TOM CRITCHLOW
March 6, 2024

Work is a Place

Maybe I don't like working from home?

My buddy Luke recently started a band called Tattoo Mustache. While we were chatting, his eyes lit up talking about jamming in the studio with his bandmates - his arms were flailing and you could feel the energy coming off him like steam from a hot pan. These weekly jam sessions are something magical - “You can just rent a studio for 3 hours” he said “it’s like $116 and they have a drum kit and keyboard and everything!”.

What does starting a band have to do with working from home?

Well.

I’ve been working for myself for almost 10 years and the story I told myself was “Hey I’ve been working from home for years, well before COVID. It’s easy and I like it”.

But… I think maybe I’ve been lying to myself all along?

After a nourishing chat with my buddy Howard I decided to go back and look more closely at how I’ve actually spent my time working for myself. Here’s one way to look at my consulting journey so far1:

This is almost 10 years of working for myself. All “working from home” right? But when I went back to look more closely:

Aside from a few brief stretches I’ve never actually worked from home for extended periods of time.

  • 2014 - 2015: I had a desk at a lovely co-working space called The Works
  • 2016 - 2020: Consistently in client offices 3/4/5 days a week
  • 2020 - 2021: 18 month covid road trip with the family
  • 2022 - 2024: Consistently wfh 4/5 days a week

In retrospect it’s kind of amazing to look at that four year period of being a corporate nomad, bouncing around from one client to another all over NYC. I remember one period in the summer of 2018 where I was on-site with Essence three days a week and on-site with Ziff Davis two days a week.

But for a variety of factors (less consulting work, less time in-office) I haven’t been on-site with clients consistently for the last few years. This period lines up perfectly for when the malaise and feeling stuck set in…

Dimensions of Loneliness

I’m not really interested in the macro WFH vs return to office debate. I’m more interested in my own personal experience and reflections. As an independent I’m not going to solve this with a monolithic “return to office” but instead I have the freedom to assemble a more jigsaw2 like puzzle of fitting different components together.

Here are some of the distinct types of socializing that I might be missing:

  • Belonging. A sense of being part of a team and some kind of shared objectives / goals / shared values.
  • Support. Being able to have people around you to help you when you get stuck with something specific.
  • Jam partners. People to feel energized and electric with, to help brainstorm or cram on projects.
  • Creative collisions. Existing in a space where you can bump into new people or make new introductions.
  • Micro human interactions. Being able to step out and grab coffee or talk about the weather.
  • Tacit experience. The experience of passively observing others at work and seeing how people structure their time and work.
  • Separation of home and work. The ability to go somewhere to work.

What am I missing from this list? What are all the ways that working with others is nourishing?

So, What To Do?

I’m planning on working for myself for another 10 years at least. What assemblage of work places and spaces do I need to nourish my work?

Some things I’m going to try:

  • Hosting co-working sessions at Public Records, my go-to daytime work space
  • Crashing at friends who spare desks at their office
  • Attending a few more events (I’m going to the future of coding meetup next week if anyone wants to come)
  • Maybe: starting a studio space for weird indies to work out of

What have you tried? How do you find personal balance and sustainability in a wfh world?

  1. Note this doesn’t include SEO MBA course revenue which kicked in 2021/2022 and is 50-60% of my income the last few years. 

  2. Working for yourself requires a lot more piecemeal solutions. I wrote a bit more about this in The Jigsaw of Independence


More blog posts:

A Lil' Website Refresh

March 20, 2024

Work is a Place

March 6, 2024

This post was written by Tom Critchlow - blogger and independent consultant. Subscribe to join my occassional newsletter: