Working from home not all it’s cracked up to be

The home has now become home to work

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VANCOUVER, BC, Mar 1, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Both my grandfather and father had them. My grandfather’s was called “his den,” with bear-like connotations not lost on his grandchildren. Dad’s was called ”his office” – perhaps because he occasionally, as a practising pediatrician, saw patients there.

Both rooms were on the main floor of old Vancouver houses, with inviting views of lawns and flower beds. They were sanctums, too, with a sense of inviolability and even sacredness. You didn’t just budge in and poke around. Rather, you were invited in.

‘Working from home’ changed over time

My grandfather’s den was lined with bookcases, crammed with hardcover books – all of which he had read. There was a Complete Works of Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, a compendium of Churchilliana, the collected poems of Milton, Wordsworth, Blake, Lord Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, Arnold and Keats. It was the literary signature of my family.

The First World War also figured largely in his den. As Captain Robinson of the Royal Sussex Regiment, my grandfather had led an infantry charge on Aug. 14, 1917, during the battle of Passchendaele. Sixteen thousand British and Colonial men were killed that day. My grandfather lost his right eye to a piece of shrapnel as he and 20 other soldiers hunkered down in a bomb crater, singing The Roses of Picardy until the shelling stopped. Mementoes of Passchendaele were everywhere in his den.

Working from home, at the ‘hoffice’

Dad’s home office was medical, just like him. The bookcases were full of diagnostic text books, peer reviewed journals like The New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet, and Canadian Paediatrics, and framed paintings by his favourite artists. Besides seeing the occasional patient away from Childrens’ Hospital, he wrote in his office.

Dad was a medical scholar and a professor of pediatrics. Literally hundreds of peer-reviewed papers were produced at his desk, at all hours of the day and night. He never wrote at his hospital office, preferring to work at home in his office on the main floor.

Dad’s office was an art gallery too. He had very strong loyalties to a small Canadian ‘Group of 3’ – his children. We were encouraged to draw, paint and model in clay from a very young age. Dad’s esthetic and acquiring eye was trained by Mom, a professor of fine arts. She and he selected for quality and originality on egalitarian principles. All three of us were treated equally. Our chosen works were matted and framed and hung across the office walls. Questioned by various strangers about our art, we thought of ourselves as artists from an early age.

By the time I required a home office, or ‘hoffice’ in inner city condo realtor jargon, my wife and I had moved out of our city house as the children had moved on. We never had a home office in 30 years of suburban life. Part of the reason was that homes got progressively bigger ‘great rooms’ and TV rooms, and work was relegated to the downtown office that we all commuted to each morning. If we worked on evenings or the weekends, we did so by going back downtown to the office.

Working from home endemic to today’s society

Our current condo era required radical downsizing – from 2,200 square feet to 800. From big, comfy furniture to small, cramped pretend versions. From seven rooms to three. And with all of this came, not retirement, but rather consulting for multiple clients after varied careers with six different employers. Now, the entire condo feels and functions like an office by day and a bedroom by night. Work is ever present.

And as I look around my inner city building, I realize I am not alone. Scores of hoffices are apparent as soon as the curtains are pulled, and the residents are evident at their workstations, tippy-tapping away at their desktops. The home has now become home to work.

Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery. He currently writes for a broad range of Canadian media, and consults to the boards of start- up NGOs.

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