No place like home (office)

I was featured in an article in The New York Times today. The point was that some people have actually felt more comfortable during the pandemic than with their lives before — a sentiment that applies, at least partially, to me.

My ability to control my environment and be close to my immediate family is what has made this time a sort of an island of peace for me. For me, travel is stressful. So is socializing at events and giving speeches. So is meeting clients in person, and perhaps misinterpreting some key element of body language.

I can do everything I need to do from my desk, including writing, editing, video meetings with clients, and video workshops. And when I’m done, I can immediately relax, because I’m in my own home.

Certainly, there are things I miss, including seeing friends and the family members I don’t live with, going out to eat, and going to movies and plays. And I won’t miss the masks. But I’m doing just fine now.

How my home office helps me cope

Katherine Taylor, the photographer for the Times, came to my house and photographed me at work. (I opened all the large windows open in my space, she kept her distance, she wore two masks, and I have been vaccinated. It was about 38 degrees Fahrenheit in my office when this photo was taken.)

Looking at her photo of my workspace, I recognized how I have set it up to connect me to things I need to feel safe, connected, and inspired.

Photo: Katherine Taylor for The New York Times

(I moved my three-monitor setup to the conference table for the photo — I’m normally facing out the window that you see behind me.)

The most important element for me are the windows. I look out onto my green front yard; my view includes not just lots of trees but neighbors, my front walk, and a flowering crabapple that attracts a variety of birds and squirrels. Earlier this week, I even saw a red fox. Being able to look at things in the distance is essential — focusing close in and then far away is good for your eyes, your brain, and your ability to be inspired.

I’d like to point out a few of the things I surround myself with to extend that inspiration. In addition to the the three big screens — which are necessary for someone like me with vision problems — I have a custom-built L-shaped wood desk with acres of space, mounted at an ergonomic height.

Many of the other items you see in Taylor’s photo are important to me. On the sill behind my monitors are two sets of books: the ones on the right I wrote, and the ones on the left I edited or helped with. I often grab one for quick reference, but even when they are just sitting there, they validate my existence and my work.

That little drawing is from my son, and is one of a number of things on that pillar that mean something to me, including the cover graphic of Writing Without Bullshit and the first $2 I made from consulting on my own, thanks to Rachel Happe of Community Roundtable. (She sent a check for $1498 along with that $2 bill, because she knew what it would mean to me.)

Everything in these frames is meaningful to me: a photo of my grandmother as a child, of me with my kids when they were very young, and keepsakes including tickets from a show Charlene and I went to in New York to celebrate Groundswell, my rider card from a charity ride from Boston to New York, and a postcard photo of my wife and her sister on the beach in Maine when we were all much younger.

A little further away are calendars including one with wildlife photos that my friend took, and a whole shelf of books my friends wrote.

Finally, when I’m on Zoom, the image behind me includes a couple posters mounted high on the wall behind me, including the original Groundswell poster that I persuaded our publisher Harvard Business Press to give me when they were done hanging it in their offices.

Those stuffed animals on the bookshelf behind me also mean something — I got them when presenting to MTV Networks. And that bookshelf has every book and manual I’ve ever published in the last 40 years. Even the file cabinets were culled from the auction sale at Software Arts, my first real job.

I hadn’t realized until I saw that photo from the Times just how much I’ve set up my office to make me feel confident and connected and to remember how I got here. My friends and my past are there with me, even if they don’t know it.

How’s your workspace? What do you keep close to remind you who you are? Do you need a cocoon like this, or do have some other way to keep yourself sane? I’d love to hear.

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  1. Love the green trim. Had to refrain from mentioning when you spoke to my class.

    Cocooning is good; better for some than others.

    Thanks for sharing your space and artifacts.

    And your wisdom and knowledge.

  2. I love your space. For me, I can operate in tiny spaces since that is all I have in NYC but I would love to have a cocoon surrounded by even more of my personal memories than I can include on my desk. My desk itself is a memory; I found it at a garage sale while visiting my brother in Connecticut and he refinished it for me – a lovely oak piece with Queen Anne legs. A cocoon would also provide some separation from the rest of the space and allow more focus, in my opinion. Large windows are great; seven years ago I moved from a tiny one bedroom walkup whose window faced a brick wall to a “less tiny” two bedroom that has large floor to ceiling windows that face the park and the western sky. Thank you for sharing as I hadn’t seen this article.

  3. Great article.

    Never underestimate the value of stuffed animals. Talking to them—or ducks—can be very helpful.

    I’ve got a stuffed monkey from when I was eight years sold looking at me on a folding chair.

  4. I LOVED that NYTimes article, totally identify with that feeling of almost not wanting it to end. I also rearranged my office recently to make it a happier place for me to work in and I’ve been SO much more productive. Keep up the great work

  5. I miss the breakfast and lunch meetings but not the hour drive each way to my two biggest clients, what a colossal waste of time. I wish I had your sun. I camp out in the basement in a room with only two small windows. Centered behind me, so it shows up on a Zoom call, is a 2 foot by 4 foot print of a not so scary lion and a small mouse holding a sign that says “Think Big”. It is a great conversation starter. It hung over the crib of our children until we remodeled the room into a little girl’s room (over 30 years ago!). I couldn’t force myself to throw it away, so into the storage room it went. I brought it out 16 years ago when I started working for myself, helping companies grow (as in: Think Big!).

    Ponder of how resistant to change we may have been a year ago. But when we had no choice, we changed to survive. Many things will never go back to the ‘old normal’. I am not sure where we will be a year from now, but it certainly will not be where we are today. I am looking forward to the journey.

  6. What a great bespoke setup! The view as described sounds beautiful. I have enjoyed cocooning and would hate to return to an office. I’ve enjoyed the more human feel of seeing people’s homes. It seems to make everyone easier to relate to.

    Congrats on the feature! Thanks for all your great work.

  7. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your space, Josh. It looks and feels very warm and welcoming. I, too, love the fresh green highlights.

    A year ago (this week), in Australia, we locked down. Each state had different regulations. But basically, stay home, go out for essentials. In South Australia (my state) we started coming out of self-iso on the weekend of 6 June 2020 and have had relative freedom since then. We still QR into all places. Vaccination roll out is much slower than planned. All of Australia has fully open state borders as of this week for the first time this year. That’s context.

    I’ve worked from home for most of the last two decades but traveled extensively. Most of that changed in 2016 with a change of life event. A few weeks into 2020, I was sharing thoughts with my neighbour who also works from home. We were remonstrating and whingeing about some of the loneliness and isolation of continuously home working (and solo parenting). Fast forward a month or two, and all of a sudden, our respective friends were all asking for advice: how do you cope, what’s it like, how do you concentrate, focus and stay on task…all the usual issues for those that have not worked remotely alone. We felt on top of the world that we were able to [remotely] support our friends and colleagues doing this for the first time. Somewhat ironically, my previous business (started in 2000) was organising and running webinars and web conferences. All those skills finally paid off! I have a lovely outlook. I sit at my kitchen bench, get up often, sit on the balcony and watch the street activity. I appreciate the simple things so much more. I related much more closely with my kids still under the one roof. My work volume increased. And, I was gifted with the start of a great relationship. All in all, despite the press, a pretty darned good year. Australian style.