Work from home, an old norm
Since everyone has been going on about working from home, here’s something personal. When I turned five in 1956 my parents decided I must go to school. Like any sensible child I saw no point in it. Indeed I hated it. The idea of being away from home for an activity that could be performed at home seemed ridiculous. But there was no recourse and for an excruciating 11 years, till 1967, I was forced to attend school. Then came happy deliverance. Somehow I managed to pass school and my parents sent me away to college. I had to attend only 66 per cent of the classes. That meant that for the rest of the time I could loaf about without a worry. After three years of this came more joy — the master’s degree where attendance was not compulsory. So I mostly stayed away from classes because, true to form since kindergarten, I could not follow anything that was said there. In fact, even the backbench wasn’t fun because all the girls sat in the front two rows. They took notes and I knew that with a little begging they would lend those notes to me. So those two years were blissful.
But all good things must end. Education ended and after a spell of unemployment that was mandatory in the 1970s, I found a job where 100 per cent attendance was compulsory, from 9 am to 5.30 pm. Within a week my soul was in coma, not least because I was able to finish the day’s work by lunchtime. I somehow managed to last for five long years. Then one day a friend took pity on me and said I should try journalism. You can officially loaf about all day, go in at 6 pm, file your story by 7.30 and go off home then. This sounded heavenly and I became a journalist.
I mastered the tricks quickly, was done by noon and would return home. The bosses didn’t approve; my wife liked it even less because the neighbours thought I was unemployed.
But after two weeks the editor decided to put me on morning duty, 10 am to 4 pm. My job was to ghost-write editorials for him. I mastered the tricks quickly and by the end of three months I was done by noon and after handing in my work I would go back home. The bosses didn’t approve but there was nothing they could do. My wife liked it even less because the neighbours thought I was unemployed. Once the proprietor asked me what my career goal was. I told him it was to maximise leisure because the harder I worked the more money he made. That ended all prospects of advancement but I didn’t care. I had hit the sweet spot of work-leisure balance.
Still, it irritated me that I had to go all the way to office in all kinds of weather to do what I could comfortably do at home in my shorts and T-shirt. But there was no way out until the day when a computer text transmission software called PC Plus came in 1996. The gates of heaven had opened up. A kindergarten dream had at last come true.
I installed it in my computer and after being satisfied that it worked I went to the editor and said I would henceforth work from home. He demurred saying it would set a bad example to others. We argued for nearly six months. Then he said, ‘ok but I will reduce your salary by half’. He thought I would refuse but to his utter dismay I agreed. So since April 1997 I had worked from home. I sell my output, not my time. This means that as an early riser I work from 5.30 am to 9 am. After that I am free to do whatever I please. In 1998 I changed my tax status to self-employment which means I can claim expenses and reduce them from my taxable income. Also, because I sell my output there are many buyers now and I have been able to earn more than just a salary.
But the most important thing is that I go out only if I want to and not because I have to.