Is ‘Working from Home’ Another Big Work Lie?

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When I wrote about “Out of Office” as a fib, all hell broke loose. Lots of comments and advice about work/life balance and office protocols ensued. The firestorm put a spotlight on another potential office fib: the concept of “working” from “home”. So let’s explore the truthiness of that pronouncement.

It’s a Friday morning and you receive an email message that declares, “I will be working from home today. I can be reached on my cell. Call if you need me.” We have all seen this note and it makes the mind wander and wonder.

Questions about the words “working” and “home” immediately come to mind. Is there anything more to believe than what the note says? The possibilities are endless. The note could mean:

  • Surf’s up, I am on the beach for a three-day weekend.
  • The endless interruptions in the office are frustrating. I really need to get something done today.
  • My child (or parent) has a doctor’s appointment and I can’t deal with the logistics of going to work and running around so I am making it easy on myself by not coming in.
  • I really need a mental health day to recharge my batteries. When I return on Monday I will be shockingly more productive.
  • Baseball season started and I am playing hooky to see Derek Jeter.
  • I need a break from my boss before I kill him or her.
  • My commute is an hour each way every day, I need a break from traffic and for this one day I don’t want to waste the time in my car/train.
  • Last week I worked 80 hours, I deserve a day off but I will have my phone with me anyway.

“Working from Home” could mean any or all of the above. Working from home every day is a slightly different situation but the perception of those who are always telecommuting is often a variation on the same theme mentioned above. Lately, the concept of working at home has taken a beating. The thinking is that people not in the office are less productive and the team needs everyone to show up. That ‘less productive’ perception is probably not deserved.

Nonetheless, companies, large and small, have reconsidered the notion of working from home. The assumption is that those working remotely might be looking for old flames on Facebook rather than really contributing. Traffic on the VPN was a simple way to find out who was “in” and “on” and in some cases the traffic was surprisingly low.

Is the notion of working from home sometimes abused? Yes.

Are some people more productive when not in the office? Yes.

Do remote workers negatively impact corporate culture and teamwork? Maybe.

Will teams perform at a higher level when the team shows up? Probably.

Is “Working from Home” another way to say, “I will contribute, regardless of where I am sitting”?

Read on.

The facts:

  • Contrary to the perception that the person who works at home is a twenty-five year old techie or a young mother, the typical telecommuter is a 49-year-old college graduate who earns $58,000 a year and works for a company with more than 100 employees. These are numbers from the Census Bureau’s Annual American Community Survey. All ages at all levels work from home. And the group includes an equal distribution of men and women and people with and without children.
  • Telecommuting has risen 79 percent between 2005 and 2012 according to statistics from the same American Community Survey. Lots of organizations are thriving with telecommuting workers.
  • The severe winter and all those snow days that many suffered through this winter helped individuals and organizations see both the benefits and pitfalls of telecommuting.

So, is “Working from Home” a big fat lie? The answer is no. Usually. Working from home is a reality of today’s workplace that is being embraced. Flexibility helps us deal with complicated lives and helps organizations retain key people. Researchers are confirming that those who work at home tend to put in longer hours and are often more productive. “Working from home” is usually on top of the regular forty-hour workweek.

But we also know it can hurt an employee’s promotion chances and that some combination of working at home and showing up in the office is better. “Out of sight, out of mind” is not a good career planning mantra if you want to get ahead. The organization suffers too if no one ever shows up. Plans and accommodations need to be put in place that will ensure the organization’s success and accommodate the diverse workforce.

Sure, ‘Working from Home’ is sometimes abused. Sure, there are reasons why it can’t work in some organizations. Sure, most of us want to be part of a terrific team that is a model of innovation and productivity. And technology has been a curse and a miracle when it comes to being productive wherever we might be. So ‘Working from Home’ almost always means work is being done somewhere. There are enough lies and fibs at work, “Working from Home” is rarely one of them.

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