It’s a weekday morning. I’m sitting at our dining room table. My laptop computer and iPhone are buzzing with incoming texts and emails. Meanwhile, the outline for tomorrow’s Opinion pages is growing, line by line on my computer screen.
I scan the news wires for op-ed columns from the New York Times and the Heritage Foundation and check in with an editorial writer by text.
“What’cha got for tomorrow?” I thumb-type. “Can you sub for me at the 10:30 meeting?”
Making progress, I bounce into the kitchen to refresh my coffee.
“Daddy, I love you,” calls a little voice from the family room, 20 feet away.
“I love you, too, buddy,” I answer as I pour the coffee. “Do you want a grape Popsicle?”
“Sure,” comes his response, wrapped in a moist cough.
My 7-year-old son has the flu. My wife, a public school employee, and I have worked out a tag-team deal on this day: I’ll work at home this morning and she’ll be home at lunchtime so I can put in a half-day at the office.
On days like this I’m thankful for telecommuting. In a pinch, there’s almost no part of my job that I can’t accomplish from home. Also, I’m lucky to have bosses that understand the challenges of modern, two-career parenting.
Still, I wouldn’t want make this work-at-home stuff a habit. I’m old school. If I don’t put on a necktie I don’t feel like I’ve earned my pay. Even as I work at home, my face is clean shaven and my shoes are polished.
My boss texts: “You can work from home (all day) … don’t come in.”
“Thanks, but I need to come in to button down a few things,” I answer. “I’ll make it brief.”
My need to get to work is palpable, even when the sense of urgency is largely self-imposed.
On snowy days, I shoe-surf the driveway before sunup to assess the roads. As my wife will attest, I check the tire tread depth in early December — anything less than 4/32nds of an inch means a trip to Goodyear.
At 55, sometimes I daydream about retirement, but those musing quickly turn unsettling. Once you’ve worked in a newsroom, amid daily deadlines and loud caffeinated chatter, it’s hard to imagine working in solitude — even given the comforts of hearth and home on a cold winter day.
Friends who have left the news business say it’s a little like climbing off a roller coaster, at first you feel relief, then an unsettled stomach, and finally — as you stare at the horizon — there’s a deep compulsion to climb back on the beast.
Still, the larger trend toward working at home is unmistakable. From 20 to 30 million Americans work from home at least one day a week, according to the Global Workplace Analytics and the Telework Research Network. And as companies increasingly look to cut overhead and maximize efficiency, the number will probably increase.
Here’s how I look at it: If your job can be done from your dining room, it can also probably be done from Mumbai — for half price. Ninety percent of life is eye contact. Show up, do work. It’s the American way.
There’s something special about newspaper work — with its 365-day-a-year imperatives — that seeps into your DNA over the decades. You feel like part of a machine. Literally, every moving part has its place. Just about everybody in the building has a little task that, if not executed properly, can monkey-wrench the whole operation.
A slow-moving reporter can idle an entire newsroom. An editor with the wrong work metabolism can let a meeting drag on and affect deadlines downstream. Newspaper work is like an endless, 400-meter relay with high stakes associated with each baton pass. Far from being a drain, this is a highly invigorating lifestyle, and the reason that so many people still enjoy the work — despite journalism being a habitual offender on those high-stress jobs list.
There’s a reason most newspaper reporters have traditionally come from blue-collar families. At the end of the day, we work for a manufacturing company. And we are blessed that so many of you still want our assembly-line product delivered to your driveway every morning.
If no other legacy comes from the Great Recession, let those of us with jobs, turkey-sandwich lunches and paychecks give thanks daily for the sweet rituals of honest work and the satisfying hum of an office fully engaged. Sometimes I just want to hug my desk.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...
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