed or wash up in the morning. I can work in any shabby outfit, hair unkempt, seated in my favourite corner of the house. When I’m bored, I can go sit in another corner of the house – just for the heck of it. I can sleep at 11 a.m., just because I am sleepy, and sit through the night with my work. I can re-organise my work so as to catch a favourite movie in television, and work during the commercial breaks. I can have my food in front of the television or the balcony looking at my plants if I wish, and if I decide to skip meals, I can do that too. I am my own boss, and no one can demand anything of me. No one sees, and no one cares.
If it is so great to work from home, why do I say I am tired of it?
I have been working from home for seven years now. I will give you a moment to heave a sigh and let that sink in. Seven years – in which I have been pretty much confined to home. As a mother, it is a great thing. I can see my son off to school, and I am at home to receive him. I don’t have to plan my “household chores” (that lovely name for a load of tiresome daily tasks) around my working hours. I don’t have to ask my maid to come before I left for office or after I return. She can come at any time because I am “always home”.
All that sounds perfect until you actually try it, and allow seven years to pass.
The household chores can be done at any time, which means that half an hour into my work, I remember that laundry needs to be done. Oh! The plants have not been watered either. There is no rush whatsoever; everything can happen in slow motion. Once I get the laundry and plants out of my way and settle back to work, the maid comes to clean the house and her walking around the place distracts me. By the time she leaves I need to prepare lunch – which is when I remember that I have not eaten my breakfast. Have you any idea how much time we waste daily for food – the preparing and the partaking of it? If we could just walk around with an IV line attached to us for nutrition, we would save so much of our time.
In other words, finding a couple of hours of uninterrupted work is a challenge.
Everyone assumes that I am at home so I must be available. I get calls at any time during the day from people who just decide that they need to chat. When I used to work in an office, people would call only in an emergency and would cautiously ask, “Can I talk to you for a moment? Are you in a meeting?” Or at least they would think twice before calling. Not now. Some people just call and start talking. How many times can I tell them I need to get back to work without sounding arrogant? I once told a person I have a meeting (I meant a conference call over Skype) and the response was like “oh, you’re just making that up.” Whatever you think, my friend, whatever you think.
“You can drop in at any time; she is always at home.” I hear that so frequently about me. Some people think me claiming to work is cute. As though their work is real, mine is not. No sir, I am at work. My time is precious too. I need to work eight or ten hours a day too. I get paid for it, contrary to what you may think. I like it that you all can count on me, but don’t take me for granted. I may be at home, but I am not always available. I may choose my working hours, but that is my choice, not yours.
If I wanted to add a touch of sexism to this, I would comment that men working from home may not face this much of interruption or distraction. “Oh, he is busy; don’t disturb him.” I have heard that as well, oh-so-many times.
Someone (a very busy professional) I meet at least twice a year asks me every time, “So, what do you do all day?” “I work.” “Oh! You work?” Again, the next year, “So. Don’t you get bored sitting at home all day?” “Err… no, I am busy with work.” “Oh! You mean you have to work all day?” The year after that, “I can’t imagine being a housewife like you and doing only household chores. I would be so bored.” “Yeah, well, I do have my work to keep busy.” “Oh! Indeed? You get work daily?”
Then there are the sympathies. Oh, the sympathies just kill me. The sympathies of the sympathisers and the advices of the advisors. It’s all I can do not to turn into a defensive, fierce, fearsome, ferocious tiger. I am happy, dammit! Eleanor Roosevelt apparently said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Madam, you have no idea. I don’t know where you came from, or what you had experienced, but there is a limit to the amount of slander you can take from the people around you. After one point, you stop resisting. You start wondering if what they say is true. Then you struggle to convince yourself that they don’t know anything about you. You begin to distance yourself from them, because that is the only way you can hold on to your peace. What you don’t hear doesn’t hurt you. When you decide to distance yourself from certain people, you avoid opportunities to meet people. This is a vicious circle. You’re back in your prison.
Now that everything gets delivered to my door, I don’t need to go out at all. Which means I need a real, solid reason to get out the door. Soon I will become like Jodie Foster in Nim’s Island, an Agoraphobic writer. She is afraid even to open her door or step outside. She goes through a severe panic attack when she needs to open the door to get her mail. Yes, that bad. And that day is not far in my life; I can already spot it in my horizon.
This all sounds very twisted, I know, because who is stopping me from changing my dress and walking out and going shopping or meeting friends or something? The answer is Me. I am stopping myself from doing these. Because, of course I have work to do. There is always pending work from yesterday. There is that damn novel I have been clawing at for two years. Which are just excuses, as everyone knows. My life is more or less confined to the rooms in this house. I talk to the furniture and the plates and my plants, for God’s sake. This is a weird kind of self-imposed imprisonment.
Having said all this, I do know that people working from office have their own share of problems too. After all, I did work from an office once, and I should know. Many of my friends yearn to abandon their offices and work from home. They ask me if I know of any opportunities. It is a grass-is-always-greener-elsewhere world.
Every time I tell myself, working from home is the best thing for me. And I keep quiet. One must not tempt fate by declarations that have the potential to make matters worse. But seven years is a long time, I say. If you haven’t been here, of course you wouldn’t understand.
And that’s why I hate working from home, as much as I love working from home.