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Monday, March 8, 2021

The golden age of working from home?

As I write this I’m sitting here dressed in torn jeans, a sweatshirt of questionable age with an indeterminate logo, worn tennis shoes and facial hair approaching Don Johnson’s Miami Vice stubble.

That’s right. I’m working from home, my second week to do this. No, I’m not under quarantine from some obscure Obamacare regulation and I’m not babysitting a sick animal or relative. All employees of the Fort Worth Business Press have become vagabonds – roving, independent, autonomous units working together remotely to produce daily newsletters, weekly print editions and special sections. We’re not testing some new management paradigm or implementing the latest idea from an issue of the Harvard Business Review. It’s not even that we’ve been overly cautious because of icemageddon 2013.

As chronicled here last week by our president, Chip Taulbee, we’re stuck in this arrangement because our building, the Mallick Tower, is currently down for the count due to a water leak that impacted the electrical systems, and the spider ate the fly and so on.

Home reporter I spent a great deal of my writing career working from home, so for me it was a bit of a return to a well-trod road. Since much of my reporting career was spent working for publications covering the technology industry, I often (not always, but that’s a different story) had access to the latest, greatest and fastest equipment to send and receive stories. I started working from home in the days of modems and dial-up connections, basically the Wild West of Internet. The beeps, buzzes and fast-busy signals were a constant and ever-present irritation to those of us attempting to send data over the nation’s poor, overworked, underpowered phone lines. In 1998, I landed a plum assignment and the biggest test of out-of-office reporting – a three-week stint in Asia, even going into China to report on computing in the still-reticent nation. I sent stories to my editor in New York through what had to have been the sketchiest of technologies. Most of them made it.

Java jolt Things are much better now. A solid cable connection at home, a decent computer, a coffee maker and a home office add up to a much more efficient working environment than in the dreary days of dial-up.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about working from home: 1. Some people can do it, some can’t. It would shock my grade-school teachers to hear this, but somewhere along the line I developed some discipline. I no longer pretend my desk is Buddy Rich’s drum kit. You kind of have to have it to work from home. Discipline I mean, not Buddy Rich’s drum kit. 2. Pets are great, but they will weasel as much out of you as they can if you’re at home. They don’t understand work, no matter how many times you say to them, “Get off my keyboard! If I can’t work I can’t buy you tuna!” One cat I had in my work-at-home days, Mittens, would jump on my keyboard to let me know he wanted out. I was waiting for the day I would forget to erase his paw-typing and it would get sent to someone. Mittens was a great cat, but he was no Shakespeare. 3. People sometimes aren’t so great either. “Can you take my cat to the vet? You’re just writing.” No, I can’t. Would you go up to a crane operator and say, “Can you take my dog to the vet? You’re just playing in an oversized Tonka toy?”

I still prefer working in an office, particularly as an editor who needs to have hands on more components. But as a busman’s holiday, this wasn’t a bad excursion.  

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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