What I did on my snow day…

My first experience with telework, or working from home, was way back in about 2005 when I was home based in central Maryland and working in downtown DC five days a week. Any option that saved me from the 35 minute drive, 30 minute metro ride, and ten minute walk of a commute (when everything worked exactly the way it was supposed to) was a welcome change.

Since then I’ve worked for bosses that were true believers in the virtue of having employees work from home and I’ve worked for others that were firm in the belief that nothing happens unless they could physically see asses in seats right outside their own office door. The truth is, even though I support the idea and take advantage of it at every opportunity, I recognize that finding success working from somewhere other than an office can be very much driven by the personality and work style of the person doing the work.

If that sounds like less than a full throated argument to let everyone work from home as often as they want, it probably should. There are some jobs – and some people – that would be badly served by having that kind of flexibility in deciding were the work gets done. By contrast there are plenty of people and situations that are perfectly well suited for doing the work from anywhere. So, if you ask me if I support telework, the honest answer is, “well, that depends.”

I like to think I’m reasonably successful at carrying out the vast majority of my day-to-day tasks regardless of where I happen to be physically located. Tending to email, participating in meetings, reading or writing, pondering recommendations are all things that, thanks to the wonder of the interwebs, are location agnostic.

Due to the slightly comic language of the agreement that lets me work from home on a regular basis, when the outpost of the bureaucracy where I work is closed, I’m on the hook to log and and carry on business as usual. The catch, of course, is that I’m one of the few people who have taken advantage of this opportunity… which means my snow days are largely made up of sending email and leaving voicemails for people I already know aren’t going to be around to read or listen to them for 24 hours. Yes, it’s ridiculous. No, it doesn’t get after the kind of continuity of operations anyone wants to pretend we have during an emergency. It’s just the way things are.

If sitting around largely talking to myself on a few rare days in the dead of winter buys me a day a week of staying home and working in my fuzzy slippers the rest of the year, it’s a farce I’m perfectly willing to go along with to keep the peace.

The difference a day makes…

I’ve been working one day a week from home for a little over a year now. There are many reasons I’d recommend it to anyone who is even marginally a self-directed individual. It does, however, feature two distinct problems that I’ve found so far.

The first is that in those rare moments when you actually need to talk to someone immediately you’re limited to phone, email, or text. If you happened to be sitting in a cube farm in those moments you could at least add “wander over to wherever that person is supposed to be” to the list of ways to get in touch with them. Needing someone right-the-hell-now, though, is such a rare occurrence in my experience that the issue is hardly worth considering.

The second, and more problematic issue, is that doing the work from the comfort of your own home establishes in clear terms just how utterly unnecessary sitting in one specified desk in one specified room of one specified building really is in the course of day to day activities. It makes then going to sit at that desk, in that room, in that building on the four other days of the work week even more difficult than it would be otherwise. Sure, I suppose there are a handful of good and legitimate reasons for needing to spend time in an actual office, but for all other times I have not one single clue why anyone would want to endure more time in cubicle hell than is absolutely necessary to getting the job done.

Dark underside…

I’ve often enough mentioned how much I generally enjoy the one day a week I get to work from home. What I don’t usually mention is that there is a dark underside to this arrangement.

That underside comes in the form of a little noticed provision of the agreement that specifies that during unschedule office closures due to things like bad weather, terrorist attack, or super volcano eruption, I’m required to either work from home or burn off a day of vacation time. Giving up your snow days is the devil’s bargain you strike for the privilege of having a regularly scheduled day where you get to skip out on sitting in a cubicle.

It doesn’t happen often, but on the days when it does, it feels like a particularly onerous paragraph buried in the fine print. The only redeeming quality it may have is that most of the people I’m required to respond to on a day to day basis don’t have such an agreement – and are therefore sitting home quietly and not bothering me with new requirements… so while this is technically a work day and I did manage to get a few things done, it was surprisingly stress free.

Now if you don’t mind I need to go check and see if telework has been authorized for tomorrow yet.

No distractions…

The best part of the one day a week I spend working from home: The usual distractions found in every office don’t exist. It’s a rare chance to concentrate and actually do the work versus dealing with the administrative minutia of the office.

The worst part of the one day a week I spend working from home: The usual distractions found in every office don’t exist. Some days that means the requirements stream in relentlessly and being at home means you don’t have the myriad of office interruptions to force you into taking a breath or distracting you from it for a minute.

Don’t get me wrong, here – I love my day spent working from home. It’s easily 2-3 times as productive as any other day of the week. Occasionally through, that level of productivity comes at the expense of going utterly crosseyed based on the volume of electronic paper that needs pushing. Sure, that volume of paper would have still needed pushed regardless of my geography, but it just seems more onerous on days when it happens when I’m at the house.

All things considered, I should probably be glad it happened today. If the tide of emails had come in tomorrow it would have taken three days to get through them all with something like reasonably coherent responses.

Surely there’s something wrong with life when this is what passes for a “good” version of Monday.

Allowing for weather…

They’re calling for shit weather tomorrow morning. On a typical day, that would have been the sign to drag my laptop home in hopes that there was some combination of liberal leave or a closure called by the Destructive Weather Team. Having another day to work at home uninterrupted by 30 ringing phones and eight or ten pop up meetings would be a godsend in terms of getting some actual work done.

Sadly, I’m the guy who’s supposed to run the meeting tomorrow – which means I need to be there to flip the slides. Because it’s not an official meeting unless someone flips slides… and we certainly can’t expect people who come to a meeting to print off their own slides or bring their own laptop so they could see the slides. If we could count on either of those things there’s no part of what needs talked about tomorrow that needs my physical presence in a blandly decorated conference room.

We’re stuck in some kind of bizarre world where we want everyone to be prepared to work from wherever they happen to be, but make in next to impossible to do so. Where it is possible, we make the processes and procedures painful to the point where most find the option unattractive.

Me? I’m a contrarian and poker of people with pointy sticks from way back. I’m already turning over plans in my head to slowly drag my team into the 21st century – and prep them for the day when I’ll be leading the discussion while wearing sweats and fuzzy slippers. Until people see working from some place other than your designated spot in the cube farm getting results, I’m afraid the bureaucracy will never get away from it’s favored mode of business as usual. I like to think I’m feisty enough on this point to lead the way by example.

The trouble with telework…

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.

Frozen over…

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?