The Office Away from the Office
Keeping sane when you work at home
The freelance and telecommuter community let out a collective gasp when Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer reversed the company’s previous policy, which allowed some employees to work remotely. But even if a big company like Yahoo no longer allows it, there’s no mistaking that the U.S. is now a nation of freelancers, with some estimating as much as one-third of the workforce is independent.
Working at home can seem like the ideal—wearing slippers instead of stilettos, petting the cat instead of massaging the boss’s ego, but for those who live in New York City with its ubiquitous teeny apartments, nosy roommates, and noisy neighbors, it’s not as easy as it sounds. And then there’s the danger that with increased freedom can come the increased likelihood of bad work habits. Never fear: Here are three easy ideas to help you stay at the top of your game, while still wearing yoga pants and your ratty college tee. And when the at-home game gets old, check out our five recommended New York freelancer hangouts.
1. Know yourself and schedule accordingly. Instead of trying to turn your night owl self into a morning dove, Michelle Goodman, author of The Anti 9-to 5 Guide and My So-Called Freelance Life, advises any would-be work-at-homer to “figure out your most productive hours of the day and do the big, hairy, no-one-disturb-me-I’m-in-the-zone aspects of your work during that time.” She says you should save tasks you don’t have to be as alert to do—like emailing and invoicing—for your off-peak hours.
2. Keep a handle on email and Internet use. Allison Hemming, owner of the digital talent agency Hired Guns, places tons of freelancers each year. She advises remote employees to set their own agenda. “Triage your inbox—you know what’s important. Then stop the email slurp, and set about to doing your most creative, challenging and important work first.” Goodman agrees that limiting time spent emailing and web-surfing is critical. “If you really can’t stay off the internet and don’t need it on as you’re working—say, for research, or WordPress design—use a tool like Freedom to shut it down so you can focus.” (macfreedom.com)
Change up your location. Your cats may be charming, and the UPS guy doesn’t seem to have noticed that you’re in your pajamas, but sometimes the key to getting to work is leaving your apartment. With that in mind, take a look at the below New York havens where shut-in freelancers can go to recharge instead of going feral at home.
5 BEST PLACES TO WORK AWAY FROM HOME
The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library
A walk past the dignified marble lions Patience and Fortitude who guard the beautiful Beaux-Arts building in Midtown can go a long way in making you feel smarter, more dignified and less inclined to procrastinate on Facebook all day (although there is WiFi, so beware). The nooks and crannies for working are endless in this sprawling complex. Author Mike Edison, who wrote his last book Bye Bye, Miss American Pie here says “working in one of the big reading rooms there is a very serious, but positive vibe. Even though everyone is doing their own thing, you feel like you are on some sort of shared mission.” Presumably that’s a mission that doesn’t involve checking your Twitter feed. 5th Avenue at 42nd St. (917) 275-6975, nypl.org/locations/schwarzman
The Lobby Bar at the Ace Hotel
Whether you choose to sit at the Ace Hotel Lobby Bar’s “tech bar,” which is equipped with free Wi-Fi and outlets, or sink into a plush red couch, you will work more efficiently with a Stumptown coffee or craft cocktail by your side. A side advantage of this freelancer haven is that it attracts a particularly hip, good-looking, well-connected crowd, so it’ll inspire you not only to shower, but also to clip those fingernails and strategically muss that mop. Who knows, you might just meet your next client at the bar. 20 W 29th St., 212-679-2222
Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
The soaring stacks of books in this high-ceilinged shop and cafe is enough to convince anyone of the rewards of finishing that next article or novel. Beyond the free Wi-Fi, there’s Intelligentsia Coffee, beer and wine, and tasty sandwiches made on Balthazar bread. Like at all Housing Works locations, the profit from every new and used book, drink or snack you buy goes to help people living with AIDS. Though Soho itself can be sceney and overrun with tourists, this cafe is on off-the-beaten-path Crosby Street and isn’t usually so busy that you can’t snag a seat. 126 Crosby St., 212-334-3324, housingworks.org/bookstore/
If being surrounded by other eager permalancers and artists inspires, this loft-like co-working space dotted with desks and couches is just the place. Even better it’s absolutely free and open to independent workers from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday—all you need is a laptop. The only catch is that seating is first-come, first-served. Wix also hosts nighttime events such as ArtsTech Meetup and Investing in Interns Workshop that encourage education and networking—check out its online calendar page for details. 10 West 18th St., 2nd Fl., 646-862-0833, wixlounge.com
The new, free Google WiFi zone, which extends from 8th Avenue to the West Side Highway and 19th Street to Gansevoort Street, turns a wide swath of West Chelsea into your own private office. But when it’s too cool to lounge on the High Line, consider nearby Think Coffee, which has the trifecta of a good freelance work spot: free Wi-Fi, copious amounts of caffeine (organic and fair-trade) and inspiration from other workers bent studiously over books and laptops. The large space has plenty of small tables, and prices are low enough to allow you to work for hours without breaking the bank. Freelance writer/editor Rachel Kramer Bussel says she prefers working in coffee shops to her Brooklyn home. “I love the energy of coffee shops,” she says. “Seeing other people having business meetings and working on creative projects inspires me in ways that being alone at home doesn’t.” Just remember to put on some real pants. 73 8th Ave., 212-255-6452, thinkcoffeenyc.com