Demanding homework

Millions of us work from our homes these days, and plenty would like to try it, but it's not always easy to persuade your boss that you should relocate to your home office.

Many bosses feel more comfortable with their employees all under one roof, where they can keep an eye on them. They fear that work-at-home employees will spend all day doing laundry and watching soap operas rather than actually being productive members of the company. Or, they think subtracting workers from the office will hurt the spirit of creativity and flow that comes from workers bouncing ideas (and other sharp instruments) off each other.

Not that long ago, people could demand to move their operations to the home front, and employers would give in because they knew it would be tough to replace experienced workers. Better to have a veteran employee lollygagging around the house than to have a new recruit whose entire resume reads, "Burger King."

Now, though, with the economy tightening and unemployment lines lengthening, many employers find they have their choice of bright young things who have been laid off by dot-com companies or sent packing by Wall Street. Because of this pool of potential employees, the average worker has less leverage for demanding to work at home.

But that doesn't mean you can't go home again. Given the proper strategy, you can still convince your employer to let you work at home and experience the Joy of Sweatpants. You must be creative in presenting your needs and demonstrating that working at home would solve many problems for you and your boss. Some examples:

--Complain loudly about your commute. Mention the many hours you waste sitting in bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic, and how you could be doing something productive with that time if only you didn't have to drive to the office every day. Some bosses may be slow to pick up on this cue, but daily complaining for several months should get their attention.

--Wear the same clothes to work four days in a row. When co-workers run to the boss, holding their noses and whining, explain that you never have time to do laundry because you're too busy working and commuting. If you could only work at home, then you could run the washer while still grinding out those productive man-hours. If your boss still refuses to come around, you could suddenly find that you don't have time to shower, either.

--Spend hours every day on the telephone for personal business. Call your spouse, your children's school, your doctor, the babysitter. Make dinner reservations, call the dry cleaners, query the library. When boss or co-workers object, tell them you'd love to make all those calls from home, but there's only so many hours in the day and since they insist that you keep coming to the office . . .

--Sigh a lot. Repeated heavy sighing eventually will make people say, "What's wrong?" Then you can say, "Oh, nothing." More sighing. They'll say, "No, really, what is it?" And then you say, "I was just thinking how wonderful life would be if I could telecommute." This may take repeated applications.

--Take up smoking. When your boss sees that you're spending all your time outdoors anyway, maybe sending you home will seem like a good solution.

--Develop many annoying habits, including any or all of the following: gum-smacking, knuckle-popping, mindless humming, nail-clipping, ear-digging, nose exploration, throat-clearing, repetitive burping, whistling of show tunes, facial tics, St. Vitus dance, toe-cracking, coffee slurping, unexpected shouting, loud praying, hysterical laughter, unprovoked weeping, insistent selling of band candy.

Given enough exposure to your annoying habits, an employer most likely will offer to let you work at home. He might, in fact, even sweeten the deal, offering you a raise or stock options just to get you out of everybody's hair.

Of course, all of these strategies carry a certain amount of risk. They could backfire. Rather than surrendering to your demands, your employer might decide it's better not to have you around at all. In which case, you could join the bushy-tailed dot-commers in the unemployment line.

But you'd get to stay home all day, right?

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