Thursday, February 12, 2015

Home away from home office

If you live in Boston, these are the times that try men’s souls. And women’s souls. Especially if those folks are working out of a home office.

As, let’s face it, an awful lot of white collar workers in this area have been doing a couple of days a week for the last couple of weeks.

But the “occasionals” don’t have quite the same stresses and strains that us “regulars” experience.

Sure, there’s plenty of upside:

Rolling out of bed and being at work.

PJ  - or at least really junky clothing – days. (Personally, I get dressed-dressed most days. Not exactly business casual, but at least a pair of jeans and a sweater.)

Being able to stick your head inside the office fridge with the full knowledge that you put everything that’s in there in there. Thus, if there is a science experiment yogurt lurking in there,  or a loosely tin-foiled slice of pizza that’s turned to cement, it’s on you. So you don’t have to leave snippy signs up pointing out that “your mother doesn’t work here,” and warning your colleagues that everything in that crappy fridge is going to be tossed out on Friday unless it’s clearly labeled as a keeper.

Never reaching for the coffee pot and finding that there’s about a tea-spoon of coffee in there – barely enough to cover the bottom of the coffee pot, but apparently enough so that someone could in good conscience put that pot back without making the 30-second effort of emptying out the old coffee grounds, putting in a new liner, opening a new coffee packet, and pressing the magic brew button.

No worries about walking out of the office to use the bathroom and forgetting your badge. So you can’t get back in.

Nobody laughing and pointing if you sack out in the middle of the afternoon for a well-deserved nap.

But there’s a real downside to working in the home office, at least for us quasi-social types, and that’s being isolated.

Sure, the guy in the next cubicle who keeps repeating the story about how his pick-up got rear-ended – to the detailed degree that you could file the insurance claim – can be annoying.

So can the pest who keeps darkening your office door because he/she has nothing better to do, while you do.

That aside, for someone who enjoyed the social aspects of working, working from home all the time can be just plain lonely.

Most large cities have co-working offices. (Before my husband got so sick, I was actually looking at a couple of the Boston options. When Jim was ill, I just plain needed to be around a lot more often. And at this point, given that I’m not trying to build a career, but to hang in on the one I have for as long as I can without doing any career-building, I’m made my peace with working from home.) And anyone who steps toe in a Panera or Starbucks knows that there are plenty of folks who set up shop in the shop.

But some folks in Sweden have come up with another idea.

Hoffice’s Facebook page describes the idea as, “A network for everyone with flexible work space needs, with the aim of creating temporary and amazing working session in each other’s homes.”

Each city with a Hoffice community also has it’s own Facebook page. People can join the Facebook group that represents the city they’re in, then post to the page and invite other group members to come to their home to work for the day. Hoffice members come from all kinds of professional backgrounds and work on their own projects. The purpose of gathering is not so much collaboration as mutual support.

Hosts specify how many people they can comfortably fit, and what kind of workplace “features” they can offer (Wi-Fi, snacks, a printer, a room to take phone calls, etc.). When enough people have responded, the host announces that the session is now full. (The Stockholm Facebook group, for example, has almost 850 people, so only a small fraction of the group goes to each Hoffice session.) (Source:

Unlike the paid shared office set-ups, Hoffice is no-cost.

But it’s a bit more invasive than anything that I’d want to see.

Running into someone at the water cooler and having a bit of a gab is one thing:

Aside from trying to provide a comfy and personal working environment, Hoffice has a very specific way to bring life back into the workplace. A major tenet of the concept is that work days are overseen by a “facilitator,” which can either be the Hoffice host or any other group member that volunteers.

The goal of the facilitator is to foster a feeling of camaraderie within the group, and help keep people working productively toward whatever goal they’ve set for themselves. Hoffice’s suggested way of doing that is to split up the day into hour long blocks – each one containing 45 minutes of work time and 15 minutes of break time.

Before each new block of work, the facilitator goes around the room and asks people to announce a few specific tasks they want to accomplish during the next 45 minutes. The idea behind the exercise is to encourage people to structure their work days, and to add a little pressure to stay focused.

Not for me, thank you.

I wouldn’t want to be a facilitator or a facilatatee, thank you.

And I’d be afraid, be very afraid, of some unknown psycho I “met” on FB coming to hang out in my home office for the day.

Maybe it’s a Scandinavian thang.

So far, the only places where Hoffice has taken off are Sweden, Finland, and Denmark…

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