Saturday, September 09, 2006

Nothing But Time

Working at home just doesn't work for me -- it never has. I need to be in my office, surrounded by all my office stuff, without the home distractions of people and cats. I don't think this is any more virtuous than people who work successfully at home, though. The key thing is what you accomplish, wherever that may be. I have postdocs and students who prefer to work at their homes, and that's totally fine with me as long as we have enough time in the department when our schedules intersect, and as long as they are making progress in their research.

I was recently entertained when a colleague who NEVER comes to the department at night or on weekends, and seldom in the summer months either, stopped by the office one weekend to check his mailbox after one of his many vacations. He saw me coming out of my office, and was very surprised. He said "I didn't expect to see YOU here". So I said "Why not?" He had no response to my question. It occurred to me then that perhaps some people who 'work' at home (as opposed to the ones who really do) assume that no one else is working in the off hours either.

When I was a grad student, there were lots of grad students and postdocs working late at night and on weekends in the department. In my department now, it's the faculty and postdocs who are there at all hours, and we seldom see grad students at night and on weekends. I have always assumed that this means that the students are better at working at home than we older people who 'grew up' working in the office. And, without getting into the whole cat vs. dog issue, for some reason a large number of people in my research group have dogs, and these dogs require a lot of attention and company. This is fine with me -- I like both dogs and cats, although at present I only have cats at home. I have been strangely fascinated to watch two dog-owning but childless people in my research group juggle schedules that are much more complex than mine (a non-dog-owning mother of one). They love these dogs, of course, and the dogs are important for their emotional well-being, so we all just work around it, just as my students and postdocs have to deal with my occasional absences or erratic schedule when my daughter doesn't have school.


Anonymous said...

Nice to learn perspectives from someone who works in an office but not at home. On the contrary, I do research only at home. I know that has bothered my colleagues a lot especially when they scheduling meetings and courses with me. I am doing theoretical research. Home is the only place I can possibly manage the degree of concentration needed and get relaxed to let creative thoughts flow. When I work at home, I do not answer phone calls and sometimes shut down my computers. For the first couple of hours in the morning I do not talk to anyone but myself. I admire those who work more flexibly and still get research done.

SciMom said...

When I was a graduate student and postdoc, I was at the lab all hours of every day - and I loved it. It was my social life as well as work life. Back then, fewer postdocs and grad students had children or were even married. Now more science seems 9-5pm and I know that these postdocs aren't typically working from home.

I choose to work at home after the kids are in bed but I never assume that no one is in the office/lab after I leave. I know they're there. I often wish I could stay late too. But for me, in the throws of raising two small kids, I will give up my late hour days for being with the children for dinner and bedtime. It's just what I need to do to feel good about raising my children. What works for me doesn't have to work for others.

Anonymous said...

I love working at home. I save 3 - 4 hours a day on the commute, I do not get tired or cross from said commute, I am here when the girls get in from school (and they are just like me so they straight away get on with homework or reading or computing), and I have a great attention span. Plus no office politics to distract you.

Chacon a son gout, as I think someone once said!