Off road

Recent headlines about the horrors of rush-hour commuting were deeply satisfying to those of us who work in home offices.

According to a nationwide study by the Texas Transportation Institute, the average urban traveler was stuck in traffic jams for 46 hours in 2002, an increase of 187 percent over 1982. In some big cities, time lost to traffic tie-ups was much worse: 93 hours annually in Los Angeles, 73 hours in the San Francisco Bay area, 67 hours in Washington, D.C.

We work-at-home types hear about such wasted time (and expensive gasoline), and our well-considered, mature response is along the lines of: "Neener, neener, neener. Hahaha on you."

For most of us who work at home, the "commute" consists of stumbling down a hallway to the spare bedroom. We don't need a car; heck, we don't even need shoes.

(Now that my two sons get themselves to and from school, I sometimes go days at a time without driving at all. Or wearing shoes.)

One could contend that this is yet another argument in favor of the productivity of home offices, if we at-home workers made productive use of that time. However, "found" time is like "found" money. Easy come, easy go.

We're so busy congratulating ourselves on avoiding the commute, we fail to see that we waste many more hours every day than we would if we drove to real jobs where we had a boss breathing down our collective necks.

While the rest of you sit in traffic, listening to the radio and talking on your cellular phones and performing nostril maintenance, we housebound types are wasting time in much the same ways. Or worse.

Some examples:

--When I worked in a regular office, I almost never talked to my mother during working hours. Now, thanks to my flexible schedule and unlimited long-distance minutes, my mom and I talk all the time. (If I still commuted, these are conversations that undoubtedly would occur while I swerved through traffic. The world is a safer place.)

--We work-at-home types enjoy music while we're working, much as you do during your commute. But it's unlikely that you would use your driving hours to totally reorganize your CD collection, alphabetically, by artist.

--Some commuters work out their frustrations by cursing and screaming and making menacing gestures at their fellow motorists. For such venting, we who work at home have computers.

--Many commuters use their time in stalled traffic to snack. Not only can at-home workers eat all the livelong day, we can also take time to prepare elaborate dishes that can be devoured before the kids get home from school.

--You often see commuters grooming themselves in traffic. Work-at-home folks can spend unimpeded hours in front of the mirror, sighing heavily while examining wrinkles and gray hair and nostrils.

--If you're stuck in traffic, you can get temporarily distracted, but you can't really wander off from the task at hand. I sometimes find that I've wandered away from my home office to watch CNN or stare at passing clouds or gossip with my neighbors. Anything to keep from working.

As you can see, we don't really gain much time by not driving to work, despite our gloating. But working at home still beats commuting.

While we're wasting time, distracted and unproductive, we're not trying to simultaneously drive. Not much chance that we're going to have a wreck while padding to the spare bedroom. And there's a much lower incidence of road rage inside one's own home.

Neener, neener, neener.

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