To have a job without a workplace, you must build an office of the mind. Structure, routine, focus, socialization, networking, stress relief—their creation is almost entirely up to you, alone in a spare bedroom or on your couch, where your laptop might vie for attention at any given moment with your pets or kids. If the coffeepot runs dry, there is no one to blame but yourself.
The first time I undertook this construction process was in 2009, and it was an abject failure. I was nine months out of college and had already been laid off from my first full-time job, thanks to Wall Street’s evisceration of the American economy. A woman I knew only from an internet message board hired me to write blog posts for her fashion website, a stroke of luck that turned me nocturnal within six weeks. I lived like a 13-year-old on perpetual summer break—no gods, no masters, no parents, no bedtime. It took two years for me to meet my co-workers in person, and I often fantasized about eating lunch with a live human being, or even just bumping into one on the way to the bathroom. What would it be like to have “work clothes” again? I had never expected to miss driving 45 minutes to sit at a desk in a makeshift office above a country- club pro shop, where, in my first full-time job, I’d done menial tasks in the marketing department.
At first, I assumed my setup would soon be common, and therefore somehow better— we’d all build our internal offices together. “There’s no stopping it,” a Reuters writer proclaimed a few months after I began my blogging gig. “The work force that fuels tomorrow’s small businesses may largely be a stay-at-home crowd.” Laptop prices were shrinking, and more employers were issuing them to their workers. Smartphones started to fill Americans’ pockets. Skype was well established as an early leader in videochat, and co-workers silently traded jokes on GChat. The Great Recession would force a reckoning in how stuffy old companies operated, and offices would soon be obsolete.
Then it just didn’t happen. In fact, something like the opposite happened: Co-working spaces sprang up for people without traditional offices, and the concept attracted hundreds of millions of investment dollars and, for a couple of years, my patronage. In 2018, I finally got a regular job. I sometimes ate lunch with my new colleagues. I bought a fancy water bottle for my desk. After a few months of commuting, I understood the allure of podcasts.
YOUNG PEOPLE WHO WORK REMOTELY RISK REMAINING UNKNOWN QUANTITIES. AND UNKNOWN QUANTITIES DON’T BECOME BELOVED COLLEAGUES, OR GET PROMOTED.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
The Awful Wisdom of the Hostage
What a new memoir reveals about endurance—and extreme remorse
THE DIPLOMAT WHO DISAPPEARED
IN 1974, JOHN PATTERSON, AN AMERICAN DIPLOMAT ON HIS FIRST ASSIGNMENT ABROAD, WAS ABDUCTED BY THE PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY OF MEXICO—A GROUP NO ONE HAD HEARD OF BEFORE. THE KIDNAPPERS WANTED $500,000 AND INSISTED THAT PATTERSON’S WIFE DELIVER THE RANSOM.
‘It's Always Been About Exclusion'
America is a diverse nation of immigrants—but it was not intended to be, and its historical biases continue to haunt the present.
Can Justice Be Served On Zoom?
COVID-19 has transformed America’s courts.
The Boutique In Your Bedroom
As stores disappear, shopping in your own closet becomes the ultimate luxury.
The Human Side of Fracking
Living with the allure and danger of a lucrative, dirty industry
The Power of the First Lady
How Lady Bird Johnson and Nancy Reagan advanced their husbands’ ambitions—and their own
Television turns to magicaal realism to explore the trials of early adolescence.
How Will We Remember The Pandemic?
The science of how our memories form— and how they shape our future
Return the National Parks to the Tribes
The jewels of America’s landscape should belong to America’s original peoples.