The concept of the home office is hardly a new one. My dad worked from home for the majority if my sister’s and my childhood years. My grandad also kept a home office for years. But as technology has improved allowing for cheaper and easier communication tools more and more people are working flex hours with part of their work day being managed from a home office, if not days or weeks at a time. Certainly the work of the freelance writer, photographer, web designer or graphic artist doesn’t require an office in most cases…
And yet a large number of people I talk to seem surprised that even with an office available to me here in Singapore, I still prefer to work from home. It’s almost as if there is a stigma associated with working from home – that somehow I just couldn’t quite perform well enough to earn my place in the REAL professional world of the cubicle farmed office. Perhaps it was one too many “does not play well with others” comments on my report cards as a student, or I’ve somehow upset the boss and been banished from the land of fax machines and water coolers. The implied view seems to be that if I have access to an office by all means I should be using it and glad for the chance to do so!
But I carry quite the opposite opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I bear no ill will towards offices in general, or the denizens thereof. But the day I took my first field based job and turned an unused bedroom in my apartment into my new home office I felt a sense of freedom that is tough to capture in corporate America. It’s not that I spend my days relaxing on the couch in front of the TV watching back episodes of “Top Gear“, or slacking off surfing the web stalking eBay bids and playing Zynga Texas Hold ’em, or dicking around on WordPress updating a blog for my fellow corporate drones. Well ok, maybe that’s not entirely true, but the reality is that in addition to having a more enjoyable work environment, I actually find myself working more (and more productively) from home. With my commute trimmed to a leisurely 10 second stroll from bedroom to office I’m online earlier. Armed with a comfortable cordless headset for my phone, I find myself more willing to work later into the evening handling conference calls from the back porch as I grill up dinner or throw a ball for the dogs. Any more when looking at new job opportunities I will ask right up front if I am expected to be in an office every day or if I can work from home. Even now that I have a job that is less about face time with my customers and more about managing a business I find I prefer the comfort and pacing of my home office to sitting around looking at the same four walls and wondering when I can escape for lunch.
It’s not that I don’t like my co-workers. Frankly the folks I’m working with now are some of the most fun people I’ve ever known. I just like the quiet of working from home, having my dogs nearby, and knowing if I want to trundle downstairs for lunch at 11… or wait until 3 in the afternoon for my mid day meal, no one will even raise an eyebrow. Plus, I get funny looks when I try to go to the office downtown wearing my pajamas.
As good as these reasons are though, to me the single greatest aspect of the home office is also the simplest. Working from home affords me time to just sit and think. Now before you conjure up images of me in my jammies staring off into space, let me explain. Working in an office it is difficult to carve out time for pure thought. Between the interruptions, distractions and the pressure to respond quickly, thinking time gets shoved to the side all too easily in the typical office in favor of reaction time.
Now there are those that would argue (perhaps quite correctly) that home office aside, I still don’t spend ENOUGH time thinking, especially based on some of my more provocative email missives. But a carefully worded email response isn’t the only type of thinking I’m referring to. Too often in the course of a work day we are presented with challenges that can be resolved in many ways. In the office environment it is so easy to fall prey to the doom of group-think. The result is often ridiculous decisions that haven’t really been thought about and instead are just moved forward on the basis of one person’s initial idea and the rest of the group piling on in order to eliminate the problem from the “to do” pile and quickly move on to more interesting topics such as where to go for happy hour after work. Such brilliant decisions of the corporate group think include:
1) There is no need to translate that material into Chinese. Sales are slow there anyway. (Hint: Sales may be slow because no one can read the marketing materials!)
2) Yes, since the product will theoretically be ready on that date, let’s launch it the very next day. (Hint: Checking the calendar would reveal that the date in question is a major holiday for about 70 of Asia and ain’t nobody gonna be around to launch your product that week, much less that day!)
3) Let’s assume that the customer already knows the brand of the components we use and will have tested them for compatibility with the other hardware they are buying for their multi-million dollar data center. (Hint: They didn’t… and they hadn’t.)
4) Let’s hire all of our new telesales reps in India because it’s cheap! (Hint: Taking commonly held customer opinions about Indian call centres entirely aside, it may still be a good idea to check and see how large is the talent pool in Hyderabad for tech savvy, sales experienced, low-cost phone reps… who are also fluent in written and spoken Mandarin, Korean, and Japanese.)
Not that all of these ideas are guaranteed to result in disaster, and it may well be that after careful thought the decision still could be taken to go ahead as originally planned – but at least then you might have your eyes open when the curve balls start flying. And there is no guarantee that sitting by yourself in isolation without input from others will generate the best possible answer either. I’m just saying it works for me to have a place where I can take the time to think through a solution before I suggest it.
Of course there are plenty of pitfalls too. If you don’t have at least a little self-discipline it’s easy enough to find your work day shrinking to about fifteen minutes in the morning as you check your email between waking up and Rich Fields inviting the first TPIR contestant to “Come on down!” and another fifteen minutes in the afternoon as you peck away at your crackberry during commercial breaks in an extended “A-Team” classic episodes marathon. And you do get a bit isolated – to be an effective member of a team it does help if you actually spend some time WITH that team. It is easy also to begin to barricade yourself into your own little cocoon of home office bliss – taking that “extra time to think” as an excuse to delay returning phone calls, answering emails and completing projects. For many the distractions of home are worse than the distractions of the office – children, pets, keeping those pesky neighbor kids off the damn lawn. And all the other pitfalls I’ve highlighted previously of trying to manage your business while also managing your life in the same space. Conference calls while sending kids to bed, never really being “away” from work, and the extreme reliance on often ineffective or misused technology are all very real downsides of the home office. But for me, the home office is my favorite office. Say what you like about my anti-social tendencies or my inability to play well in the sandbox with the other kids, the bottom line is, I get more done and enjoy my work more when I get to work from home.
At least that is my story and I’m sticking to it. Now I’m afraid I need to leave you as there is an exciting rerun of “Mythbusters” about to come on…