Non-traditional Offices for Non-traditional Chemistry Careers

The most usual office for self-employed chemists is a space in their home. It’s hard to beat the convenience of a well-equipped office in your own home. Stephanie Dickinson, contributing editor to The Writer Magazine, called home offices “the 30-second commute” and used the phrase in the title of her book “The 30-Second Commute: A Non-fiction Comedy About Writing and Working from Home.” It’s pleasant to look out the window of one’s home office, see a driving rainstorm and realize you merely have to turn around in your chair to be at your workplace. Even on sunny days it’s nice to be able to avoid the mental strain and lost time of a lengthy commute. Your 30-second commute reduces wear and tear on your car while reducing the air pollution and fatigue that every day commuting causes and puts a little more coin back in your pocket.

The home office

Your home office may be as simple as a kitchen table where one puts one’s laptop computer between meals. It may be more elaborate such as a spare bedroom well equipped with office furniture and equipment. The more space and the more office equipment one has, the more efficiently one can usually work.

One nice thing about a home office is you can furnish it gradually rather than all at once spreading out the expenses. This is what I did when furnishing the spare bedroom that became my home office. It now has four bookcases, an étagère for office supplies, and a computer table for my desktop PC, and a writing desk. Two shelves of one bookcase are occupied by a printer and a combination telephone answering machine/fax machine/photocopier to complete my office.   I sometimes work in my living room using a small tray table to hold my laptop computer.  I’ll also sit on my patio and work before it gets too hot or humid.

Offices outside the home

I also use my laptop computer to work around town. Sometimes I’ll grow tired of working alone in my home office and need a change of scene. Self-employed chemists have a growing number of places to work and meet with clients or each other. Options have grown beyond coffee shops, libraries, and clients’ offices. Increasingly hotels are welcoming local residents to use their lobbies as meeting places and as a place to work. They also offer a comfortable place to work for hours and to rendezvous with other self-employed individuals or clients for lunch or coffee.  Hotel lobbies make a trip more productive than a lengthy drive followed by a thirty-minute interview followed by a return home. By reducing the productivity loss of attending a meeting, hotel lobbies can help lessen the isolation felt by self-employed chemists and reducing the productivity loss when they get together for lunch or coffee. Hotel coffee shops, restaurants and bars also do more business.

Some quite upscale hotels are doing this. For instance, the Public, a boutique hotel just north of downtown Chicago, welcomes freelancer writers, consultants and other mobile workers to its amenity-rich lobby because they help create “buzz.“ Amenities include free Wi-Fi, comfortable chairs, and even some work tables fitted with electrical outlets. The two-year-old Andaz Wall Street, a Hyatt Hotel in New York City, is another example. While in San Diego in March to cover a conference, I was able to work comfortably in the lobbies of two hotels, the Hilton Gaslamp and the Marriott Marquis as well as interview some meeting attendees.

Convention centers are getting into the act as well. Many offer free Wi-Fi while their public seating areas, coffee shops and snack shops provide comfortable places to work. Their large parking lots make convenient places for freelancers to park their cars even if they are just using these public areas and not attending a conference.

John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers. As an ACS Councilor, he serves on the Joint Board – Council Committee Patents and Related Matters.

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