Thursday, January 12, 2017

Home away from home office

One of the downsides of working from home is that you’re alone in there: no colleagues to grab lunch with, no buddies to chat with over the water cooler. No water cooler, in fact. But, of course, being alone is also one of the upsides of working from home. And having done it for well over a decade now, I pretty much get the upsides and the downsides.

As a loner you likes to socialize – or is it a social animal who, like Greta Garbo, just vants to be alone – I recognize the necessity of having some social interaction. When my husband was alive, that social interaction was built in. But these days, I have to make sure that I never go more than a day without speaking with someone. For me, the gym takes care of three days, and I’m not exactly a friend- and family-less hermit. I go out a fair amount. And even on no-speak days, I always have plenty of email exchanges (work and social) and texting sprees (social). But no-speak days are, frankly, weird to me, and I mostly make sure I get out to run an errand so that at least I have a hiya-howaya exchange with a clerk.  Or I just pick up the phone and grace a sib, cousin, or friend with the mellifluous sound of my voice. (I refuse – or at least I hope I refuse – to become one of those garrulous old bags that everyone dreads seeing coming. Duck and cover, she’s here!)

Long-winded way – I am admittedly garrulous in writing – of saying that I understand the loneliness of the long distance worker.

Still, I’m not wild about the Hoffice movement, which I read about recently on BBC. (I’ll have to go by the BBC article, as Kaspersky kept blocking the link to the Hoffice site, and I didn’t want to press my luck.) Hoffice:

…invites workers — freelancers, entrepreneurs, or full-time employees who can do their jobs remotely — to work at each other’s homes to boost productivity and tackle social isolation.

Those attending pop-up Hoffice events advertised on Facebook are typically asked to work silently in 45 minute blocks, before being encouraged to take short breaks together to exercise, meditate or simply chat over a coffee.

Maybe this works better in Sweden, where the movement was founded in 2014, but I can’t exactly see welcoming a stranger into my home, unvetted. One thing to get in a strange car with an Uber driver. Quite another to show that fellow home worker the bathroom and kitchen, only to find out he’s Ted Bundy or someone who’s got her eyes on your salt-and-pepper shaker collection.

Hoffice is free, but in some other countries, services similar to Airbnb are popping up. In London, it’s Spacehop; in France, it’s OfficeRiders.

Both companies give homeowners an insurance policy that covers theft and damage and gives users the chance to rate their temporary workspaces.

Well, that takes care of the salt-and-pepper shaker problem, but doesn’t do much for the Ted Bundys of the world. And one of them just has to show up with his laptop once to make this a bad idea.

Of course, while I’ve done the vacation-rental-by-owner thing many times, I’ve yet to use Airbnb. I’ve rented through services that more or less vet the apartments, and for the most part it’s worked out. In the early days, my husband and I rented a dud or two – nothing unsafe, just lacking - but that was pre- the take off of social media, and the places we rented in NYC, Paris, and Galway have been great. In May, I’m going back to the same place in Galway for the third time, in fact.

But I would absolutely NOT rent space in a place where I’d be sharing occupancy with some stranger. Nor would I rent my own home out like that. Yuck, yuck, a thousand times yuck. 

While there’s a difference between overnight space rental, and eyes wide open work hours sharing, I really don’t like the Hoffice idea at all. Maybe if I were 25 and Swedish, it would be all well and good. But it’s just not for ancient, non-Swedish me. I’d be worried about security. And also worried that perfectly safe but completely weirdo weirdos would show up. I’d fret that the oddball guy who walked around staring into people’s offices would be on my doorstep, ready to office share. Or the mean-girl colleague I had who was always trying to stir up enmity where there was none. Or the cleanliness-challenged techie…

Guess I’ll just stick with my me-myself-and-I home office – and make sure that I get out at least once a day for a tube of toothpaste or a cupcake.

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