Work Groups Make Telecommute a Social Affair
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
On Wednesdays we talked about the workplace, and today a look at how much easier it is to work from home, thanks to the Internet. A growing number of people have worked out ways not to go into the office. Still, working from home can be lonely. So one group of New Yorkers has come up with a way to make working at home more social, as Brad Linder reports.
BRAD LINDER: Four freelance Web developers are crowded around a small table filled with laptop computers.
Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)
LINDER: As they work together to design a new Web site, it might sound like they're in an office, but the room also contains a dresser, bed and nightstand. They're sitting in a bedroom of a Brooklyn apartment, far away from the frustrations of the typical office workplace.
Web developer Amy Hoy says she prefers freelancing to working for a large company.
Ms. AMY HOY (Web Developer): The lack of control and yet just being like this place where you spend that eight hours every day, if you have a client who's crazy, that's just one of your clients, so you're less invested in it emotionally, I guess.
LINDER: Hoy's colleague, Patrick Ewing, says it's often the little things about office life that annoy him.
Mr. PATRICK EWING (Web Developer): Especially if you work with a lot of older folks, you sort of become the de facto tech support person, and I don't like tech support. I'm just competent at it.
LINDER: Ewing says nobody expects him to fix the printer when he's working from home. But Ewing is not working from home today. He's at an apartment he's never been to before. The three guys who rent this space are out in the living room with about a dozen other people, all working on their own unrelated projects. Every few weeks a home office worker in New York will open his or her apartment up to strangers for an event they call Jelly. Ewing says Jelly offers some of the best aspects of office life without the downsides.
Mr. EWING: Office environments are very stifling, but at least it like gets you out of the house, you know, you have to meet with people face-to-face. So Jelly is a good replacement for that. It's just as free as working at home, but much more social.
LINDER: Like Ewing, Josh Kay(ph) sees some value in office life. He's founder of Insanely Great Tees, an online t-shirt company. And he's one of the people who live in this apartment.
Mr. JOSH KAY (Insanely Great Tees): A lot of people joke, you know, about the cubicle jockeys and having this whole like work culture. I think that's actually one of the better components of having a job, is having your co-workers and having your buddies and having, you know, office humor, et cetera.
LINDER: Twenty-eight-year-old Internet entrepreneur Amit Gupta started the group with his former roommate Luke Crawford, who also work from home.
Gupta says they miss having people around that they could bounce ideas off of.
Mr. AMIT GUPTA (Internet Entrepreneur): We didn't miss the office politics and we didn't want to work from an office, but we did want to have other people around us working on creative things.
LINDER: So sometimes Gupta and Crawford would invite a couple of friends over to their apartment to work, but it quickly became so popular that they started holding events twice a month. As the Internet allows more and more people like Gupta to work from home, some people find that it's hard to get anything done while sitting at a computer desk in their pajamas. Some self-employed workers have joined small co-working groups that share the rent and utility bills for office space, but Jelly is much more casual.
Events only happen every week or two and there's no financial commitment unless you count the fact that the workers often go out for lunch together. Most of the people who stop by admit that they don't get as much done on Jelly days, but the social interaction makes up for it, and sometimes it leads to interesting collaborations.
Musician Peter Kern(ph) met an industrial designer at a Jelly event, and now the two are working on a project together.
Mr. PETER KURN (Musician): If you were the kind of person who bought a privacy protector for your laptop screen, then you probably wouldn't come here. So there's a lot of people looking over each other's shoulders and encouraging each other to look over each other's shoulders and find out what they're doing.
LINDER: The idea is catching on. Jelly groups have popped up in cities including Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. And co-founder Amit Gupta says he's been contacted by people from all over the world interested in starting their own groups.
For NPR News, I'm Brad Linder in New York.