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The woes of telecommuting

Working from home can make you crave human contact

Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 8:54 a.m. CDT

Last week, Best Buy joined Yahoo to ban employees from telecommuting — a subject on which I am becoming an expert.

As a self-employed writer, I telecommute every day. Thanks to the Internet and my cell phone, I can work for clients from anywhere — my home office, a coffee shop, a campsite in the woods. And it’s starting to get to me.

Initially, I thought I’d achieved a dream. I wear blue jeans every day. I set my own schedule. No longer do I waste time in rush-hour traffic or sit in office meetings as colleagues lick the boss’s boots. But it can sure be isolating at times.

A year ago, I moved back to a house I own in the country. Sometimes, I spend long mornings and afternoons alone there — just me and my computer. I find myself craving basic human interaction. Last week, for instance, a telemarketer called. In the past, I rushed such people off the phone, but no longer.

Telemarketer: “Would you like to buy the Acme security service?”

Me: “No, but how’s the weather where you are? I hear spring is coming late this year.”

Working from home has also caused me grief from my neighbors. I overheard them talking about me one day.

Neighbor 1: “Do you think he’s in the witness protection program?”

Neighbor 2: “I don’t know, but he should get a pet.”

They think a dog would give me needed company during the day, but I don’t want the responsibility, as I am often not home.

I did try to hire a 24-year-old Swedish nanny, but, regrettably, the nanny agency assured me I had to have a family to hire one.

A month ago, some religious fanatics knocked on my door to give me pamphlets and magazines.

Religious fanatic: “You are doomed to hell if you do not read our pamphlets. Will you support us with a donation?”

Me: “No, but I hear it’s going to rain tomorrow. Would you like some coffee? Do you think I should put rose bushes in the planter?”

There are other problems caused by working alone out of one’s home. On the rare occasions when local clients visit my home office, I’m embarrassed to give them directions.

Me: “Make a sharp left at Homer’s bug zapper.”

Client: “OK?”

Me: “Then turn right at Orville’s compost pile.”

So, I’m not so enamored with the home-office concept anymore.

Humans don’t like to be alone. We are social animals — so social, in fact, that I’m beginning to think Best Buy and Yahoo are onto something: that it is better to spend long days confined to corporate cubicles than it is to work in total freedom, isolated at home.

But both companies are bucking a trend that is surely here to stay.

According to a recent Census Bureau report, more workers are telecommuting than ever before — some 13.4 million in 2010, compared to 9.2 million in 1997.

With fewer employees taking up costly office space, more companies are boosting productivity and reducing costs — and they don’t want to give up such gains.

And like every issue these days, telecommuting has become a political issue. The less you drive your car to the office, the fewer carbon emissions you put into the air.

Thus, the telecommuting trend will likely continue.

So, if you still dream about working from home, be careful what you wish for. Before long, you’ll be craving conversations with telemarketers, religious fanatics and anyone else who will listen.

Which reminds me: The postal carrier will be at my house soon. I need to get the coffee started.

Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood” and “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!” is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc.Send comments to Tom at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.

©2013 Tom Purcell

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