Allure of home office dims, with shared workspaces

March 2016 - By Carolyn Dale

My home-office gig is getting me down, and I didn’t realize it until I started looking at photos of new, shared workspaces for people who have small businesses. Inside a nicely gentrified building, people get a room, or a cubicle, where they can work to their hearts’ content. Then they can share social spaces, like a bar. Wait, this place has two bars: one for fancy coffee drinks, and the other for drinks that calm you down from the caffeine. So, they’ve got both ends of the day covered.

I’m still skeptical about moving back into an office environment, but I peer closely at the available spaces: Each has graceful drapes in neutral tones and a couch comfy enough for napping. These spaces are meant for work, yet they don’t look soulless and stultifying. I wonder if they’ve even nixed fluorescent lights.

A home office packed a lot of allure at the beginning of this era that blurs the line between our public and private lives. And I fell willingly and happily right into it, entranced by the idea of working at home, keeping my own hours so I could fall ravenously on the keyboard anytime the Muse whispered in my ear. Likewise, I could relegate the dullest tasks to the low-power times of day.

But work has a way of overtaking a household and personal life, and I wonder if a separate workspace might help to redraw boundaries and establish balance.

One advantage of working at home is the quiet. Would the hubbub of a shared space offer enough quiet for people like me, who need to concentrate on words, words, and more words? I’m in my home office right now, and it is very, very quiet. (So quiet, I just read that last sentence out loud.)

I’d ask the shared-space managers right away if they draw the line at welding equipment, big pasta-making machines, and various other workplace tools. Including weed whackers—my neighbor has just started his yard work, and the machine is making that loud, droning whine.

Where was I? Oh yes, the things I’d require in such a place include a view. Right now, I look out at a garden lovely with the colors of spring—yellow forsythia and purple primroses. Birds are zooming around with bits of grass to get their nests ready, or dive-bombing the lawn for early worms; they are raucous, and I’m enjoying it.

OK, score one for the home office. Inside an office building, I’d probably be looking out at a side street or parking lot, spaces that attract squads of guys with droning leaf blowers.

Time to go put on a load of laundry. Now, I couldn’t do that in my shared space! I wouldn’t be mixing in simple household chores, nor going up and down flights of stairs to check the mail, let the cat out, and otherwise spice up my day with aerobic exercise.

And, here’s a dread thought: I might have to wear professional attire, again. But I do have a working wardrobe that I’ve been keeping in its own special closet for about five years, just in case. Hmmm. No one expects writers or editors to be fashionable, I suppose, but they’d probably expect shoes, rather than bedroom slippers, to be worn at the shiny chrome and granite coffee bar. The score is now two up for the home office.

And would I need a briefcase for carrying my work back home at the end of the day? Not likely, since all work lives in The Cloud, anyway. I look outside to check, and yes, The Cloud is hovering right up above. I can verify this because it constantly rains down requests for me to update its minions inside my digital devices.

Speaking of what hovers over my home office, I have the feeling that all of my uncompleted work tasks—unedited manuscripts, my own rambling early drafts, social media and webpages hungry for updates—permanently hang in the doorway of the room and spread their miasma over the entire house. It is a fog that speaks in a silent, persuasive inner voice to pronounce that I should be doing this, or even that; it constantly whispers about work even during non-working hours.

So, I go in and deal with stuff in my home office, and presto! End of problem: There are no non-working hours, anymore. When I was teaching, I even transformed a couple of classes into hybrid or online courses, and yet more work came raining down on my house from The Cloud. Now I’m wondering if all of that is drowning out my inner Muse.

Does this mean I work all the time? Oh, far from it. I still take walks, do laundry, eat meals, and have deep, meaningful talks with friends on Twitter. But I never feel free of work, or away from work, the way I used to, years ago, back when I came home from work and The Cloud didn’t follow me here.

But erecting a wall again between home and work, between public and private lives, sounds like heresy. It would be like asking some Republicans to erect the wall again between Church and State, or some Big Media to draw a line between infotainment and news. Or expecting Facebook and Google to maintain barriers between users’ private lives and the corporate appetites for such data.

I can see, as I look around the room, tangible evidence that there has been a cost. Things tucked into corners speak of hobbies I haven’t touched for years: yarn for knitting, an acoustic guitar, and even an easel carrying a layer of dust.

This tyranny of the ever-present awareness of work to be done, just up the stairs or down the hall, is one huge drawback to my otherwise glorious home-office life. Thinking back, I’d say that I was able to hold the line pretty well for the first couple of years. Signs remain that I did once knit things and dust the place.

Hmmm. The furnace just kicked on, and now I’m thinking of the money we’d save by not heating the house during working hours. And it’s so quiet that I noticed the furnace kicking on. And I’ve just written about it.

If I were in that shared workspace now, I’d be sitting at the shiny chrome coffee bar. And what would the conversation be like, with my fellow home-office refugees? The thought is enticing; I remember how colleagues would group about the coffee pot or microwave and complain about how overworked we all were. How I miss it. If you complain that way to The Cloud, it just hurls down more software updates.

Maybe I should go and check out this shared-workspace place and at least ask about the rent. Oh, yeah, that’s another factor; there will be a price. But maybe it will be worth it, if The Cloud follows and hovers over that place instead, and leaves some clear skies back home. Maybe I can be a trendsetter for the New Era, whenever it begins.

Right now, I could hit the closet and select an ensemble from my time-capsuled work wardrobe—I hear midi skirts are coming back—tuck my cat under one arm and my old briefcase under the other, and go see these folks. The thought of returning home to peace, personal life, and old pursuits is exhilarating. But they’d have to accept me flapping along in my slippers; that’s one part of the home office that I will not give up.

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