One week last month, Ragan CEO Mark Ragan decreed that the editorial employees would work from home for a week, as an experiment in logistics, productivity and morale.
Since then, one by one they have been writing harrowing accounts of those five days in February.
One missed the “galloping camaraderie” of the editorial bullpen, another discovered the impossibility of juggling work and household chores, a third fought “bouts of isolation, inertia and delirium” and still another struggled psychologically:
“I quickly learned that while my productivity remained the same as at the office, I missed my cube triggers. I forgot to pop my iron pill, eat the piece of fruit that’s always on my desk. Oh yeah, and drink water. Without my water bottle in eye’s view, it didn’t cross my mind to get up and fill a glass. In short, my routine went by the wayside.”
Good God, they sound like the Morgan Freeman's character in Shawshank Redemption: “I don’t think I could make it on the outside, Andy. I been in here most of my life. I’m an institutional man now. … Pacific Ocean? Shit, ’bout scare me to death, somethin’ that big.”
I busted out of Ragan and went freelance 11 years ago this spring. I didn’t intend to stay freelance—just needed to get out of that damn office. Needed it so desperately that I just left, and only by good luck wound up taking some substantial work with me, which gave me a platform to build Murray’s Freelance Writing into the global juggernaut it is today.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, my feverish need to escape didn’t have anything to do with the company itself, or its people. It had to do with being in any office for too long.
Once you've worked at one organization for awhile, every meeting becomes a loosely improvised play you’ve been in for your whole life, it seems like. The subject sometimes changes, but the characters remain the same and the arguments are interchangeable. No matter what, Dave is going to say something like this, Ruth is going to defend her set of five core principles, Kevin is going to counter what everyone has said, and Dan is going to try to smooth things out with some sort of compromise.
And if office life is too predictable, it's also sheer madness. A day in an organization reels out of control like a drunken night. No quiet to plan your schedule, interruptions and impromptu meetings and friends and complete talkaholic assholes hanging on your cubicle wall, ignoring the shadow that your looming deadline is putting on your face. You get to the end of the day desperately anxious and having done almost nothing at all.
That’s how I remember it, anyway.
Once I got out, I remember feeling like I was breathing again. There was no adjustment period. I remember being absolutely amazed—and many days I’m still taken aback—by how much I could accomplish in a day without a commute or meetings—and still find time (when it works for me!) to exercise, eat leisurely, and answer the e-mails from my family and friends, something that came as a terrific bother when I was in an office.
I’m not an introvert. I love office banter. I’m just a guy who likes to get some goddamn writing done. When I’m in an office, I’m distracted by all the problems of the company, all the politics, all the personalities, and it all takes me away from the content of my job, my writing.
I’m glad the Ragan people are enjoying life on the inside. I enjoyed most of my time there, too. But I'm a little troubled, and I think they should be, too, that they found it so hard to be, for one short week, on the outside.
P.S. I'll soon get mine: Later this spring I’m going to experiment in the other direction, and attempt to spend a few days in the office of my main client, McMurry, judging an awards program. I'll let you know how it goes, but the last time I visited McMurry, so distracted was I by the office stimuli that it took me an hour to send a three-sentence e-mail.