Barack Obama visited Los Angeles this month and, amid the sound of military helicopters flying low over the city before his arrival, you could almost hear the collective groan of disgruntled commuters. The president is beloved in La La Land but even laid-back, liberal Angelenos have started to take umbrage at his visits, which regularly paralyse large sections of a city still beholden to travelling by car. Fortunately, I’ve been able to avoid most instances of Obamajam, as it is known here, because I don’t have to commute anywhere.
I am among the 10 per cent of people in the US that regularly works from home. You could include Obama among them, although I suspect his working area in the White House is better-equipped than my small space tacked on to the back of the garage. He also probably doesn’t have a problem with three little kids – our four-year-old boy and girl twins and six-year-old boy – interrupting his phone calls or bursting into his office at inopportune moments.
Before we had children, I didn’t count on quite how noisy they would be – or how fascinated they would be with the mundane stuff going on in my office. And yet every day there they are, knocking on my window and peering inside, as if looking at an animal in a zoo.
If I have forgotten to lock the door, I may turn around in my chair to find them trying to dismantle my printer or stick their fingers in electrical sockets. Once, a telephone interview I was doing with the former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was interrupted by my older son, then three years old, and completely naked apart from a pirate eyepatch, bandanna and plastic cutlass. “Ahaaar!” he shouted, waving the cutlass in my face.
“What was dat?” said Schwarzenegger.
I stammered something about the joys of children and silently managed to shoo the boy out of the room without putting down the phone or my notepad. The Governator, had he seen this manoeuvring, would have been proud.
Noise at home is also a factor. We stupidly bought my six-year-old a basketball hoop but the only flat part of the garden where it can stand is – surprise! – directly outside the office. The metronomic sound of a ball bouncing on concrete has become a maddening backing track and opening my door on hot days will invariably be followed by said ball hurtling into the room and smashing into my computer.
I shouldn’t gripe. I no longer have to endure having someone’s armpit being pressed into my face on a crowded train and home status means I should be a more productive worker, if a recent Stanford University study of a Chinese company is to be believed – although the authors acknowledged that working from home could also lead to “shirking from home”. I would argue that a bigger problem is losing one’s marbles: staring at the same walls every day and not going anywhere can do strange things to a person.
I realised early on that I had to get out of the house at least once a day to avoid turning into an unshaven, unshowered recluse who was still in his pyjamas at dinner time. I would work for an hour or so in a local coffee shop but, like any routine, this became monotonous because I would constantly see the same faces: aspiring screenwriters poring over screenplays, elderly Botoxed women heading to the yoga studio next door and hordes of overweight Mamils (middle-aged male in Lycra) cycling by.
The coffee shop used to elect one of its patrons “customer of the week”, with the winner getting their picture displayed on the counter. One week I won and rushed home to tell my wife. She arched an eyebrow and said: “I think this working from home thing is getting to you.”
She was right, of course. And yet here I am several years later, still working from home, sanity (vaguely) intact and, I’m happy to report, not sitting at my desk in my pyjamas. Not since last Tuesday, anyway.