Working from home – Is it negotiable?

With COVID-19 having people work from home, I’m reminded of my own history of working from home.

More than 20 years ago, I worked for Critical Path Software (now part of eBay) in Portland. While Portland is a great place to visit, it wasn’t for me. I decided to leave Portland and when I told the owners of the company I was moving back to San Diego, they asked if I wanted to continue working for them. Since I had nothing else lined up (not the brightest idea to move without a job), I said sure. That was the start of me working from home.

Through many contract jobs and a full time job, I continued to work from home. I treated working from home just like working in an office and would rarely leave during the day; my work ethic wouldn’t allow it. As time went on, I realized that being in one place (i.e., my home office), wasn’t always where I did my best thinking. Running, doing errands, and being out of the house sometimes produced my best work which helped me relax the need to be in the “office”. This didn’t mean I was working any less and in fact, I’d argue that my productivity has gone up since I started being less rigid about being in the office.

Several years ago, I was offered a position that met all my requirements for a job, except for one, working from home. I thought about this a lot and decided that commuting to an office would take a lot out of me and turned it down. I know that people commute all the time, but for someone that hasn’t, I just couldn’t make that sacrifice. Luckily I still had my contract work, so I was able to make the choice.

Four years ago I was laid off and looking for work. The first job that I was offered seemed great, but I’d have to go into an office everyday. I figured how bad could it be since the commute was against traffic and just 30 minutes each way. As I didn’t have any other job prospects, I took the job. As soon as I started the job, it started to wear me down. I got up at 6 am to be at work at 7 am and leave at 3:30 pm. Everyday I came home and fell asleep on the couch. Between the commute, having to be around people all day, and being stuck in a cubical was too much for me to handle. I did manage to work from home once a week towards the end of my short stint there and swore I’d never work in an office again.

Now we’re here with many people working from home and some are asking why can’t they always work from home? I think that too many companies are stuck with the mentality that being in an office is required to do work. That clearly isn’t the case for good people. I hope that having people work from home now will get companies to re-think their work from home strategy.

Here’s some advice I’d like to offer companies that haven’t let people work from home in the past and won’t let them work from home regularly once we get back to “normal”:

  • A high performing person will be high performing no whatever where he or she is.
  • “Water cooler” talk can still happen using tools such as Slack. I chat with a former colleague and friend all the time; he helps me solve problems and is a great sounding board. I’ve only been in the same room with him maybe 3 or 4 times since we first started working together years ago.
  • Ad hoc design discussions can be just as effective through email, instant messages, screen sharing and phone.
  • People can be much less stressed by not having to deal with a commute and coming into an office.
  • Companies are missing out on good people by requiring them to come into the office or being in any particular location.
  • Being flexible makes people happier.

I’d like to say that working from home is non-negotiable for any future job or contract I take. Going into an office every once in a while is fine, but I’m not sure I could be happy going into an office everyday and that directly translates into not being fully productive.

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