I work at home, which I much prefer to going into an office every day, for a whole host of reasons. There's the lack of a commute, which means that the hour and a half I used to spend every day in transit is now devoted to sleep, time with family, and even sometimes more work. There's money saved by not commuting. There's the ability to bathe at a time of your choosing. Most importantly, there's the feeling of autonomy you get from knowing that there isn't someone looking over your shoulder at all times, monitoring your movements.
But what are people who work at home actually doing with our time? The short answer is, goofing off. But that's only part of the story:
Based on a survey of 1,013 American office workers, conducted in June by Wakefield Research, 43 percent watch TV or a movie and 20 percent play video games while officially working from home. Parents are more likely than those without children to partake in these two activities, which aren’t work-related. Employees might not even be sober: 24 percent admit to having a drink.
Twenty-six percent say they take naps. Others are distracted by housekeeping: 35 percent do household chores; 28 percent cook dinner.
Yet despite all the distractions, telecommuters are actually more productive than their peers in the office, according to preliminary findings from Stanford University’s study of a Chinese travel agency.
I wouldn't necessarily take the results of a study of a Chinese travel agency to be easily extrapolated to the entire American economy, but it makes sense to me. The reason is that people who work in offices spend a great deal of their time doing things other than work. They just happen to be different non-work things than the people who work at home do. If you work in an office, there's a good chance you spend a good deal of time surfing the web, which looks a lot like working to an outside observer, because you're staring at your computer. You also may do things like take hour-long lunch breaks. But more than anything else, you probably spend a lot of time chatting with your co-workers, which is something you don't do if you work at home.
There's nothing wrong with that. It builds camaraderie and team spirit! But it's really just hanging out, and the fact that you do it in an office while wearing a tie doesn't mean it more closely resembles real work than watching last night's Colbert at noon.
But you know who doesn't get to do that? People who work on assembly lines. And cashiers. And almost anyone who works for an hourly wage. One of the privileges of being a 21st century knowledge worker is that even in an office your time has a certain flexibility to it, which can make an otherwise unpleasant job tolerable. And now, I'm off to take a nap. Which I used to do by accident pretty often when I worked in an office. The only difference is that after 20 minutes I don't have to jerk up and pretend that I was awake the whole time.