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July 12, 2006

Working from home

We're in the third week in which my office has been shut down because of flooding. Some of my colleagues are working in a remote building, but most of us have been working from home. Notice I said working "from" home and not working "at" home. I've been telecommuting once a week for a couple of years, and I've noticed that people react differently when you say you're working at home. They immediately start joking about your home repairs, yard work, and so on. Right now, I actually have some serious work to do; this is probably the busiest I've been at work since about December.

I've already discussed naked telecommuting, and I've denied participating in it. But no one seems to believe me. Which goes with this story: The first few days after the flood were my previously scheduled time off. My wife and I had a few days alone with all of our kids off doing other things. I mentioned this to a friend at shul, and he started the following conversation with me:

Friend: Did you and [Mrs. Attila] run around the house naked?

Me: I don't think I want to discuss that.

Friend: But I thought we were friends.

Me: I tell you what. We'll come over to your house and run around naked there. Is that good enough?

We haven't actually done it yet, but for some reason he suddenly left town without a forwarding address.

Anyway, there are some real advantages of telecommuting, including avoiding almost an hour's commute each way. My colleagues and I still can communicate with each other through office email, which all of us have access to through a VPN, and one enterprising colleague has even set up an office blog, for purely social communications.

Another advantage is that I can spend some of the two hours I'm not commuting riding my bike instead. It's not the greatest thing in the world to ride on a roadside hiker-biker trail at rush hour; the fumes are not very appealing. But it sure is better than nothing.

Speaking of biking, what is it with joggers? I get along well with joggers when I'm on my bike, because they generally follow the rules of the road, unlike the Chinese walking ladies and dog-walkers. But lately, I've noticed that many joggers are plugged in to a source of music, which is fine for them, but they can't hear me if I want to warn them that I'm coming quickly up from behind.

And then, there's the issue of jogger attire. Is this common? I saw a woman jogging the other day wearing a midriff blouse -- not a teeshirt or jogging bra but a blouse -- and a short wraparound skirt. I'm not objecting. It actually looked pretty good, not that I was looking, of course, being married and all.

One disadvantage of working from home is receiving work-related calls at home. No matter what you do, there's always something vaguely unprofessional about it. It's one thing when I pick up the phone knowing (by way of Caller ID) that the call is a work-related call for me. It's another entirely when I'm out for a little while and my mother, who's visiting, takes the phone message. Nothing about my mother; it's the idea of having your mother answer for you.

Another disadvantage: The doorbell rings. A young guy is standing there with a clipboard. Bad sign. Very bad sign. Usually one of Nader's Raiders. This time, however, it was a guy wearing a DNC teeshirt. He managed to get out three words -- "Hi, I'm with..." -- before I smiled and said, "You have the wrong house."

But the main disadvantage of working from home is my talking refrigerator. Every time you pass through, or even near, the kitchen, you just have to open the refrigerator. I've shamelessly borrowed this concept and the phrase "talking refrigerator" from a series of Dilbert cartoons in which Alice telecommutes and ends up drinking a bottle of salad dressing and, if I remember correctly, a jar of pickle juice. Dilbert and the Pointy-Haired Boss show up at her house to take her back to the office by force, using tranquilizer darts. As for me, if I can't resist the call of my talking refrigerator, it won't be long before I'm dying to go back into the office, voluntarily.