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Why a home office is best

By Devangshu Datta
April 03, 2006 16:03 IST
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A friend of mine calls it the "water-cooler syndrome." In an era of frenetic mobility, he has stuck with the same employer for 20 years. This is because he places what most people consider an unnatural premium on clean water, at the perfect sipping temperature.

A lot of white-collar workers have another version of WCS. They spend quality time in apparently idle gossip at the cooler. The conversations are scarcely earth-shaking in terms of content. But it's at the cooler that Ram from Accounts figures out that Shyam from Marketing is getting antsy about his pending bills and Madhu from Purchase is stressed because her dad's in hospital.

The sharing of scuttle-butt is integral to the office experience. So are long, painful commutes, phone calls with random strangers and masses of irrelevant e-mail. Circa 1996, I figured that, on a 12-hour workday, I usually got two clear bursts of 15 minutes to work without somebody demanding an immediate share of my mindspace.

The penny dropped when I realised the cabins were worse than the cubicles. My boss rarely got two clear 5-minute slots per day and his boss never did. The core competency of any CEO is to share mindspace.

It's great fun ordering people around but the minions receive the reciprocal right to interrupt just when you're trying to fiddle a tricky regression analysis.

Workus Interruptus wasn't the only reason to exit the rat race. The joy of cutting out the commutes featured largely in my decision. The two hours I did not spend on the road could be far more profitably spent cuddling my cats.

Those little monsters demand even more attention than the average colleague. But it is much easier to work a regression analysis with a cat purring on your lap than to do the same thing while colleagues are asking random questions.

In contrast to colleague management, cat management also actively reduces stress levels. Once you've trained the moggies not to spray computer-screens with feline testosterone or to playfully attack the mouse, they're a joy to share an office with. (Admittedly I do have to clean CD-drive lenses frequently due to the furry environment and the cellphone has never been quite the same after Tiggy started using it as a scratch pad.)

There are other advantages to the home office. Top of the list is the absence of phone calls from PR agencies. My wardrobe consists of nothing, or a towel in summer, and tracksuits in winter.

The coffee is a lot better than in most offices (the Maison Datta-Roy can go head-to-head with most five-stars in the matter of coffee).

I keep the hours I like, use the exercycle when I want, and take a shower anytime. If I want to read Terry Pratchett, or surf porn, or watch Sehwag make a hash of the short stuff, I can do so without fear of interruption. Cash goes further--you have better control over your taxes and a lot of expenses are deductible.

This is why I've always found the annual "Home office from Hell" awards puzzling. By definition, you have more control over your living space. So, if you work out of a hellish home office, the fault, dear Brutus, does not lie in the stars.

There are downsides, of course. You must make arrangements to outsource payments of bills, and couriering of letters, etc. Systems and network management, the creation of reliable backup power, keeping the paperwork straight are also your responsibilities. Most of all, it takes a lot of training to make family, friends and neighbours realise that you're not automatically available even if you are at home.

Nevertheless the real problem with the home office has nothing to do with being your own CIO, receptionist and HR department. The real danger of working from home is that it renders you permanently unfit to return to the cubicle or even the corner cabin.

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