Eugene Buchanan: Working from home has its perks and pitfalls
With stay-at-home orders slowly relaxing and some employees returning to their offices, it’s only natural to reflect back on the past 60 days of working at home.
Voila! The Office
This is your first big decision: where to put it? I tried the dining room table for a while but didn’t get far. There was too much going on between the cat, kids and plants. It was also too close to The Fridge and its leftover pork chops.
So, after a few days I moved it. First to our La-Z-Boy, which was fine except for the spinal slouch, proximity to the TV and Doritos remnants in its cracks. Now I start there in the morning until the sun glare forces me upstairs to our guestroom with a, gasp!, real desk. Despite it being just a hair curler’s throw from our bedroom, I like it more now that I’ve touched it up.
I rolled up the foam guest bed that was staring up at me from the floor and added a desk calendar, cup of pens and Colorado Avalanche coaster. It’s got it all: a window, mirror where I can see my 5 o’clock shadow at 9 in the morning, closet with unfolded bedding, and a direct door to the bathroom. Though my derriere misses my swiveling ergo-chair.
These come from all directions. They might not be the chattering or OMG! gossip of officemates anymore, but they’re still there. They’re just a little more house-like — the cat rubbing up against your leg, your dog going bonkers for a ball, your daughter’s friends traipsing through the living room, even the drippy faucet.
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And these don’t even include the lure of The Fridge, chip bowl or snack cabinet. Once I even raked the lawn — more grooming than I’ve given my hair in the past month — and another time I folded my laundry. I even got sidetracked once by watching an episode of The Office. But at least I don’t have my real office’s electric pencil sharpener right at ear level anymore, which sounds like nails in a blender.
This all went to pot from day one. Which leads to one of the more tangible benefits of working at home — I’ve saved money on razorblades, shaving cream, mouthwash, toothpaste and even deodorant. Consider it a bonus of sorts for working at home. For the first few days I went the sweatpants and even Big Lebowski bathrobe route; it was just too hard not to get sucked into how comfy they are. But then I realized it’s the little things that lead to a productive day, and that starts with your pants. And showering. So that’s what I do now; I shower and put my pants on just like a regular worker at a regular office. Except now they’re a size 34.
At first the whole Zoom thing was kind of a novelty. Everyone was getting used to it, figuring out how to actually sign on, unmute and click the video button. On a board call, my friend Pete played a riff on his guitar hidden below the screen, not knowing his audio was still on. Now people have gotten the hang of it, even to the point of adding those obviously-fake virtual backgrounds that show you on a beach or atop Everest. Not able to figure that out yet, I settle for showing people the dishes stacked up in our sink, the dust on our credenza or, heaven forbid, the back of our toilet.
The first time I used it was for a work “Virtual Happy Hour” at 5 p.m., where I showed up in my robe. At a more official meeting at 8 a.m. the next day, I about-faced and showed up in a suit and tie — or at least the top half. No one really knows, or hopefully cares, what you’re wearing down below.
The main problem with Zoom meetings is that you miss out on body language — those fidgets, smirks and other communication cues — and it’s hard to figure out when and how to chime in. But at least it’s easy to turn the camera off and grab a cup of coffee or hit the commode.
As with being at the office, you still have to get up sporadically to work the kinks out. While at work this might mean a stroll down the hall, visiting the kitchen or wandering to the window, at home it means doing the laundry, wiping the counter or making the bed. Because of this, you actually get more chores done. That cobweb that’s been bugging you up in the corner? Gone. Those dead plants leaves somehow still clinging to that philodendron? Pruned. That squeaky door hinge? Greased. Cat hair on the floor? Still stuck on your fingers. Just don’t get carried away with chores so much that you do more of them than actual work.
Coffee time clock
No more putting a Mister Donut coffee pod into the Keurig machine. Now you’re beholden to your own coffee system. We’re talking good ol’ home brew, which is always too strong or too weak. (Note to self: one tablespoon per cup). The only problem: you have to make it yourself and can’t poach from the office pot. In a way, the coffee pot becomes your time clock. Instead of punching in, you punch the coffee button. As soon as it’s on, you’re working. Then you grab your cup and head to your “office,” slippers replacing Topsiders. For me, the ritual goes on for three or four cups until I’m too jittery to t-t-t-type. The best thing about work-at-home java? No more sneaking someone else’s cream from the office fridge only to find it’s expired.
I’ll admit it: aside from missing coworkers say “There’s donuts in the kitchen,” I snack more at home. At the office, you’re farther away from The Fridge and it’s not even your own. There’s usually not much in there except outdated yogurt. But at home, the world’s your literal oyster, which we actually had in ours the other day. While this can lead to the Quarantine 15, thankfully I’m not there yet. But today I’ve already noshed an orange, piled butter and raspberry jelly onto an English muffin and feasted on a bowl of jalapeno potato chips. And that’s just between meals. If I ate that much at work, my coworkers would think me pregnant or stoned. But all’s fair game at home, including that leftover piece of lasagna.
A final bright side of working at home is using your own bathroom. No more peaking under the stall to see if someone’s feet are there, pretending to use the faucet if it’s busy as if that’s why you came, or refraining from making awkward noises when you have company. You’re in your own house with familiar hand towels, shower mold and surfboard-shaped throw rug. Conversely, there’s no one to blame but yourself if there’s no toilet paper.
To reach Eugene Buchanan, call 970-871-4276 or email ebuchanan@SteamboatPilot.com.
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