Hoffman's Houston
staying home is good

Ken Hoffman on why working at home should be Houston's new normal

Ken Hoffman on why working at home should be Houston's new normal

Houston traffic freeway highway
Do we really need to pack into cars for a work day? Photo courtesy of ABC13

There’ll be some changes after President Trump, Governor Abbott, and most importantly, Judge Lina Hidalgo, say it’s okay to go about our business like normal people.

Maybe friends won’t shake hands, or people you hardly know you won’t hug as much. If you’re on a crowded elevator and somebody starts hacking, you’ll dive for the buttons and get off the next floor. These will be good coronavirus shockwaves. 

The best thing about how our lives will change: People who work from home now will continue to do their 9 to 5 from home. Like everything else related to the COVID-19 new normal, they’re doing studies on the work at home trend. They’re finding mostly positive results.

Better for workers
Workers say they’re happier and healthier working from home, they sleep better, and they’re more productive. According to one study, over the course of a year, an at-home worker will get 16 more days’ work done from home.

Nearly half of America’s employees are working at least part-time from home now. According to another poll, when the all-clear sign goes up, most of those nearly half of America’s employees will try to continue working from home.

Better for the planet
There’s more to the work at home trend than personal happiness and increased productivity. When you venture out for takeout, face mask in place, you’ve probably noticed fewer cars on the road. This is good for the environment.

There are fish in the canals of Venice and the bayous of Houston. (Although, I wouldn’t recommend eating anything your catch in Brays Bayou by my house. Rule One: don’t eat anything that glows in the dark.)

With fewer employees coming into work, companies can own or lease smaller office space, so companies may have a bigger bottom line. Workers can claim a few bucks off their taxes. I saw an article in Forbes that said at-home workers can deduct “a portion of expenses … like internet fees, electricity bill, rent, repairs, mortgage interest, insurance and more.” You might want to consult with your accountant, though, before the IRS says, “Let’s set up a time to discuss this deduction for a big screen TV and your subscription to the Playboy Channel.”

Who needs the commute?
I have a friend who lives in The Woodlands. He used to commute to work in Southwest Houston. The drive took him about an hour — on a good day. When it rained, his car was in that lead story on the 6 pm news, the one about, “Horrors! It’s drizzling and traffic is backed up on I-45 for miles.”

Let’s crunch the numbers: two hours commuting to work every day, times five days a week, times 48 weeks (he’s a boss with lots of vacation). That’s 20 full days a year of nothing but driving back and forth to work. You might want to check my math, I was absent from school that day.

Now, my friend commutes from his bedroom to his dining room table. He’s happier. I’m pretty sure his employees are happier not having him in the office, too. He can be a grouch.

You don’t have to tell me about the benefits of working from home. I invented not going into the office.

Working from home: it's personal
True story: When I was just starting my writing career, this long slow climb to the middle, I commented to a co-worker that I had never met the columnist in my section. The co-worker said, “Columnists don’t have to come into the office. It’s part of the deal.”

From that moment on, every word I wrote had the goal of becoming a columnist. Writing isn’t like counting beans in the accounting department of Prudential Insurance. Writing comes when the inspiration hits you, or when you get an idea, or when there’s a commercial on.

I usually write very late at night, when all the commotion has gone to bed. If I had to come to work at 3 am, I’d wind up stealing from the supply closet and rifling through a certain person’s desk.

I used to keep a yellow legal pad by my bed. Sometimes, when I’d be that haze between awake and sleep, I’d get an idea and write it down so I wouldn’t forget it. I’ve heard comedians say, “I thought it was a great idea, but when I read it in the morning, it was stupid and made no sense.” I didn’t have that problem. With me, I couldn’t read my own handwriting. Now I keep an iPad by my bed. Much better. Plus a yellow legal pad doesn’t have an alarm clock.

Ken and the office Champs
When I came to work at CultureMap, I decided, this time I’m going to be a team player and show my face around the office. They gave me a desk next to the walkway between CultureMap and our sister radio station, ESPN 97.5 FM.

There’s a saying, if you sit in an outdoor café on the Champs-Elysee street in Paris long enough, everybody in the world will walk by you. That was my desk, everybody walked by 10 times a day. I even bought a souvenir street sign from the Champs-Elysee and pasted it by my desk.

I actually enjoyed the office camaraderie except one unnamed person felt compelled to stop and talk for what seemed like hours. It became a joke. In fact, I suspect that a certain boss asked this unnamed person to do it. Sadist boss. I could almost hear laughing from the executive wing on the floor. Not almost, I caught him a few times. 

That’s it, I’m working from home again. I don’t need to bump into Charlie Pallilo five days a week. A half-hour every other week with him on the radio is plenty enough.