Monday, September 28, 2015

Working From Home...The New Compensated Solitary Confinement?

Hello all! It's been a while since I've checked in with a blog post. In fact, I haven't had much to say the past couple of months since you have last heard from me. My creative juice is low, and my need to write has been on the back-burner since I find it difficult to sit down to write after 10 hours of sitting down for work.

You see, I work from home, and have done so for two years now. I literally crawl out of bed, put on the same pair of house pants and t-shirt, and walk across the hall to my "office" to start the day in front of a computer.

Now, before you begin thinking, "how lucky is she?" and "what do you do for a living...I want to sign up for that!" consider this post as a rain-on-your-grass-is-greener-conversation. Not to sound negative, but the public mindset of working from home is quite interesting. The reactions I receive from strangers when I tell them I work from home varies, but for the most part, there is envy.

In part, this envy might stem from media. I typically see job advertisements recruiting for work-from-home positions that look like this:
"I LOVE getting dressed up for the office, but instead complete my job tasks on the floor at home. In fact, I can knock out my yoga practice WHILE working! What a FLEXIBLE schedule! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, haaaaaaaah, ha!"
"With a computer in front of me, and a toy truck in front of Junior, this work from home lifestyle is a cinch! I too prefer the floor, because office chairs are for cubicles! Screw cubicles! This is fun!"

I can vouch that this propaganda is pure B.S. Sure, I sit on the floor occasionally like these people, but it's because my back is killing me, and I need a change of scene. The visual message these photos convey is far from the truth.  *Disclaimer: The type of work that one is performing at home will influence the opinion of the work-from-home experience. Note that working part-time from home or a job that entails working from home but meeting with clients, etc. is not the type of work I'm speaking of here. The type of work I perform is fairly inflexible, meetings are non-stop, and work is performed independently but with a team that is also remote...No eye-to-eye human contact, no change of scene or new experiences, and critical data checks and entry is carried out on several computer programs all day. Ok, got that out of the way...

In looking at these photos, one gets the sense that the rigid office chair is kicked to the side, spending time with loved ones is on the forefront, and you can multi-task life and work with a beer in hand. Here is what I have learned about working from home:

  • The simple act of getting dressed for work gives you a sense of purpose. When you work from home, you throw on the same stinky clothing each day and leave your hair unbrushed. Brushing your teeth might be forgotten too. Ick. Before you know it, you feel like you haven't contributed much good will to yourself or other human beings.
  • Working from home and spending time with your family is a fallacy. Sure, you are already home when you log off your computer and save countless hours being stuck in commuter traffic, but the fact is that your work is ALWAYS there. Companies with a larger telecommuter population work around the clock--emails, requests and deadlines extend to midnight instead of 5pm. Before you know it, you have hardly spent much time with your loved ones because you are at your work computer between waking and sleeping hours.
  • Speaking of having loved ones at home while you are working, there is fault in this too. Interruptions abound while you are trying to focus on a given task. Your home life bleeds into your working life. Your spouse flushes the toilet while you are on a conference call. The list is endless and before you know it, you never relax because your brain is constantly in work mode because you cannot literally leave your work at the end of the day. Or, you think about personal tasks and get caught up in what's going on around you and find it difficult to work. Constant tug-of-war.
  • While one can potentially drink beer, wine, etc. while working, it's not advisable. Two words come to mind: Slippery slope. Drinking on the job at lunch, might turn into every day at lunch, then breakfast, lunch and dinner...and before you know it, your boss is questioning why you have increasingly produced flawed work. (I don't speak from experience here, but I can see how this could take a hold of me.)
  • Lastly, the largest aspect of working strictly from home is the feeling of solitary confinement. I have to hole myself up in the home office to focus on the minutia of my work. My days last anywhere between 8 - 12 hours in front of a computer. Many days, I don't talk to anyone. I listen in on teleconferences, give a brief 3-minute update, or field a random phone inquiry. After two years of working in this type of environment, I've noticed a silent but increasingly alarming change in myself. My level of patience has decreased. My sense of humor diminishes Mon-Fri. My anger (about many things, some trivial) has increased. I cry incessantly about nothing sometimes, and feel very depressed, which ebbs and flows. Sometimes I'm anxious. Sometimes I have insomnia, and sometimes I want to sleep all day. What the hell is wrong with me?!?
Suspecting that I need to vary my day more, I remedy the situation by working at a coffee shop (when my schedule allows,) or by joining a group fitness class at the end of the day. These actions help, but do not alleviate. I find that most of the time I go into public, the interaction is minimal and most people keep to themselves. Additionally, there's no way to balance 8-12 hours of solitary time against 1-2 hours of being around others in public. The emotional roller coaster I have been experiencing feels like torture, and I joke with my husband that I liken my work to solitary confinement. He smirks, but inside, I feel this to be true.
Is there a difference here?

To amuse myself, I took to researching what solitary confinement does to the brain. Granted, take this with a grain of salt, because the effects of true solitary confinement would be much more severe than working from home solitarily.
This quote from rings true. We define ourselves by those in our workplace, our circle of friends, and even the strangers we come into contact with. We learn more about ourselves from others than we do from our own self-exploration. Think about every single time you are with someone, your opinions and thoughts are either validated or challenged.

Scientists have further found through animal and human research that solitary confinement has a causal relationship on the structure of the brain, and in fact may degenerate the brain! When a living creature is confined from others, the body experiences difficulty in regulating stress hormones, leading to a dangerous buildup that causes neurons to die in the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that makes us most "human." Many released prisoners have reported long-term symptoms of introversion, paranoia, anxiety and depression after release from solitary confinement. It took only a minimum of 3 months of solitary confinement for these adverse effects to kick in.
Holy freaking moly! These are symptoms similar to what I've been experiencing over the course of a couple of years (lesser degree of confinement.) Is this a coincidence or am I onto something? 

An article on indicates, "Although there's no single agreed-upon definition of solitary confinement, the United Nations describes it as any routine where prisoners are held in small cells for at least 22 hours a day under constant video surveillance. The cramped, concrete cells, often just 6x10 feet, are constantly illuminated by fluorescent light and contain a bed, sink, toilet, and not much else. Except for prison guards, inmates are intentionally deprived of other people and stimuli, including television, radio, and perhaps no more than a few books."

Working from home is described as a routine where employees conduct work in their home (of varying sizes, often equal to or larger than 6x10 feet) for at least 8 hours a day under constant email surveillance. The home office is generally set-up according to the the employee's liking, though requires a desk, sink, toilet, and the constant use of a computer, deprived of other stimuli.

No doubt my research of this subject matter has raised ethical questions with our incarceration practices, (such as the chicken or the egg subject-matter on mental illness vs. the effects of solitary confinement for ex-cons integrating back into society.) Additionally, this research can be lightly compared to lifestyles where people choose--or don't choose--lifestyles that contribute to feelings of loneliness.  

A article reports the ill effects of loneliness, excerpt captured below, in which I further believe our modern lifestyle puts us into the lonely category. Facebook, cell phones, telecommuting...all done alone.
Could it be possible that the increase in mental illness statistics directly correlate with technology's influence to a more solitary lifestyle? Can the new employer telecommuter model actually cause more problems with our emotional health? ended their article about solitary confinement with the story of the famous 1968 round-the-world sailing race, and the differing effects of isolation on the sailors, namely Moitessier and Crowhurst: 

I'd love to hear from others who work from home--what types of internal changes that have occurred (if any) or how to cope with the lack of human contact and stimulus.