I went to work completely naked today. It’s hot, and I’m not, but if you work from home you really need to spice things up a bit now and then, because your co-workers are never going to do it for you.
Sitting breezily at my laptop, and carefully angling the screen so as not to catch my reflection, it struck me, like an errant cushion zip – working home alone might, finally, be pushing me over the crumbling cliff of sanity.
It’s truly baffling how many, and varied, the things you can miss about working in an office are.
The unidentifiable, unimaginable stench of what seems to be rotting effluent in the tea room fridge, the incomparable awkwardness of bumping into that colleague from HR at the lifts, repeatedly, and never being able to remember her name, the richly riling fury of the Loud Talker at the desk near yours demonstrating their clinical inanity during constant social phone calls.
Working from home, being self-employed, abandoning the daily grind of commuting and meetings and memos and pointless politics and taking your turn for the coffee run, is meant to be fantastic. And it is, to be fair, fabulously freeing and invigorating, for the first year. Maybe even two.
You know the novelty of being your own boss and working from pub beer gardens has well and truly worn off when you watch a mockumentary like the ABC’s painfully brilliant Utopia and find yourself pining to be in the kind of annoying, frustratingly fruitless office environment it portrays.
As the information super highway widens its lanes and speeds up, more and more of us are choosing to work from home, largely to stay off the slower and slower roads of the real world, and it’s true to say that I’ve not once missed the crushing commute.
But the one thing that working home alone proves is that we are, at heart, social animals, and no amount of social media, email, phone calls or even Skype conferences can replace that.
Yes, working as part of a team is stimulating; striving towards a common goal, climbing the slippery ladder to a management position where you actually get to run that team and then to mentor and help younger staff to improve, and yes, obviously that professional interaction is a large part of what you miss, even, surprisingly, the meetings.
Yet what really aches within is a desire for the non-work parts of work. The strange, disconnected relationship you have with that guy who you only ever speak to in the tea room – mainly about what that stench could be, and who’s to blame for it – until the office Christmas party, where you put an arm around each other’s shoulders and declare you undying love.
The silly but hilarious conversations with colleagues that kick off over unexpected trivialities – someone claiming they never found Seinfeld funny, a man admitting to enjoying manicures, a furious debate over the best period of output for Van Halen.
It is those interactions you can’t replace when you go it alone. Sure, you still catch up with your favourite former colleagues for lunch and drinks, as often as you possibly can, but it’s the people you never really felt that close to, the small cogs in the machine, the work mates who aren’t actual mates, that you find yourself missing, even the mildly annoying ones, who would never return a coffee shout and ate more than their share of the birthday cakes.
And yes, you miss all the birthday cakes, too.
Of course there are things about the office you will never miss and which make your self-employment look fabulous to those who are still there.
Overall, though, it’s hard to deny that being employed has more advantages than you realised when you were a part of the workforce, and that those advantages go well beyond a regular pay cheque, and superannuation that turns up without you having to think about it.
Sadly, as a journalist, there’s little chance I’ll ever have a proper job again, so I’m working on coping strategies. I’ve started by stuffing prawn heads, sushi and some slugs into the far corners of my fridge, and accosting my neighbours in the street to talk about random topics. Naked.