Silicon Valley people and home-office employees everywhere are very worked up about the new Yahoo policy, which says people can no longer screw around at home instead of going to their perfectly good corporate headquarters. What about the ladies, who have the babies the world so desperately doesn’t need? Well, they will have to do what non-Silicon Valley $100K salaried ladies do, which is “try to find a spot in a day care where the TV isn’t on all the time.”
There are legitimate reasons for working at home, of course. You may be in an Iron Lung or full body cast, which would frighten the editorial assistants. You may live outside the metropolitan area where your colleagues live and work, which is the case for me: My editors are always in New York, and I am usually 3,000 miles west of New York. Still, working at home is only a luxury for those who have never worked at home. Next time you’re home, take a look around. Do you want to work there, with all those dishes in the kitchen and dog hair on the sofa and undone chores calling your name while you’re trying to make a joke about something in the New York Times nobody even cares about, including the New York Times reporter on the byline?
Working at home is bad for society. Look around, if you happen to leave your house today, and you’ll see Americans don’t exactly need encouragement to relax their personal appearance standards. Going to the office is the final fraying thread between occasional showers and becoming a dumpster monster. Have you ever been to West L.A.? Just try to get a coffee, just try, and you cannot, because every Starbucks and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is packed solid with unemployed screenwriters typing on their MacBooks. They don’t want to be home! It’s depressing.
Here is what you should do: You should live close to your office, close to your kids’ schools, close to All The Things, and then you should go to work where people go to work. Need to take Lil’ Poopy to the pediatrician? It happens! Children are dangerous disease vectors, indiscernible from other vermin. But when you live in a compact urban environment, you tell your boss you’ll be out to take your sick kid to the doctor, and you’ll see your boss in court if that’s a problem, and also you will return to work in 90 minutes to do your job. Sorry about how you can’t get a 3,000-square-foot stucco monstrosity in the city, but you don’t need that anyway. Millions of Knowledge Economy Workers who were better and smarter than anyone alive today existed happily in small city apartments during the 20th Century. When they wanted fresh air, they went to their country house, hours outside of town, and it was affordable because it was just some house in the woods where there was no economy beyond the weekenders.
The workplace is part of civilization. Yes, it is true, that back in the Middle Ages or Colonial Williamsburg or the HBO series “Rome,” tradespeople often worked on the lower or street-facing portion of their home, but that’s because they lived in the town, in the marketplace. They were engaged with the populace. Even acclaimed fiction writers of the 1960s — those awful East Coast men writing about masturbation and suburbs and hating their adult children over some kind of tortured inadequacy — had offices, sometimes in their own ridiculously inexpensive Manhattan apartment buildings.
Working at home is crap. Chat rooms will never compare to being able to tell people to get bent in person. Emails are ignored, while following someone into the elevator or bathroom is very difficult to brush off. There is nothing like being in the same building with people, letting them know you are there, watching them, always. Traditionally, management has exploited this role, but in our terrible modern society, it’s the employee who should be in the workplace, conspicuously watching the bastards. You know who never learns they were laid off by reading Romenesko? People who are in the office, engaged, alert, watching for signs the way a storefront psychic watches for tan lines on ring fingers. And when you need to concentrate, go have a coffee for 20 minutes, or take a smoke break. That is so much better than whatever people do when working at home and need a break, which is mostly “eat stuff out of the pantry” and “think about moving.”
And if someone does wrong you in the workplace, you’re right there to follow them to the subway station, not too close now, through the bustle of busy streets, waiting outside the corner market as they pick up a six-pack and some milk, and finally to that one place where they cannot enact the company crisis plan: their own home.
Also there should be onsite quality daycare at every business with more than a dozen employees, come on.