I hate working from home

Despite Yahoo's attempted trend towards the contrary, the ability to occasionally work from home is becoming a "mainstream perq" of modern software knowledge work. It is joining the ranks of casual dress, free food, and hackathons, as a workplace differentiator which will soon no longer be so, like bread service at restaurants.

The benefit is that if I need to wait for the cable guy or if the roads are too snowy, I don't need to burn a personal day. And the truth is less and less of our work requires our physical presence to be completed.

But what at first seemed like an extraordinarily positive fringe benefit ("Work without going to work!") has over the years revealed itself to be loaded with negatives, to the point that I find myself making the commute on days when it would be far more safe and sane to just dial in.

Here is a partial list of problems:


Not just the drink, but what it stands for.

I consume gallons of coffee when I work, in part because of its chemical effects, but also because it's part of my "process". The act of drinking coffee, of having to get up and fill a cup, then sit down, and lift it and manipulate it in my hands, and feel it in my mouth, the whole ritual burns up some of the nervous radiation which is a by-product of combining my brain with a problem.

At home, I have to make (and pay for) coffee for myself. It is a domestic task which must of necessity take place in the kitchen of my home, which is the same place where my wife and I perform the business of maintaining our family and our bodies. It is a room loaded with non-work connotations.

At the office, I am given coffee free of charge, in a clean, gray pantry. It is one example of, and a metaphor for, how the best office environments are designed to keep my mind "at work", which is where I need to be in order to "do work".


At home, there is no "office manager", there is no "facilities team", and there is no "mail room". Along with my spouse, I have to perform those duties myself whenever I'm at home.

If I'm at work when the living room ceiling starts to drip, that sucks, but I'm "at work"; I don't have to know about it or do anything about it until I'm not at work anymore. If the new particle-board pantry shelves are left on the steps in the rain instead of on the porch, those bastards! screwing me over while I was "at work". But I don't have to go to that headspace until I punch out.

But if I'm at home, the fact is that I am, technically, physically capable of dealing with "home stuff". Because the fact is that at some point throughout the day you will need to leave the cave and go to the bathroom or get a pencil or make some coffee, at which point you are unequivocally "at home" (though your mind may not be).

And if in the course of that errand (utterly work-related) you happen to notice a soggy brown box dying a sailor's death on your steps, you are morally compelled to do something about it. It would be a real dick move to say, "Sure honey, I saw the box, but you know, I was 'at work' so my hands were tied." No you weren't, you were standing right there, asshole.


In an open-plan cubicle, there isn't much else to do other than work. By deciding to drive to the office, I have already made up my mind for the rest of the day that "work" should be my default mindset for the rest of the day.

My home on the other hand is designed for literally anything except work. I have intentionally filled my house with all manner of awesome non-work activities, including books, movies, video games, cats, wives, toys, and exercise equipment. 

Sitting in a home office, no matter how perfectly "appointed", I still know that all of the artifacts of play and life are within moments of being in my grasp. Each moment, I must re-make the choice between work and play. Unlike at the office, work and play are equally physically proximate, which makes the id's arguments for indulgence and laziness all the more convincing.

A lot of this is due to the unique challenges of being a knowledge worker. A large part of what I'm paid to do is to know where I should focus my attention next, which means that my attention, by necessity, moves about in the course of the day. The choice of where my attention next rests is a lot less challenging if the menu I have to choose from is as small as possible.


This is kind of a special case of "Choices". 

My house is in a wooded development, deep in a rich forest biome that percolates with life and color even in the winter months. If you sit at any given window for longer than a minute, you will eventually be confronted with a unique and stirring tableau of light and nature which opens your heart and stills your mind.

Okay, now turn your attention back to the dead-fish gray of Microsoft Outlook.

This goes beyond the fact that "I'd rather be staring out the window than doing my work". When I am at home my work in software development and database administration is presented to me in the harshest possible contrast to Actual Life.

Outside my window is Life and Breath and Beauty, and inside my computer screen is dead bits speaking broken languages to cold machines.

No, this isn't "The Truth", and it is a perception that waxes and wanes with my attitude and engagement throughout the day. But I don't care how much you say you love your job; your job at its most fun and exhilarating still loses nine contests out of ten with a downy woodpecker scouting the branch of an eighty-year-old pine tree.

Why the FUCK would I EVER want to WILLINGLY stop looking at THAT, and instead look at a screenful of five-year-old SQL which appears to have been written by a brain-damaged badger, and which it is my privilege to somehow make valuable to my Zaibatsu.

Okay, you say, so close the curtains. But I'd still know that it was all still out there, inches away from my now-darkened Work Hole. That's a bad recipe for engagement.

So, to my boss, understand that when I say I "need to work from home tomorrow", I'm not fake-lamenting. I am genuinely regretful of this fact. Some awful circumstance in my life has doomed me to a day of angst and frustration (even more so than usual) as I struggle to make things for other people, now surrounded by thousands of reasons not to do so.

First-world problem or not, I still deserve your pity.

Technical superstition, and the disassociation of cause and effect in computer "science"

Wirecutter is ruining my life