When I was in middle school, I lived next door to a woman named Amy, who was always staring out of her second story home window. I wondered why Amy was always home. Then, when the summer between 6th and 7th grade began, I was hurling a tennis ball against our garage door (blaring Third Eye Blind and the Spice Girls) and I finally met Amy.
She came outside and asked if I had anyone to hang out with because the sound of my ball slamming against the garage door and Scary Spice rapping was keeping her from her work. I looked around, dejected, and pointed out that we lived in a neighborhood with no other children. She conceded (it was a newly built cul-de-sac off a busy road) and asked if I wanted to come in while she made me lunch. This became a daily activity where I’d knock on her door around noon and she would make me all kinds of treats or bring me on her errands. We became fast friends—I spent my entire summer with a 40-something single woman—joking that she was my “day mom” (my actual mom spent her days working as a VP at TRX, later known as Expedia).
Working from home, then and now
We’ve all heard the horror stories of people who starting working from home during the late-90s and early-2000s. Telecommuting with a giant headset, a super heavy IBM brick of a laptop, and an old BellSouth phone that had a million buttons. I know Amy sat on conference calls and filled out a lot of spreadsheets that summer. Between work and errands, she and I were lonely, but for different reasons. Amy was looking for companionship, and back then, all of her friends worked the 9-to-5 with a long commute. There wasn’t a Starbucks or any internet cafes at that time, in that place. Amy was a pioneer in a digital world just starting to burst at the seams, but it was a lonely frontier.
I’m now thirty and I work from home full time. When I started working from home I was so excited because I came from an open concept office that made it impossible to get anything done. The first thing I noticed is that at home I got my work done a lot faster with far fewer distractions because people weren’t tapping on my shoulder every 15 minutes. (You know what I’m talking about, when you have your headphones in that means back off!) Four Kitchens uses Slack, and while that can be distracting sometimes, I can always turn it off. We meet over Zoom, so I do have face-to-face (-to-face-to-face) interactions throughout my day. I feel connected to my co-workers through multiple channels of interaction. I actually feel MORE connected to my clients than I have at other agencies because we have daily video-conference touchpoints. Since our entire office is remote, we’re all on the same page, because we’re virtual with each other, and our client.
The remote-work frontier
As a whole, working from home means I have no commute. My professional travel is greatly reduced since I no longer have to physically go see my clients at their offices. I don’t need fancy clothes five days a week and I no longer spend eight dollars on a weird sandwich that’s been in the office vending machine for who knows how long. I only spend money on a coffee drink when I feel like working from a coffee shop. Did I mention that I can write-off my home office? Really, it’s a good deal.
The only downside is that, like Amy did two decades ago, I get lonely.
Virtual interaction doesn’t feed a human connection. Can you image trying to have drink with a co-worker via FaceTime? Awkward… I don’t see any lonely children roaming my neighborhood, but when I go on my afternoon runs I do see elderly women sweeping their porches and washing their windows. It takes everything I have to not go up to them and ask if I can exchange labor for a conversation (“I’ll sweep the steps if you’ll just talk to me!”). My headset may be lighter, my laptop may be sleeker, and I don’t even have a BellSouth phone, but while the path Amy walked might be easier now, the remote-work frontier can still be lonely.
From personal interaction to community building
My partner comes home from work and I have so many things to talk about. She’s a teacher, and at the end of the day, she just wants peace from the screaming children (and sometimes parents) who have consumed her time and energy. I have found that we’ve become closer because I want to know what happened in the world while I was staring out our front window, where my desk sits.
I need to leave the house at least once a day. I need to talk to someone, in person, every couple of days. This rule excludes my partner and our animals. What I’ve realized is that work creates community, and even though I didn’t always get along with my work community, I spent 40 to 50 hours a week with them. When people are taken out of these structures, it turns out there’s a whole other community that you have to seek out. I have started playing summer softball, I make a point to have lunch with friends, and I’m volunteering at a local farm. Adjusting to working from home has been interesting and sometimes lonely; however, it has taken me out of the very exclusive 9-5 white-collar world and it has broadened my sense of community. I know when all my neighbors come home, who bikes, who walks their dog and who waves. I spend every day with my cat and two dogs. I make healthy lunches and we’ve become a one car household. I still have my work community, but work doesn’t consume nearly as much time as it once did and it’s no longer my primary source of community.
I needed people to process work related experiences with and my neighbor walking her beagle or Joe from summer softball didn’t cut it.
Finding a new way
As a distributed company, Four Kitchens has found its own way of connecting remotely. I really like the people I work with and it’s sometimes sad that they are hundreds of miles away from me. I look forward to our in-person workshops and retreats, and client workshops. With that said, I think we still need a local community built around work, which is distinct from our other communities. I realized I needed people to process work related experiences with and my neighbor walking her beagle or Joe from summer softball didn’t cut it. So I decided to start a Facebook group for queer women that work from home in Atlanta (where I live). Eventually, I would like us to have a standing time where we get together, in person, and discuss our work and tips for working from home. We could meet in coffee shops or co-op office spaces. I’d love to meet up for a happy hour here and there. I’m not sure how much this work community will intersect with, or replace, the parts of the old work culture I miss, but I do know that I’m exploring new avenues. The importance of this Facebook work community is also to talk about experiences that are related to being women and queer within a work culture, while, tangentially, working from home. There’s something to be gained from that, which is a niche within a niche—within a niche.
Rather than replacing the old, I’m looking to expand and grow my networks and my communities, to find a way to connect beyond the work culture my parents created. I hope that in growing these networks I can bring new ideas to Four Kitchens, feed my need for human connection, and relate to those who best understand my work life.
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