Many of us are stuck at home, and it’s sucking. It’s not so much working from home as living at work.* Imagine waking up and finding that your boss – and even your clients – have snuck in through the window… or through your computer screen. It’s mental assault, a kind of theft of personal time and space, a violation of the one place that a person should be able to feel not just comfortable but insulated and able to let in others only at will and very carefully. “WFH” has become hamesucken.
You may not know this word hamesucken – also spelled hamesoken and hamsoken – but in medieval times it was an important crime, and it remains on the books as such in Scotland. It’s a compound word; its parts are hame, which is Scots for home, which both come from Old English hám, and sucken or soken, from Old English sócn ‘visit, attack, assault’, from Old Norse sókn ‘attack’. So you could waggishly say that hamesucken refers to any visit to your home, but technically it’s assault on you in your home, or even just breaking into your home with intent to assault you – what is often these days called home invasion, though it could also just be (and most often has been) someone you know coming over to your place to kick your ass.
It may seem a bit much to say that having to deal with outsiders via the screen of your computer is like having a medieval English squire (or a modern Scottish one) kick your door open and serve a pottage of whoopass unto you. And indeed, when they are reaching through your computer screen, you can disengage – though perhaps under pain of derailing your career prospects (which may take longer to heal than physical bruises) – and there is no penalty to those who violate your inner sanctum (if there were, telemarketing would have been outlawed long ago).
But what makes home home is not just the physical box of it; it is the protected space in your mental and emotional landscape. How can you be in control of your own space if you are required to cede control of some important part of it to bosses and strangers? And if you’re about to say “Simply set up a space in that spare room and make it your separate office,” consider that very many people simply do not have “that spare room” and aren’t going to go to the personal fiscal, psychological, and emotional expense of relocating to a new residence just to get one (talk about putting the cart before the horse!).
And so, while some people seem to think that WFH will be the wave of the future, there are many others who see things much more like those most famous Men At Work:
Who can it be knocking at my door?
Go ’way, don’t come ’round here no more
Can’t you see that it’s late at night?
I’m very tired, and I’m not feeling right
All I wish is to be alone
Stay away, don’t you invade my home
Best off if you hang outside
Don’t come in, I’ll only run and hide
*Those of us who are our own bosses, independent, freelance, have a different position in all this; we have a level of control over this that those subject to the command chain of an organization do not, and we are also more used to mentally compartmentalizing. And even then, for at least some of us, it is still important to leave the home and go do work elsewhere in the wide world.