Friday, June 29, 2012

We Can Work at Home

What your company assumes you're doing when you work at home (Source: Colourbox)

Matt Yglesias of Slate posted a column Tuesday on the hidden benefits of telecommuting. Here's the gist:
...But there is also a compelling case to make that working at home makes people much more efficient, because it allows workers to take care of annoying little chores while still getting their jobs done. Remote working—at least occasional remote working—can be great precisely because of the opportunity it affords to get a certain amount of non-work stuff done. It’s much faster to shop for groceries at a quarter to three than to stand in line during the after-work rush. Far too many people work similar schedules and want to eat dinner at dinnertime. My neighborhood supermarket turns into a nightmare from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday late afternoon, another popular shopping time, is even worse, with the aisles often featuring Soviet-style shortages of key commodities. If you just start working a bit earlier (no commute, after all) and pop by the store during a lull when lines are short, you can get both more work and more shopping done in a fixed amount of time. Even better, if more people did that, then shift workers with genuinely inflexible schedules might also be spared some line pain.
And telecommuting allows you to tackle household tasks that take up a lot of time but don’t actually involve much work. Watching laundry spin in your washer or dryer is perfectly compatible with productive work. But between the washing step and the drying step comes a time-sensitive “put the wet clothing in the drier” phase. Taking just a few minutes off from work to do the swap lets you get the chore done efficiently, and leaves your actual leisure time free for exciting activities like leaving the house. Many recipes, similarly, involve considerable periods of simmering or roasting during which it’s good to be around the house but you don’t actually have to do anything. In a “work-then-shop-then-cook-then-eat” paradigm, it’s challenging to eat anything that can’t be made quickly. But if you can simmer while you work, then a lot of household labor can be accomplished with minimal reduction in professional output.
Amen. I have a job that provides me with the flexibility to work remotely very often, just not on a pre-scheduled basis. The benefits are numerous. By having no commute to and from work (as well as extra time spent getting ready in the morning), that's at least an extra hour to do work that you aren't instead spending on driving, walking, bicycling, or waiting for/riding in buses and trains. That also means your morning will be a little less stressful getting little Johnny and Sally off to school, and your evening may less stressful if you are already home and ready to take Johnny or Sally to their soccer game or piano class as soon as you are done working.

In fact, I worked remotely today. I was able to get my hair cut and run a few errands, and do 2 loads of laundry, totaling about an hour that I wasn't actually working. If I had attempted to get a hair cut or run these errands during the normal times I'd be available it would have probably taken me at least 2 hours, factoring in time getting from work to my hairdresser, and probably forced me to take a 1/2 vacation day.

Generally, I also find myself more productive on the days I work remotely, even though I am doing many of the same chores Yglesias describes above while I am home. Instead of stretching and taking a quick five-minute break to clear your head in the office, you can take a five-minute break to do a load of laundry at home. Occasionally, I'll watch an inning here and there of an afternoon ballgame, but I'd be trying to listen to that on the radio if I was at work anyway.

Being out of earshot of your coworkers often allows you to be able to focus more on getting your work done, instead of continually being interrupted so you can help others get their work done. (for more on this, see this great video - "Why You Can't Work at Work"). Many times if you aren't "right there" and your coworkers have to call or email you with whatever question they had, they will just spend 5-10 minutes figuring out the answer on their own, as they should. It's amazing how little verbal communication/interaction is actually necessary at 21st century office jobs, yet if you are in the office you can't get away from the chatter.

Overall, the case for office workers being more productive and motivated in their jobs, if they were able to work remotely 1-2 days a week, seems pretty solid. This would be a welcome change to the culture of office work.

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