The Hurricane Sandy Guide to Working From Home

Like millions of people along the East Coast, my work has been disrupted by the storm. Here's how I coped. What about you? Leave your story in the comments section.

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Since Hurricane Sandy thrust millions of east-coast workers back into the 19th century -- no lights, no Internet, sometimes not even water -- pay phones are the new smart phones, Starbucks outlets have become the most valuable real estate in New York, and "the office" now means "anywhere I happened to find an Internet connection."

Since I packed a small bag and escaped a dark apartment deep in the heart of the Con Ed blackout, I've spent the last 48 hours as a nomad on the Upper East Side and Brooklyn, bumming coffee, Internet, and pillows from friends whose technology survived the hurricane.

When I'd written about the future of telecommuting before, I talked about working from home as a viable choice for digitally savvy people. But now that I'm digitally desperate, working from (somebody else's) home isn't a choice. It's the only option. 

And I might be looking at the future. Mass telecommuting is a vision that appeals to environmentalists (less driving), urban planners (more mixed-use development), technologists ("Disrupt the Office!"), and tens of millions of people are who simply are exceptionally lazy. Only one in twenty formally employed Americans works consistently from home, according to research I've found, but as many of us are finding out today, lots of jobs that are hardly ever done remotely are fairly receptive to telework. As more work moves online, more jobs can be mobile. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation predicted in 2009 that the number of jobs filled by telecommuters would grow nearly four-fold before 2020.

So how do you make working from home work? I want to hear your answers in the comment section below. My strategy boils down to recreating a routine. I work well when I don't have to think about anything except for the work. That means situating myself in a familiar-enough-seeming place with the few things I need to get things done and nothing more.

(1) Strong coffee: I'm an addict, so, sadly for me, coffee comes before everything else, both chronologically and preferentially. Something strong. If not strong, then very large. Starbucks has been closed throughout Manhattan, and when I saw one open in Astoria yesterday, my reaction was one of such rare and authentic delight, I feel pretty embarrassed about it, in retrospect.

(2) Strong Internet: If all you need is a word processing software and a few links from the Internet, a typical coffee shop connection should be fine. But if you're uploading and downloading documents and presentations, stay home or find a home where you're not sharing a weak connection with 20 other people on a buggy AT&T network at Starbucks. There is nothing more annoying than telling the people you work with that you're on the grid and then cutting out of GChat every five minutes minutes because the connection fails (just ask my colleagues).

(3) Few distractions: Find a place with a consistent volume. Noise doesn't distract. Variations in noise distract. So quiet is good. The steady hum of a small restaurant or coffee joint works, too. Not so good: The apartments of friends you've wanted to see for a while and used Sandy as a convenient excuse to do so. I typed this article from an Upper East Side apartment where the roommates were playing a boisterous game of Trivial Pursuit. My verbal-processing was hopelessly scrambled: Hmm, what's a word that means refugee, but softer ... "Dude, how many throwing events in the decathlon?" "Did you get javelin?" "Hammer throw!" "No that doesn't exist" ... wait, what was I writing?

If you were displaced by Hurricane Sandy, how have you recreated your work environment on the fly? Include your profession, if you can; I think the differences between jobs and duties are interesting. And everybody else: If you work from home, how do you make it work? Leave your stories in the comment section.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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