Who needs the office?

June 4, 2007, 10:02 PM UTC
Fortune

What’s the big deal about being in the office every day? It’s a yucky morning in Manhattan and I’ve been sniffling all weekend, so I decided to spare myself and everyone I might potentially infect by working from home. (Which, incidentally, is probably what most sick people should do, experts say, instead of playing the contagious martyr.)

But rather than lie around watching Judging Amy reruns, as would have been the case in the old days, I’ve been sitting here – at my desk, in my house – writing and working for a few hours. I just had the urge to hear “Zombie,” that old Cranberries song, really loudly, so I put it on. And then it occurred to me, had I been in my office, not only would my hallmates want to poke out their eyes, I’d probably be put on the equivalent of office suicide watch. (You know, where everybody suddenly starts stopping by to say hi all the time, and asking how things are “going”?) But here, not only can I listen, I can sing (badly), and even do a little dance. And the burst of joy it gives me will probably equal at least two productive hours.

Which is more than I can say for the little dance I have to do in my head when I’m listening to my iPod in my chair at the office. And I guess that’s the thing I’ve realized about working from home. It may seem more relaxed, but somehow, I feel like I work a lot harder here than I ever do anywhere else. Maybe it’s the quiet, or the fact that I can wear jammies all day and be as smelly as I want to be, or the ability to eat Cheetos without shame. Or maybe it’s just that I can structure my time how I want, like going to the gym in the middle of the day when nobody else is there and writing till the wee hours.

Actually, truth be told, I’ve never actually written a feature story in my office. As I (over) shared in the Gen Y story, every single feature happened right here in this chair, in the same ratty Tommy Hilfiger pullover I’ve had since high school (gross, I know), mostly between 6 p.m. and 3 a.m. What does that tell you?

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m against the office altogether. Face-time with higher-ups and other colleagues is important, and no matter what Internet daters tell you, I think it’s kind of hard to build meaningful professional relationships solely over e-mail and IM. But for all the time we spend at our desks gossipping, thinking about lunch, and generally twiddling our thumbs (i.e., not in pursuit of those networking goals), it seems to me that those of us who know we work best elsewhere – whether it’s home, a cafe, or a park somewhere – might be better off there. Even my friends who prefer to work in the office often come in on weekends to get things done because no one’s in, which suggests to me that in its true weekday form, the office isn’t even an ideal space for office-lovers.

That said, I have the privilege of asking these questions because I have some very forward-thinking bosses who know they don’t want to be around me in this “writerly” state. But I’m not alone. According to a recent WorldatWork survey (see here), the number of “teleworkers” – the 21st century version of telecommuters – grew to 28.7 million in 2006, including the self-employed. That means about 20% of the workforce works remotely at least once a month.

Good for them, but what’s it like for you guys? Can you “telework,” and if you do, are you more productive at home or at work? Is this a generational thing? Or is it just the truth about the office?

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Do you have a great story about your alternative work-space? Is your company doing innovative things in this area? Or are you stuck in an office wishing you weren’t, at a company that doesn’t get it yet? My colleague Anne Fisher is working on a piece about our changing relationship with the office, so if you’ve got a great story along those lines, drop her a note at afisher@fortunemail.com. Thanks, guys!