New York smells like pee. I’m not kidding. And I’m not a country bumkin having her first big-city experience, either. Granted, I’ve not ever lived in New York City, but I’ve been here on many business and pleasure trips, and I think it’s a phenomenal universe of its own. And please understand that I’m well-versed in several global major metropolitan capitals, some of which have serious olfactory issues. But I tell you that New York smells like pee.
Of course, this could just be my vexation at being back at the Corporate Desk in the quiet, drab office, watching the time tick away until I can escape for lunch or for the day. I haven’t seen the puffy mounds under my eyes since I left my last corporate engagement, yet there they were this morning, greeting me from the mirror in all their splendor. Even my skin is sallow this week, and I tell you honestly I look five years older than I did when I left home to start this job. Even a fabulous yoga session last night didn’t have much impact—I just don’t feel as healthy as I did at home.
I’m blathering on like this not to sound like a high-maintenance bon-bon-on-the-couch hopeful, but rather to provide an objective take on the typical office desk job. Years ago, when I was entrenched in this kind of day-to-day slog, it didn’t occur to me that the commute, the sitting in an airless beige space, the 8 to10-hour stares at the computer, and the endless fount of coffee were all draining my life force. Not until I took a seven-month work-at-home consulting engagement did I realize what a difference there could be in one’s quality of life given the proper coordinates. I lost 25 pounds. I looked better and younger than I had in years, and my skin and eyes glowed. My feet didn’t ache, and were blister-free. I was well-rested to the point that I was no longer tired at times when I would previously have been dead on my feet. I was nicer. Days were longer and more memorable. I was happy.
Many of the folks in my office here in Manhattan commute more than 90 minutes in each direction every single weekday. That’s roughly 39,600 minutes per year of lost living time (after allowing for four weeks of much-needed vacation)—or 660 hours—or 27.5 days. Almost one entire month per year of these poor people’s lives is spent sitting on a bus or packed commuter train, counting down the minutes until they are able to spend a few minutes with the ones they love. Somehow that just doesn’t seem fair. I was recently offered a job by a large corporation that would have enabled me to work from home. I couldn’t accept it only because the compensation was substantially less than I could work with. But when you think about it, how much would you be willing to pay to buy back those 27.5 days? If one of my NYC colleagues took a local or at-home job at $20,000 less per year, they’d be buying back their life at a rate of $91 per hour. How much is your living time worth to you?
Some companies are starting to do the math, and an increasing number have got the right equation: work to do + happy employee = high-quality result. When I’m healthy, when I’m rested, when I have a life outside the office, I’m more productive. And my work is better. So it is for us all, and in an age when cell phones and wireless internet are just about as ubiquitous as underwear, the argument for virtual employment is gaining strength. And why not? It cuts down on corporations’ real estate and operational costs, fuel costs for the consumer, and, we may also surmise, could in many cases lower healthcare costs in increasingly haler employees. Such a thing is feasible now, and needs only support and creativity to make it happen.
I hope there is a sea change coming, one that will enable us all to savor a few more of those precious minutes that tick away and are gone forever. I want to enjoy those minutes so that they pass quicker than a second, and not while them away waiting for my time to begin. Don’t we all?