As an itinerant internet laborer, I‘m one of an increasing number of workers untethered from traditional workplaces. Without the funds for formal offices, we telecommute or work gig jobs, operating off our couches, in bars, or at shared coworking spaces. But while all these options seem great at first, they also have serious drawbacks.
After the honeymoon period wears off and the cabin fever sets in, working at your home can turn you into an isolated, uninspired crazy person. Or, as in my case, if you don’t have a large place, a kid at home can make it impossible to get anything done. Unlike your office, coffee shops and bars have cool people in them and are therefore distracting; also you have to keep buying beverages, which adds up. Even coworking spaces can be a financial stretch when it feels like an expense you could live without.
This is why for the past couple months, I’ve been punching in at my friend Mike’s apartment a few days every week.
Mike does a data management job from home part time and works as an audio engineer to supplement his income. He fills out his spreadsheets and TPS reports as I do my typing and research, to a soundtrack of low volume news or YouTube’s finest Simpsonwave mixes. We snack. These days, I even work at his place some days when he’s away on audio gigs. He doesn’t care. Mike and I are close and were roommates for many years, so we’ve become inured to each other’s many flaws and terrible personalities, allowing for this kind of friendly exploitation
This might not sound like much of a step up from hanging out in my own living room, but even just going to a different neighborhood and changing up the scenery feels positive and boosts my productivity. And it helps redraw that line between office and private life that telecommuting blurs—without a physical distinction, after a while, instead of working from home, it can feel like you’re living at work.
With more jobs offering telecommuting options and sharing platforms digging their way into the rest of the economy, employees are going to need more places to work, as businesses unload overhead costs onto contractors. These economic changes will also likely require us, one way or another, to further leverage our property and things—the way some people make rent by crashing with family for a few nights each month while Airbnb-ing their apartments. Informal workspace arrangements between pals can help on both fronts.
If you work at the home of someone you know and pick up the occasional utility bill, buy a case of toilet paper, or chip in with rent—even in some minor amount—it can be a big deal to some people living on a thin margin. And of course, if you have a friend who’s also a fulltime telecommuter, you may be able to alternate working at each other’s homes on different days.
This isn’t going to be possible for everyone. Even most good friends probably don’t want you up in their business all the time or touching their stuff when they’re not around. If you don’t communicate very openly, welcomes will be overstayed and feelings will be hurt. But as an adult, it also gets harder to find occasion to see your old pals anyway, and while quiet laptop time isn’t exactly a party, it’s still a way to hang out with someone you don’t visit with enough anymore.
But if you don’t have a buddy that wants to pair up for telecommuting time, or let you set up shop at his or her place, you can check out Hoffice, a platform allowing users to form coworking groups in their homes. And if that’s too social for you, there are a number of apps and services that let you rent or borrow unoccupied offices by the hour.
I’m not exactly elated at the prospect of fulltime jobs with desks and company computers being replaced by far less stable telecommuting gigs. But if you’re a professional laptop jockey of any kind, working at a friend’s house—even if your friend is working elsewhere—can make the coming remote work revolution seem a little less ominous. If we don’t think of a better way, our nation’s coffee shop infrastructure will collapse under the strain of the new Wi-Fi hobo class.