In a lot of ways my little part of Sam’s wide-ranging operation is one of the last true bastions of the command and control business model. High atop Olympus, decisions are made and the filter down through the organization like water through so many layers of sedimentary rock. Just like our notional water finding its way to the aquifer, along the way, the decision is filtered through each layer – it picks up things from one, the next strips something away, and by the time it drips down through the lower rock strata sometimes it’s barely recognizable as the thing that started the journey back on Olympus.
That’s a long way of saying that things don’t generally happen fast where I live. Slow and ponderous is the nature of the bureaucratic beast. That’s why it’s not surprising that it’s long been one of the great holdouts to working remotely. Anyone who can’t be seen at their desk, hoeing their row down on the cube farm, is suspect at best. That attitude is slowly changing among some of the first tier supervisors – usually though whose advance through the ranks started fairly recently.
Eventually though, if the anyone is paying attention and you’re more than a halfassed employee, they’ll start to realize that you really can get the work done despite your location far away from the hive. The down side of that is when it happens, the home office starts feeling less home and more office. On balance, though, wading through the daily mess in fuzzy slippers, in the company of your favorite members of the animal kingdom, and with a really stellar commute help offset that trouble reasonably well… in fact I’ll remain forever perplexed that the highly relaxed dress code and proximity to snoring dogs don’t make this the most sought after work arrangement known to man.
When it comes to driving in snow, I’m not what one would usually call a Nervous Norvis. Couple that with capable 4-wheel drive and you can count on a few fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve wanted to go somewhere that it was prevented by the prevailing weather. Today, though, was one of those days.
This morning, the tail end cut out from under me before I even made it through the turn off the driveway and into the street. Add in sliding gracefully through the next two stop signs and it might not have been my worst day of driving but it easily ranks in the top ten. I’m told the main roads were fine, but living among a warren of back roads running across hill and dale, it’s fifteen minutes to the closest “main road” under the best conditions.
A decade ago, I’d have pressed on and damn the consequences. This morning, though, was more of a “screw this, I’m going back to the house.” After all it’s warm there and the coffee is fresh. There’s also damned little I can do at the office that I can’t do from the much nicer office I have at home. It seems that my tolerance for risking my neck – and the body work on my nice shiny Jeep – just for the joy of sitting eight hours in a cubicle is decreasing as the years go by.
Regardless of where I was sitting, the calls got made, the email went out, and this little cog in the great machine did his bit… but I got to do it it worn out jeans and fuzzy slippers. Is it wrong that a big part of me hopes things gent frozen over more often?
The hardest part of coming back to the office after a telework day is obviously coming back to the office. That’s the fact in the most absolute sense. Trading home for office goes against everything I really want to do in my heart of hearts. If it weren’t for the mortgage and random astronomical bills related to the care and feeding of an English bulldog, perhaps things would be different. I suspect to one degree or another, that’s probably true for most of us, but it’s not one of the topics we discuss in polite company because realizing everyone else is in the same boat would be altogether too depressing to contemplate.
Aside from physically making the transition from working at home to working in the office, the most difficult part of these days is really just in dealing with the environment. Like so many drones, my “official” place of duty features open cubicles, a regular stream of people coming and going, endless interruptions, as many as 30 phones ringing, and the impossibility of getting away from being audibly assaulted by multiple simultaneous conversations at various volumes. I don’t care what the research says. I don’t care what the efficiency experts tell you. Open cubicle work space is a disaster. Sure things get done, but as often as not it’s things getting done in spite of the working environment as opposed to because of it.
Comparing that to my home office within the comfortable confines of Fortress Jeff with its comfortable chairs, expansive desk, fluffy animals, and relative calm and quiet, well, there’s really no question why I do more and feel better at the end of a telework day than I do on any other weekday. The transition between the two realities is jarring and decidedly unpleasant. Short of staring my own business to dispense sarcastic comments and inappropriate remarks, cubicle hell feels like a reality for at least the next seventeen odd years.
It’s kind of nice knowing there’s a better option. Of course it would be better still if it actually weren’t that way, but I’m a realist.
In spite of myself I’ve become something of a convert to the concept of working from home. That one day a week is a reprieve from the never ending background noise that’s inevitable when you cram twenty or thirty people into a small space and then expect them to do work. My telework day, in fact, is the one day out of the week when I get to focus on whatever is in front of me to the exclusion of all other things. Even when the issue is vexing, addressing it without interruption or commentary is something of a pleasure. It seems there’s no limit to what you might be able to accomplish when you’re not being interrupted by something else every few minutes.
The most pressing issue with working from home in my experience thus far is that on at least half the days I should have been doing it, I’ve found myself getting dragged into the office for “something important.” That usually translates into flipping slides at some briefing or enduring a meeting that could just as easily have been a phone call. So far it looks like the week is so pock-marked with these “must attend” meetings that a day in the home office is in all likelihood lost.
We can say that we want employees to be “telework ready” all we want, but when the default setting is “you need to come to the office” instead of finding a way to get the job done remotely, we’re never ever going to get to a place where we’re not tethered to a quaint 19th century notion that work only happens when the bosses can look down a long row of desks and see people doing things. I suspect that method of “doing work” is too ingrained in the organization for it to change – which is a shame when the alternative is hiring grown ass adults, letting them display initiative, and holding them accountable if they don’t. Yeah, now I know I’m just talking crazy.
I’ve really been sitting here metaphorically bashing my head against the desk trying to figure out what was worth writing about tonight. The solution, as usual, was right in front of me. Usually, I don’t pay that much attention to the internet. It’s basically transparent to the user… I mean I don’t sit down at the keyboard and say I’m going to use the internet to access WordPress or my bank. I just point in the direction of what I want to do, and it gets me there. The wonder if the internet really isn’t what got me thinking tonight, though. It’s the sites like eBay and Amazon, Etsy and Cafepress that let any schmo create an account, log in, and start selling products to a whole world of consumers that they wouldn’t have access to from the kind of businesses that people started from home five or ten years ago. Maybe I’m coming late to this party, but damnit, that’s a big deal. It’s huge! Someone with an idea that’s good enough can sit in the comfort of their on home and make money from nothing more than their ideas and a willingness to put in the time to identify and reach an audience.
Your chances of becoming an internet millionaire are probably about the same as hitting tonight’s MegaMillions jackpot, but still, in this case it seems to be a function of the harder you work, they luckier you get. The beauty of this new wave of micro-capitalism is that it takes so much of the hugh startup costs out of the equation and lets people focus on delivering a quality product while someone with the technical expertise deals with the “back office” stuff. With a few good ideas and a high speed internet connection, we can all be in business. Talk about a radical departure from all of human history.