Living at the Office Is a Thing Now

It used to be that people only mentioned sleeping overnight in their office in a negative context; either it was something the company was suggesting you might need to do during crunch periods, or it was something you ended up doing quietly on your own, as an alternative to homelessness.

And then it became a lifehacking thing. In April, we had Salon’s “I Secretly Lived in My Office For 500 Days,” which starts out as a story of a man who couldn’t afford his rent payments and became, well, this:

For folks like me, this essence of home is fundamental to our existence. Instead of “homeless,” I prefer to use the term “home-free.” It champions choice without undermining the challenges faced by those without it.

Indeed, what started as a temporary financial solution turned into a lifestyle. I grew to prefer it. Impending debt morphed into growing savings. Sleepwalking through two jobs to squeak by gave way to a wealth of free time. My spending habits ground to a halt, my savings ballooned. I gave up my apartment entirely, shed a great deal of my belongings, and committed to a life of salaried simplicity.

Yes, he was renting out his Venice Beach apartment while secretly sleeping in his office and, in what seems like the most presumptuous part of this story, adjusting the office thermostat:

Believing the absolute best-case-scenario reaction to my being there would be supreme awkwardness, I kept the whole thing to myself. Every morning I’d neatly pack away my personal belongings, turning the lights back on and lowering the air conditioning to its too-chilly-for-me 72 degrees — the way they always left it overnight. I’d leave for a morning workout and shower, simultaneously keeping clean and in shape while ensuring I wasn’t always the first to arrive. Occasionally I’d even make myself late to work, blaming the awful L.A. traffic. Just to fit in.

And now we have BloombergBusiness’s “Thirteen Months of Working, Eating, and Sleeping at the Googleplex,” which lets us know right away what kind of story this will be:

In Silicon Valley mythology, sleeping at the office is second only to working out of a garage.

They literally call it “heroic.” Because that’s what heroes do, these days; they figure out how to avoid rent payments while simultaneously becoming more productive at work. LIFE: HACKED.

Google wasn’t the first office where [local hero Ben Discoe] slept. When he worked at Intel’s graphics workshop lab in 1997, he laid some cardboard down on the floor of his cubicle, put some silk around the bottom, hung a disco ball, put one of those soothing Zen water fountains on top, and slept in a sleeping bag. He stayed at his girlfriend’s house a lot and even got her to come to “his place,” though they didn’t have sex. “She was a pretty cool raver girlfriend to be even down with sleeping there,” he says.

At Google, Discoe slept in a “burner van” that permanently lived in a Google parking space. Was Google a perfect place to both live and work? Well, it certainly seemed to provide all the basic necessities:

He not only ate free but also as healthily as he ever had, preferring Google’s Café 150, which sources all of its organic ingredients within 150 miles. “If you’re bored of Google food, just move on to another restaurant,” he says of the 25 places to eat on campus. “It was awesome.” He charged his phone, tablet, and laptop in the office. If he needed the bathroom in the middle of the night, he would badge back into the building. Other than his mobile phone bill, Clipper card for public transportation, and laundry service, his living expenses were close to zero.

And this, by the way, wasn’t weird. At that time, BloombergBusiness reports, Google had an internal Wiki that included tips on “living at Google.” (Discoe contributed to the Wiki, of course.) BloombergBusiness also tells the story of Matthew Weaver, who “decided on a friend’s dare to do away with his 90-minute commute by living out of an RV in the Google parking lot.” Living at the office is a thing now.

I will be the first to admit that living and working in the same place has a lot of advantages, and it is in fact one of my favorite parts of freelancing. But living out of a van, even if you’re saving on commute time and rent money, and even if you have access to food, toilet and shower facilities, a gym, parking lot security… okay, I kind of get it. I don’t like it, but I totally get it.

But why don’t I like it? I guess there are two things going on here: the idea that it is “heroic” to set up your own little sleep pod in your office or van and live the “home-free” lifestyle (the choice of champions), and the underlying idea that maybe all we really need are single-serving sleep pods, instead of homes. That you can meet up with friends at a bar and have a significant other that comes by sometimes and that’s all you need.

And the truth is that there is world enough for all of these people to lifehack their home-free lives or whatever (remember Professor Dumpster?), and that does not take away from my own desire to have a home someday. And it does not take away from the people who live in vans by circumstance, not by choice, and who also would prefer living in homes.

And it doesn’t take away from all the people who read “sleep at the office” and think never in a thousand years.

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