In Review: a Week of Pants-Optional Employment

So, yes, I’m working from home for a few weeks as a favor to my boss. Once or twice a year, as the university processes retirements, promotions and new hires, there’s an office shuffle — basically musical chairs but with no music and boxes of papers instead of chairs.

This time around another department on the same floor as ours added a staff member, and they wanted to keep everyone together. This meant somebody in my department giving up their office to make way, so the boss asked if I’d mind working from home for a couple of months until an office on the third floor became available.

No, I didn’t mind at all. A friend worried that this signaled impending job loss or punishment of some kind, but it’s the opposite: a recognition that as a one-woman Department of WordPress Development who communicates almost entirely by email anyway, I can work almost anywhere and without supervision.

Hah, supervision. I’ve been on this job for five years now, and for five years nobody’s understood what I’m talking about. We do have other people who program, but not web and not working with design, content management, analytics, SEO and all the rest of it. So when I try to communicate something, they assume I know what I’m doing and nod.

It’s a privilege I don’t abuse because it gives me the liberty to research, experiment and make mistakes without repercussions. I can’t imagine having this same freedom in a team.

The big week finally arrived.


Up at 6 a.m. I’m never up at 6 a.m. when I have to go in to work. At 6:30 I might drag myself out of bed, muttering under my breath. I am not a morning person. But I want to prove that I’m not using this as an opportunity to slack, so up I go. I get a load of small chores done, start a couple loads of laundry, and at 7:58 I’m at my laptop.

Since I’m working at the same time I’m lunching I’m done fairly early. It’s a quiet and productive day. My free time starts earlier because I can skip the train ride home and the walk from the station.


Oh no. At around 7:35 I realize I have no caffeine in the house. I don’t function without a morning Diet Coke. (I’m not a coffee person and never have been. When I drink the stuff it feels like granite, rough with sharp corners jabbing my stomach lining. The last time I had coffee was three months ago, and I had food poisoning symptoms for two days after, though I assume that was a coincidence.)

So, anyway, I trot over to the grocery store for a resupply. This never happens when I go in to the office because If I’m out at home I can pop in to the convenience store on the way.


This is where it got fun. I spent the first two days clearing a stack of emails and paperwork that had piled up over the spring while I was building a library of backgrounds for our department’s new green screen photo booth. But I really need more screen real estate for the graphics project that’s next, so I crank up my desktop and log in to work from there.

And … for whatever reason, and I still haven’t figured it out, my desktop SFTP program won’t connect to my server space, even though the identical software is working fine on my laptop. And it’s not even a case of, say, my security software locking me out. Connections to all the other sites work fine. It’s just the one I need to get to that I can’t access.

But hey, I can work on the command line. I often don’t because, due to university security guidelines, etc., I am generally not allowed access as a non-sysadmin to do syadmin-y things. But that’s a story for another day.

I fire up Terminal and pull up an SFTP cheat sheet. Immediately I forget I’m already running SSH. So instead of downloading the 250+ PSD files I need, I manage to spew copies of every single one all over the remote server. Oops.

Yeah, I cleaned that up and tried again. Apparently I got it right. But then I find my Adobe license hasn’t made it through the labyrinthine purchasing process. I have the GIMP, I respect the GIMP but I’m not going to rebrand and regenerate 500 message boards using the GIMP.

So that goes on the back burner. Next project. Well, that also needs Adobe. Next project? Ah, yes, mobile CSS fixes. I can do this. And there’s nothing to download.


Around noon I realize I haven’t talked to a single person all week except the grocery store clerk. My level of regret about this, on a scale of 1 to 10, is about a -20.

New Jersey is a lot of things. One of them is loud. I moved back to this area after eight years in a town of 5,000 that was an hour from the interstate and 2 1/2 hours to the nearest multiplex and shopping mall. You could hear the night sounds of horses, goats and owls for a mile around. The first 18 months after moving back here nearly shredded my central nervous system, and I’m still drained easily.

My usual work environment is, in decibels, New Jersey squared. The powers that be put my department’s offices directly across from classrooms. Sometimes people are just making noise. Other times they’re knocking on my door wanting tech support, computer parts, my login and password, spare paper, a stapler and my whiteboard marker. And that’s just the faculty. The students do all this and also lean against my door for long bitch sessions about the faculty, interspersed with the latest about Kim and Kanye.

My second action of the morning, after turning on my computer, is plugging in my earbuds and cranking up the music. I have a rule of thumb: if I have my earbuds in, and I’m playing my music, and from outside my closed door you’re still managing to drown out a heavy metal band, you’re too bloody loud and I will come out and hurt you.

When the music is right, I reach this incredible level of concentration that gets me through difficult projects with a positive attitude and sense of humor. At other times it leads to incredible levels of bad chair dancing. One time “Twisting the Night Away” came on and I got completely wrapped up in my own stylized version of the dance; it resembled a failed ballet dancer twisting to a gospel choir performance. A passerby looked in, thought I was having seizure and tried to intervene.

At home I don’t need the earbuds. I’m listening to music less and less.


I not only got up early, I started working at 6 a.m. And kept working and working. Suddenly I realize it’s 6 p.m. I have no idea how that happened and hope it doesn’t become a habit. While I’m willing to put in the hours, I do need to get up and stretch at times.

Looking Back

So the first week was, all in all, a success. I still have technical barriers to sort out, and If I were doing this over the long haul I’d be afraid of becoming a hermit. But I’m productive, I’m relaxed and I saved about $40 in train fare, dining hall meals and the incidental bottle of Diet Coke.

Oh, and I still haven’t gotten around to the not wearing pants bit. The raggedy old jeans I can’t wear to work are fine by me.

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