Next week, lucky pencil-pushers across America will vacate their office buildings for their hometowns, vacation spots, or living rooms, where they will work remotely through the end of the year, churning out the high level of productivity that flexible workplaces inspire. Just kidding. The only assignment you’ll be completing this holiday season is the studied task of lying through your teeth. Here’s how to convince your bosses (or your employees) that you're working very hard from home when you’re actually doing something totally worthless, like spending time with your children.
1. Faking office work is all about crafting the illusion of a digital presence. Maintain a green Gmail dot and a permanent residence in the office chat room, and it doesn’t matter if you’re fielding chats from the desktop or the local dive. Install the Google Hangouts app on your phone (or the Campfire app, if that’s how your office spitballs), then choose your poison. Just make sure to turn off auto-capitalization before you do—if you start capitalizing every sentence online, you've outed yourself. (Here’s how to do it).
2. Don’t hesitate to blame Real America. “People in the city always assume the second you leave the city, you're in rural nowhere without access to modern commodities,” a New York comedy writer told me. Inform your superior you will be working from some café near your parents’ house for the afternoon, then don’t do that. Oh, no: The WiFi isn’t working, and neither are you.
3. A few minutes of preparation can buy you a day of mindless drudgery. Schedule a few inane emails to be sent sometime between 9 and 5 (download Boomerang to do this in Gmail). Don’t ask any questions. Just make the lowest-common denominator contribution to a company-wide email chain (“Got it!”), then hop on that toboggan and/or fall off the wagon. Who cares? You’ve “got it.” If you expect you’ll have to actually respond to your boss’s emails in real time, set up your phone’s email system to send alerts only from particular email addresses or domains. Then, change your mobile mail signature from “Sent from my iPhone” so that it mirrors the signature you set up on your computer. Something smooth, like: “Sent from my home office … Why? Who’s asking?”
4. Keep your social media movements shady. Instead of spamming your networks with photos of your trimmed tree or tropical tan line, use Instagram Direct or Snapchat to share selfies with a select group. To prevent your friends and family from blowing up your spot, make sure your Facebook privacy settings allow you to manually review every post on your Timeline before it appears to the public. (Here’s how to change those settings). Then, stage your fake-work social media offensive. Queue up a few work-related tweets to release sporadically throughout the day (Buffer is a good choice for this). If you’re an architect, you can tweet something like: “Wow, just finished designing a building. Guess I’ll start another one.” Or if you’re a defense attorney: “Gee, my clients sure are in a lot of trouble today. #billablehours.” If co-workers reply, feel free to ignore them. You’re working.
5. Use that mute button. If your nefarious boss schedules an office conference call while you’re away, call in on your cellphone, mute your end of the line, then sit back, relax, and openly complain about your co-workers to your spouse. To make it sound like you’re contributing to the conversation that you are not actually following, use one former lawyer’s tested strategy: “Every few minutes I would unmute it, cough or something, apologize, and then mute again. In years of work, I don't think anyone ever asked me a direct question.”
6. Supervise. The dastardliest fake-work move is reserved for the supervisors—hey, you’ve earned it. This one will get you off the hook while ensuring that all your minions remain at the ready. “When I'm working from home or away for the day but still ‘working,’ I'll always give folks very precise deadlines that come up during that span for pieces of things they are working on,” one editor told me. “It's kind of a misdirect. It allows you to profit from assumptions that go along with giving such deadlines (‘well, he must be working, or else he would have just said give it to me tomorrow morning’), and it results in people thinking more about what they have to do than what you’re up to”—absolutely nothing.
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