During the past 10 years I've probably read 200 magazine articles—and edited 20—about the "electronic cottage." Consultants brim with advice about it. How should
bosses manage people who work at home, connected to their employers or clients primarily by computer? How can isolated workers remain plugged into the human dimension of corporate life? How can e-mail serve as the communication medium for project teams when most e-mail messages read as if they were typed by gorillas using their hind feet?
It happens that I have recently begun to do most of my own work at home, and I'm here to tell you that everything you've ever read about the electronic cottage is bunk. No doubt the consultants mean well in their attempts to grease the slide to the future, but they all miss the fundamental point: No matter how much technology you stuff into it, the home is not a place where 21st century work can be accomplished. The whole concept is a tragic mistake.
To begin with, the home lacks co-workers. These are indispensable in the 21st century because day-to-day life has become too confusing to figure out on your own. Take presidential elections. In previous centuries you could pretty much count on them to produce a president-elect. Here in the third millennium there's absolutely no telling what will result. A global seminar on the subject of "dimpled chad" in Florida? Who'd have guessed? The 21st century election couldn't be more surreal if Canadian geese flew out of both candidates' noses and Dan Rather's, too.
A human being cannot process data like this alone in a home office. Salvador Dali couldn't do it. Day-to-day life now requires that a person proceed every morning to a place full of co-workers, where he can sneak up behind them and yell, "dimpled chad!"
Take Leah Nelson, for instance, who works in Training's conference division and is high-strung to begin with. If you were to sneak up on her and yell, "dimpled chad!" I'll bet she'd jump clear over a cubicle wall. The problem with working at home isn't the proximity of the refrigerator or the fact that the laundry needs doing or anything else the so-called experts talk about. What eats at the home worker is the missed opportunities.
That and the dog. The dog will eat at the home worker until the home worker goes as crazy as a rat in a coffee can. Not long after I became a home worker I acquired a puppy. I see now that this was a mistake. She's chewing on my sock as I type. This is painful because my sock is on my foot. I'd knock her off, but every time I reach down there she chews on my hand.
Wait, maybe there's a silver lining here ... No. I just stuck my face as close as I dared and yelled, "dimpled chad!" Nothing.
But at least I can set my own hours and work on weekends if I feel like it and all that jazz, right? Wrong. People who spout this line conveniently ignore the matter of football. Weekends are consecrated by God for sitting in front of a television set, not a computer screen. It's in the 10 Commandments. Perhaps you will remember Moses' wrath when he came down from Mt. Sinai and found the feckless Israelites watching the Cowboys. Or Broncos. And if not Broncos, Vikings. It's No. 3 on the tablets, if I'm not mistaken. Right after the one that says, "Thou shalt not kid thyself with this electronic-cottage crap."