The bare facts about naked telecommuting

Clothing-optional resort owner shares his secrets about working in the nude

We've all heard the jokes about what our colleagues who work from home are wearing -- or not. For Tom Mulhall, though, telecommuting naked is no joke. Rather, it's good business. The owner (along with his wife) of The Terra Cotta Inn clothing-optional resort and spa in Palm Springs, Calif., Mulhall wrote to us this week “just wearing a smile” to say 80% of their guests bring laptops and work nude poolside (he was commenting on a study we wrote about last year that found one in eight male teleworkers and one in 14 female teleworkers say they do their jobs in the nude. I followed up with Mulhall and asked him a few questions about computing in the altogether.

How far back would you say guests first started whipping out their laptops to work in the nude at your resort?

Guests used laptops poolside before 9/11, but I think 9/11 was a major turning point for people working harder and longer hours. Since then, so many people are so worried about losing their jobs. They have seen so many of their friends downsized. The job market has not been the best in all fields. That is when the whole 24/7 concept really took off with employees being tied to doing so much work from home or on vacations or forgoing vacations. Many people feel that they can't get away for a vacation unless they have their laptop with them.

Mary Clare Mulhall online

Do these guests let on to colleagues that they are working in the buff?

Some say "Ha, ha, I am working poolside in my birthday suit and it is sunny and in the 80's outside, jealous?" More guests, however, just quietly chuckle to themselves saying if only "they" (meaning the office) could see me now. Many guests also tell us that working in the nude feels like an act of defiance for having to work at home or on vacation. If they have to be stiffly attired all week long in the office, at least they will be comfortable on their own time when they do work at home or vacation.

We find that the guests who are in conservative fields such as law, banking, accounting, finance, etc. would never tell others that they are working in the nude. Whereas, those who are in more creative or entrepreneurial businesses feel comfortable telling others they work nude. Finally, those in sensitive jobs such as education, government, etc., are again very concerned about people finding out they like to work in the nude or even be nude. Remember it was Attorney General John Ashcroft who spent all that taxpayer money covering the bare breast of the statue, The Spirit of Justice, in Washington, D.C. There are many employers who are just as fanatically against nudity as Ashcroft.

What sort of network support do you provide?

Six years ago we just had data ports in our rooms, so we had long phone lines running out of rooms so people could use laptops by the pool with our dial-up service. We are a 17-room inn and I had to have nine phone lines to handle all the dial-up work. A few years ago we got Wi-Fi with routers around the resort so you can work anywhere at the hotel poolside, in the garden, in the pool, in the whirlpool or in your room.

Any videoconferencing?

We have had a few guests videoconference here where they are wearing a shirt or blouse and nothing else. It is kind of funny seeing them dressed up in a dress shirt or blouse and nothing else.

Where do guests attach their cell phones or BlackBerries when they roam around the resort?

Since guests aren't wearing bikinis, there are no bikini holsters for cell phones or BlackBerries. I wish I could tell you there is a special "boob tube" for cell phones or "sock jock" for holding BlackBerries, but nothing that creative. They just use their hands to hold the equipment.

Any advice to those looking to give naked telework a whirl?

Get a laptop with good screen resolution. Since Palm Springs is very sunny, we have seen guests with a towel over there head and laptop to cut down glare. Otherwise you will be forced to work in the shade. Also don't use a laptop at the edge of the pool while you are in the water. Laptops, a few cocktails and pool water do not mix as we have seen a few times.

Do you know of people who have sought out telecommuting jobs to satisfy their desire to work naked?

Yes, we have some guests mainly in the high-tech field that purposely freelance so that they can live nude at home. They just dislike wearing clothes, and freelancing out of their homes is the best thing that has ever happened to them. I would say, however, that most of our guests do not consider themselves nudists. They are regular people who just enjoy nude sunbathing on their vacations.

What other changes have you seen among the behavior of your telecommuting guests?

When we first opened 12 years ago, our guests demanded blocked phone lines. They didn't want their bosses and kids to know where they were staying because of caller ID. Nowadays, they don't use room phones to call home or the office, they use their cells.

Any other words of wisdom?

If you are vacationing at a clothing-optional resort and sending vacation pictures to your friends at work, home or your mother, make sure you double check exactly which pictures you are sending as attachments.

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