Our work from home story was anything but typical, in fact it was pretty traumatic, it started out for us rather reluctantly, with the L.A. riots in 1992. My husband and I were living in a loft in Los Angeles. I had just delivered our first child four months earlier – two days before Christmas in December of 1991.
For some people working from home is a new paradigm. With being forced into quarantine, they’ve had to change their usual routine of commuting to work, getting a cup of coffee, going to the office, talking to coworkers,working, commuting back home; to now just working from home. At first many people find that it’s kinda cool, they can work in their PJ’s and robe or sweatpants. Then reality sets in. They are alone all day, no co-workers or maybe they have kids and a spouse. The difficulty of working at home then multiplies. Who do you try and please? Your boss? Your family? It becomes a stressful juggling act and you feel torn. Not everyone’s work from home introduction is quite like the COVID-19 social distancing, where there is a camaraderie; the whole world is working from home, everyone discovering the new found independence and also the struggle. Sometimes the work from home opportunity comes dressed in weird circumstances, and no one really understands…but you.
Our story started in Los Angeles where we were living in an older commercial building, with businesses on the bottom, and lofts on the second story. The building itself was a faded yellow U-shaped stucco building, with a courtyard in the middle, a small diner with an outside eating area facing the courtyard in the center of the U. The eatery had four tables in the patio that had gingham plastic tablecloths with obligatory glass vase and plastic flower. No matter what table you selected you could be sure that one leg would be too short and the table would rock and spill your fountain Diet Coke if you didn’t ask for a lid. The usual regulars were just the locals getting breakfast or lunch, and officers from the Los Angeles Police Dept. This seemed to be their favorite hangout. They would drive up on the motorcycles or cars and park them in the center parking area. In fact, we used to joke about how if you ever needed a policeman, don’t call the department, just go downstairs and voila you would have a policeman – STAT. The restaurant was cheap by L.A. standards, the food was good and Anna, the restaurant proprietor, was like everyone’s mother. She knew when to give the officers the right amount of shit to keep them in line and make them feel at home or extra TLC if they were dealing with something major and were totally stressed. There were many times during my pregnancy I had terrible morning sickness, and Anna would send up food to our loft – no charge – knowing that I was not able to prepare food because of the smell. It would make me instantly want to hurl. If you walked to the right, a bit past Anna’s place, there were a set of inconspicuous stairs with very worn carpet that accessed the upper area that led to a series of lofts that housed various creatives.
The building normally would have been considered pretty safe by L.A. standards. But when the riots progressed, our building was directly in line of the arson attacks and made it a prime target. There were businesses downstairs for the half crazed looters to start their frantic grabbing of anything that wasn’t nailed down. And if it was nailed down, they would light it on fire to get to the stuff that they could steal inside. Many small businesses along that corridor were attacked, looted and burned to the ground. As night fell on the first day of the riots, an unsettling stillness settled on the usually busy streets, empty because of curfew, except for the occasional police car that patrolled the streets. As we looked out of the window, an unmarked white delivery truck, without license plates, drove up to our small parking lot in the center of the building. This was where the courtyard and parking lot was located. It was hard to believe that just the day before it was filled with policemen and the locals eating in the warm L.A. sunshine. This evening just as the streetlights came on an unmarked delivery truck pulled up near the dumpsters in front of our building. The masked men hopped out and started quickly pulling trash out of the dumpsters and placing it next to the wall of the building to light on fire.
My husband and I stood in horror watching the masked men from our second floor window. We didn’t say one word to one another, but understood what the other was thinking. Their intent – to light the building on fire, then loot it. The arsonists did not figure out that there were lofts where people were living on the second floor, this was a new concept for Los Angeles in the early 90’s, they probably thought the building was empty. We were the only people in the lofts that night, our neighbors had left town. So we were on our own, and very trapped and vulnerable, with a new baby in my arms as we watched.
I grabbed the phone and called the police and frantically told them that we were trapped upstairs with our newborn, and arsonists were on a mission to light the building on fire. Most importantly, we had no way of getting downstairs, we were very trapped. The only exit was stairs that led to the middle of the parking lot where the masked men were located. Within just a few minutes the police cars came speeding down the street and turned in front of our building. The men in the white delivery truck fled when they saw the police. I’m pretty sure the police caught up with them because the streets were empty, except for the white delivery truck, so they probably stuck out like a sore thumb.
The next day my husband and I came to realize that we needed to get out of town – literally.
It’s one thing to have to deal with the unrest as adults, but to have a baby in your arms watching men trying to light your building on fire, with no way to escape, was a little more than our nerves could deal with at that point.
My husband suggested that we take a trip to the mountains. He grew up there and felt it would give us a break from the stress, and figure out what we should do and certainly creating better living arrangements. We booked a room at a local mountain hotel and made the two-hour drive.
As we drove “up the hill” the topography went from typical Southern California brush to oak trees then pine trees. Since it was April, everything was mostly green going up; it hadn’t turned brown and parched yet. The last leg of our journey “up the hill” included many curves and one “dog-leg”. Living in Los Angeles meant the roads I travelled were usually in straight lines. No hills and rarely a curve and certainly no dog-legs that played hell on my stomach. As we pulled into the hotel I was thankful that the ride had ended. As I got out of the car, and noticed I was breathing fresh air, in what seemed like days. No burning building smell anywhere. As I stepped out of the car I saw something dart from the bushes. My husband laughed, “ It’s just a grey squirrel, it’s spring so he’s probably looking for a mate about now, so they can have babies soon.”
The hotel was situated on a beautiful blue lake surrounded by tall pine trees. Everything looked so calm, serene, idyllic and fresh. People seemed…not stressed in the least. They had not experienced any of the mayhem that we had witnessed. It was just a news broadcast for them and not their reality. They didn’t live it. I know that as I got out of the car, I still felt anxious and hurried to get into the hotel. We were all still unsettled from the chaos that had just happened. The first night was thankfully uneventful. We had dinner in the hotel diner and went back to our room for a peaceful night’s sleep. I think we all passed out the moment our heads hit the pillows.
The next morning we decided to “treat” ourselves to room service, which we rarely did because it usually was usually pretty expensive. But this was a special occasion, we needed to reset our minds and make our baby’s morning and ours a little easier – low stress. As we ate breakfast sitting on the bed we watched the news briefly, then switched to a local cable station that posted things for sale, community updates and house rentals, it was kind of like the Classified Section of the newspaper. As we watched, there was a notice to clean your yard by June 1, someone selling a car, a notification for high school seniors that this was their last call for caps and gowns, lost pets and a house rental. My husband read the house rental as quickly as possible, before the screen changed to a different ad. Just as he read up to the phone number the screen changed. We had to wait for another cycle of ads, so I could write down the number. When the ad for the house for rent finally came up back on the screen, I hurriedly wrote down the number, so we didn’t have to wait for another round of ads.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that a phone call can’t change your life. Because it can. My husband called the rental number, and as luck would have it, he discovered that the real estate lady was the ex-wife of his wrestling coach in high school. They had divorced many years ago and now she was selling real estate. She also had a few properties that she handled for rentals. They talked for a while and arranged for a time later that afternoon to look at a couple of properties that she thought would be perfect for our needs.
We met with Donna later that afternoon. She showed us two properties, one didn’t really seem to fit us, but the second one was just perfect. She later admitted to us with a sly smile that she knew that we wouldn’t like the first house at all, but knew the second one would be the keeper. We ended up renting the 2 bedroom 1 ½ bath A-frame home. I was thrilled because it had a brick fireplace and floor to ceiling windows on one side of the house, and a real kitchen.Our loft in L.A. only had an abbreviated kitchen, which meant one burner cooktop and a darkroom sink to do dishes. The rental was three-stories so with a baby that was soon to be a toddler, we would have to do some toddler proofing relatively soon. We determined that we would put our office on the bottom level which had a giant pool table and small bar. The Rec room sort of reminded me of the one in Wayne’s World.
In a few days we managed to pack up and move our things to the new house in the mountains. At first it was a little too quiet. At night there were no helicopters, police sirens or car alarms going off at all hours of the night. But waking up to the mountain morning sunshine gave a whole new meaning to “waking up”. The pine trees not only gave us the fresh air our lungs sorely needed, but the added pine fragrance, perfumed the air. We literally sensed our lungs breathing a sigh of relief from all the smoke we had inhaled in the days of the riot. The beauty that surrounded us helped to reinvigorate our tired and worn minds and bodies.
We had left all of it behind, we had to figure out a way to make a living here in the mountains. My husband had become very tired of his creative advertising studio. And for me, now being a new mom, I wasn’t too sure what would be best at this point. Being a stay at home mom for a little while or going back to work full time. It seems we both were at a bit of a crossroads. After a lot of discussion my husband came to the conclusion that most of what he did was consulting for clients and then advertising. He felt he had years of experience in consulting and giving marketing and advertising advice. He also had loads of experience in advertising campaigns and commercials for his clients, and felt this would be a natural transition to the next step in his career.
We used the Rec Room with the large pool table and small bar as our home office. We had a phone installed at the bar and I found an old roll top desk that needed a paint job at a garage sale for $15 to put into the left hand corner of the room. This is where the accounting, packing of sample products and typing (yes on a typewriter) would happen. In a few months, as our daughter grew into a toddler-hood, I put a large toy box in the room and filled it with all kinds of fun things to play with while we worked during the day. She had a blast and whenever she wanted she would sit on our laps for hugs and kisses. I made her my “assistant” and she would fill out pretend paperwork in crayon that somehow always included using toddler scissors to cut everything into shreds, and of course make pretend phone calls.
My husband was on the phone sometimes at 4:30 in the morning to take east coast calls. There was so much energy and happiness that emanated from him at all times. I even remarked to him one day, “ I have never seen you so passionate and full of energy.”
We definitely went through our ups and downs of re-thinking our working dynamic. We were self-employed, which meant we needed to “get work” in order to get paid. Working from home in the early 90’s was not the norm at that time. My husband and I managed to get clients pretty quickly, which was a good thing. But there were definitely times when things got lean. But as usual we got a fish on the line and we progressed.
But as longtime “experts” at working from home there are a few tips that we suggest that might help you make the transition:
- When you get up in the morning prepare for your day just like you are going to work. Shower, dress… and ladies put on light makeup (if you wear it) and style your hair. Nothing over the top or super dressed up – unless you would like. You want to feel polished from the inside out. Just You are going to the office and you may need to participate in a video conference call. You’ll thank me for this later. Sure there will be “casual” days working from home, and the occasional robe & PAJAMA day is great, but try not to do it everyday. It sets a mood mentally that “I am not working” or “I am unemployed”. Not exactly the go-getter energy you want to focus on.
- Do not visit the fridge for snacks all day long. Set mealtimes like you would in your “normal day” at the office so you don’t over-eat leftovers or snacks foods. When it’s mealtime, eat real foods. You’re at home so you can take time to make a big pot of soup in the crock-pot early in the morning, then save in the fridge for an easy lunch that will last a few days, yogurt, salad, sandwiches.
- Take time out to exercise, go for a walk, mini trampoline, workout at home to a video or free weights. Do this everyday for at least 30-minutes.
- Remember to get up and walk around periodically in the house to get circulation going and realign your body. Slumping on the couch over a laptop computer or tablet can lead to sore neck and shoulder muscles.
- As more and more people transition into working at home permanently, you may want to consider making a home office for yourself. One corner of any room will do. Purchase a desk so you can put all of your “office” things there, and not have it scattered all over the dining room table, bedroom or coffee table. The corner desk will be your office workstation and the rest of your home, will remain your home. Keeping these two separated is important for mental health. After all, your home is where you go to get away from work and rejuvenate.
- Be sure and have everything you need in your office: Printer, printer paper, labels, envelopes, tape, glue stick, paper clips, stapler, small & medium Post-its, legal pads, file folders, pencils and pens. You may want to consider a portable white board. These are basic things that you will need that your company usually provides to you at your workplace. Many workplaces will allow you to put these items into an expense report so you will be reimbursed. Check with your company to see how they handle office supply expenses.
- Get a scheduling App. There are many out there if you are currently not using one. I’m still pretty old school in this department. I put a scheduling App on my phone, use it a couple of days and go back to my Agenda that I physically write in. Old habits – I guess.
- Do not work 24-7. This is a mistake people make when working from home. Yes, sometimes work requires us to put in longer hours, but don’t do this consistently. There is a cut off time that is necessary for your well being. You need time to recharge and refresh. Enforce that as much as possible by not answering emails after a certain time in the evening. Unless you are a doctor or first responder, no one is going to die if you don’t respond to that evening email until the morning.
We’ve been living the home office lifestyle for a little over 27 years now, and our daughter is now 28. She grew up being around her parents everyday, except for going to school. She’s told us countless times that she now realizes how special it was for her to have her parents around, especially when she needed a mommy and a daddy. We were lucky to witness every step of her childhood, from birth to her graduation from university.
As I write this post I realize just how far we’ve come from operating in the slightly funky, 70’s paneled Rec room and little bar. Now we have a home that has a dedicated room for our office that my husband and I share. We each have our own desk so we can have a place for our paperwork and office things. The room is separate from our home, but still in the house. In fact, that was one of the key features we were looking for when we were searching for a home. This gave us the ability to “close” our office in the evening and not see any office type equipment in our living space. So as I said earlier, it keeps our home, still a home.
Working from home all these years has certainly had its high points and low points. And it’s probably not for everyone. But for all of us, especially me, it gave me the opportunity to watch our baby grow into a child and into a wonderful young woman. We were fortunate to be able to purchase a mountain home, (yes, the same mountain town we ran to after the riots) that had a separate room that we could dedicate as a full time office. Our daughter is now 28 years old and she just happens to have her own home office along with her husband. And as she has children she wants to continue the work model that she grew up with for her family.
I am personally interested in knowing what is working for you and what is not. Please leave comments and how you are working from home, Is this new for you? Do you like it? What don’t you like? What are you struggling with? Wishing you all a wonderful and successful Home Office Day.