People and Places

Think you can work from home? Warning: it’s not for everyone

The only real job I ever had I left in 1970. It was an editorial job in a big building in downtown Toronto. I lasted 11 months. Since then, I’ve worked from home, although not always at home. I’ve spent lots of time on location and in editing suites for various television and film projects. But mostly I’ve lived and worked in the same space. And once or twice I’ve been asked if I have any helpful hints about attaining or maintaining something called “work-life balance.”

So I mumble something about work and life having become, over time, virtually indistinguishable. And about the work part of it being a function (or perhaps a symptom) of one’s personality — whether you need (or can stand) a structure (and a regular paycheque), whether you need (or can stand) the interpersonal Twister-like interactions that a real workplace demands.

But mostly it’s about whether you can stand the guilt, because, truth be told, working at home is a pretty sybaritic existence. Certainly, not everyone infected with the Protestant work ethic can handle it, but not having to stand at the bus stop on -30 mornings or sit in a cubicle — or even put pants on — is a strong antidote.

Of course, much depends on the kind of work you do. If you do work that’s vital to other people, like being a plumber or a senator, or you do work that requires actual human contact, like being a pickpocket or a dentist, then working at home is probably not a good fit. But if you’re lucky enough to do something of no real importance to anyone, like writing, you can surely do that at home. And in your pyjamas. Because you can.

Admittedly, there’s the odd day you’d rather be “living” than “working.” But if you’ve found something you like doing — or something you simply feel compelled to do (as per Steve Buscemi’s Seymour character in Ghost World: “Maybe I don’t want to meet someone who shares my interests. I hate my interests.”) — then work and life might occasionally achieve some temporal state when you’re neither teetering nor tottering, at least not perceptibly.  But I don’t think you can freeze-frame that.

If you need a demarcation — or, even trickier, a balance — between work and life, then working where you live and living where you work probably isn’t such a great idea. That’s when you get dressed, go out, and get a real job..