The Perils of Working From Home

20Jan11

When wandering over various and sundry science blogs, the Facebook pages of distant high school friends who have gone on to graduate school, one of the common complaints I read about is office space. Cramped quarters, irksome office mates and the like. And at times, I envy them.

You see, I work from home.

My department, for all its upsides, essentially doesn’t have office space for graduate students. There are a great many people, and I can think of three genuine offices that grad students occupy off the top of my head. At least one of those was never intended to be an office, and another will have its occupant evicted, I suspect, the moment we bring on another faculty member or post-doc. There are some study carols, but you might as well call the med school library “office space” if that’s the standard we’re going by. The result is that, unless you work for an outside group that has office space, or are one of the rare people doing wet-lab research and can steal some bench space, you work from home, the coffee shop, the library or wherever else suits you.

This does admittedly have its upsides. I get up when I want to, I can work as late as I want to without annoying the cleaning or security staff (I am the cleaning and security staff), and if I’m feeling under the weather, spending my day wrapped in a blanket while typing is utterly acceptable. Despite working in the sub-divided living room of my modest one-bedroom apartment, my office is probably bigger than any reasonable grad-student office, my desk absolutely is (I bought a monstrously large desk via CraigsList), and I’m essentially free from worrying about my stuff getting carried away.

But it does come with its downsides. The two that impact me the most seem to be:

  • Infinitely many distractions. Admittedly, I can get myself distracted just fine at work, or anywhere where there is internet. But working from home is really bad for distractions. The TV’s right there, so is the couch, and video games, and a dozen other ways to put things off and tell yourself you’re being productive – like dishes, and an unmade med, and the wall you’ve been meaning to paint…
  • It’s very hard to keep up a barrier between “work” and “home” when they’re the same geographic location. It’s handy when say the cable company has given you an appointment time between 8 and 3, but the default position is to have the person who is home deal with “home stuff”. Which can take massive chunks of time out of the day. The only two solutions I’ve found are either that time being made up later and being in a weird quasi-work state for long amounts of time, or aggressively defending work-time being unavailable for various and sundry household issues. Both are…less than perfect as solutions.
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