I'm an introvert. like, a serious introvert. One of my employees asked recently if he could get a subsidy from our organization to pay for him to work in a rented office space instead of working from home. All I could think was, “WHY????”. For me working from home is the dream, it's a thing I never imagined would happen. I can't imagine paying good money to have to work in an office; I would pay a portion of my paycheck every month to avoid going back to an office.
But today is Saturday and I had to run some errands. It's late spring and I decided to grab some fast food and go sit in a park for a while. I live in a “bedroom community”, a city that used to be all farms, and is now a home for people who live here but work in the “metropolis” nearby. A suburb. The park has been here since my town was still far away from the “big city”.
It belongs to all of us who live here, it's open, it's free. It's trees and grass and shaded picnic tables and a playground and even a skate park off in one corner. And I happily went and sat down under a tree, not that far from a family having a big family picnic, at least three generations of them. On the other side of me was a group of people, all apparently the same age, keeping a lazy eye on their kids who were on the playground, but mostly laughing and enjoying one another's company.
And, for a brief moment, I understood my employee's desire to be around other people during the day.
But It's Different
Here's the thing though. In a city park, there's basically one rule:
Don't ruin the experience for other people.
They codify it into a bunch of rules like “clean up after your pet” and “don't leave your trash on the ground”, but it's all the same rule. Let's all enjoy the park in a way that lets us all enjoy the park. If you want to sleep on a blanket under a tree, go for it! If you want to run laps, that's fine, just don't step on the person sleeping under a tree. If you want to play fetch with your dog, great! Just don't let your dog bite the sleeper or leave a mess for the jogger. As long as we're all having basic respect for one another we're all fine. There is no expectation that you will eventually pay for the experience (I guess we pay property tax but if you came from a neighboring city nobody is going to chase you out. The park is open and free.), there is no expectation that you will do your job or have useful meetings. A public space like a park is one of the greatest things we've invented as a species.
A faux-office where you pay for the opportunity to work for some random employer, and don't even have the camaraderie of your fellow employees is something else entirely. At least for me. Perhaps you can form friendships there, we are good, as a species, at forming friendships. I've made a number of lasting friendships on the job, people with whom I am still friends, long after we have moved on to other “employment opportunities”. But it feels inauthentic (to me) to pay by the hour for a place where you are all alone together.
But my experience isn't the only one. I have a lot of kids. It might even qualify as a handful. If I want to be around other people when I'm working from home all I need to do is open the door and there they are, my family. My employee who wants a rented office doesn't have that, and says he feels very alone when he's working from home. So I can't directly compare our experiences. Also he's not an extreme introvert like I am. Perhaps being able to work from a place where there is bustle and life happening is something he misses and can't recreate in his house right now.
All of this is to say the following:
1. Public spaces are good and necessary.
2. People need other people.
3. People don't all have the same experience
4. I will see what I can do to help pay for my employee to work in a rented office instead of his house.