A recent article here on MI asked the musical question: "Who needs an office anyway?" Sure enough the world is changing around us. Technology allows us to move almost anywhere and still be chained to "the office", even when there is no actual office.
Even Charles Dickens never considered that possibility. Imagine:
Scrooge: "You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?"
Bob Cratchit: "If quite convenient, sir."
Scrooge: "It is not convenient, and it's not fair. If I was to stop half a crown for it, you'd think yourself mightily ill-used, I'll be bound?. Probably rat me out to that snooty woman in HR"
Bob Cratchit: "Yes, sir."
Scrooge: "And yet you don't think me ill-used, when I pay a day's wages for no work."
Bob Cratchit: "It's only once a year, sir."
Scrooge: "A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December! But I suppose you must have the whole day. Make sure you take your Blackberry and I want those numbers for the Johnson account by the time I get in and try not to spill gravy on the keyboard like last year- and no blaming the VPN this time. It works fine."
Of course, constant connectedness is only one of the drawbacks to working from home. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.
I don't want to cast aspersions by putting Microsoft and Scrooge in the same article (yet again), but the folks in Renton saw this coming and even built a technology strategy around it. They called this technology the worst possible name - MOOF. It stands for Mobile out of Office, a terrible acronym which is one reason it never caught on. The folks at Apple would have called it something cute like iSerf and had people clamoring for more.
Of course, I work from home now and happy to do so. I'm not technically mobile (I stay home where the work is) but I am "gladly out of office" - which makes me a GOOF, an acronym both unfortunate and true.
I love working from home most of the time, but let's be honest, having a workplace that ISN'T the same as your abode was not without its charms. I'm an auditory learner and a major Expressive personality. I need other people to bounce ideas off. Once in a while I just want to pop my head over a cubicle like a meerkat and call for help from real people, not have to send IMs into the ether until I get an answer.
Also, the only other person in the house most of the workday is my dog, Jacky. Jacky is a good soul but his advice is suspect. His marketing ideas usually end with "…and make it smell like bacon".
Now making a conscious decision to move to a home-based environment has its pluses, and for the right kind of people in the right kind of job I can see the advantages. I think people are a bit disingenuous about the drawbacks however.
First of all, everyone's putting a bright shine on an ugly truth. Many of the people who are foregoing office space are doing it for economic reasons. It's not the result of lots of research and careful forethought- they just couldn't make rent. This is like the guy living in the refrigerator box saying he's living outdoors because the office air conditioning gave him asthma.
There is something to be said for the office environment. For one thing, I miss having a room with a door. The only room in my house with a good locking door has no phone jack and seating for just one. The coffee also tends to be better at the office and there's an outside chance of someone else actually making it for a change.
My fragile self-esteem also has a hard time feeling like a real company when I know that my office is the north end of the dining room table. Maybe I'm just shallow but when negotiating with big companies it always feels like a disadvantage to give what is obviously a home address. Maybe I'm misinformed, but I'm pretty sure no Fortune 500 company has its mail delivered to Sunshine Arbor Court. Oh, and nobody is fooled by the post office box thing - it reeks of desperation.
I'll probably never go back to a regular commute if I have a choice but when Greatwebmeetings meets a certain revenue target you can bet there will be a real office with a real sign. After all, I need somewhere to get away from. What's the fun in playing truant when you're already home?