This post is from staff writer Sarah Gilbert.
I’ve done it all; worked remotely, worked in an office with a serious in-traffic commute, worked in an office with a short commute, worked for myself, and worked for Fortune 100 corporations. I’ve worked 80 hours weeks and I’ve worked 10 hours a week part-time. I’ve been overpaid and underpaid. I’ve worked at $2.13 an hour with tips. I’ve worked hourly with overtime. I’ve been given a bonus bigger than my annual salary. I’ve managed people, hired people, fired people, and managed a team of dozens of freelance contractors. I’ve even managed groups of volunteers.
Never, however, have I been more certain that someone had the whole concept of human nature as it relates to work more wrong than when reading recent news that Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer was telling her remote employees to come into an office or lose their jobs. “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” says the memo.
Lots of people agree: some people are lazy
I have done many wrongs in my career, but I can guarantee you that quality and speed were never positively correlated to my presence in an office. I can equally say that the most effective work I’ve ever seen done — the highest-speed work, the best quality work, the most kick-butt, forward-thinking work — was done by a group of freelance contractors, many of whose faces I never ever once saw.
Studies show that remote workers are more engaged in their tasks. And I have lots of anecdotal evidence to back that up, including a few friends who work remotely at Yahoo! — I’ve rarely seen such all-the-time dedication to their jobs. To think those employees would be more engaged and have better “speed” and “quality” of work if they moved to Los Angeles, bought cars, and commuted a few hours a day in one of the worst traffic cities in the world, leaving their children with nannies a few more hours each day? I can tell you if it were me, I’d be resentful and bitter (like so many people I’ve known who spend hours each day in their car), often spending hours at the office following up on auto insurance claims, dealing with paperwork for day cares and summer camp applications, or shopping for clothes to wear to the office.
Working in the office is a time sink in itself
Driving to and from work each day is a social construct that requires an enormous amount of upkeep, and includes an equally enormous amount of social inefficiency. A recent interview with a knitting writer I admire prompted hundreds of comments, including one woman who was shocked, after taking an in-office job for the first time, at the many hours of time wasted with pointless meetings and social interactions (like a co-worker who demanded help figuring out a basic software package).
This is not to say that every job ever should be done by remote workers; this is not to say that all people are more efficient in the home than in the office. Judging by the number of people I see every day working in coffee shops, I imagine that there are lots of home environments not at all conducive to work.
But I think most reasonable people would agree that the commuting, the lunch-getting, the requirements of hygiene and wardrobe, the social niceties, the gossiping and the scheduling, the fact that human brains do not work well sitting quietly in front of a screen for eight-to-10 hours a day, all add up to lots of lost “productivity.”
I get more productive investment banking done working from home, 15 hours a week, than I did as a 20-something banker in 40 hours in the office. And I make more money, too, because I don’t have to spend any of it on commuting, lunches out, clothes or the inevitable social functions (and none on the near-compulsory United Way!).
The higher the quality of life, the better the quality of work
What it comes down to in my opinion is a truth often acknowledged by researchers but rarely honored by the way corporate environments (and, in fact, a good deal of our modern work economy) are created: if you are happy with the quality of your life, you will be a better employee. European countries acknowledge this to some extent, with shorter work weeks and much greater “entitlement” to vacation and family time (not to mention far more generous family leave policies). But many American companies stubbornly refuse to create policies that support this balance.
I’ve done what many of my contemporaries have done; find work situations that agree with my own personal findings. I’m much better if I get to care for my creative, community and family obligations as the priorities; and now that I’ve found an ideal assortment of freelance and creative work, I’ve even discovered that my financial life is better for it. I’m paying off debt, growing savings, and only spending money where I want to spend it. I think that the attitudes of my own children and the “millennials” who will one day run our corporate future agree with this belief.
Do you do better work in a traditional commuting office environment, or with more flexible arrangements? How have you created a work life that does (or does not) work for your skills and personality type?