Recently, we at the Yeomen have been talking about this brave new world of working from home, and we’ve been considering the pros and cons that we can see in our own personal experience with it. It occurred to us that it’s difficult to enumerate the benefits and limitations of working from home without also considering those times in our lives when we did not work from home. I’ve invited other members of our team at the Yeomen to share their own “Then and Now” stories, too, so stay tuned for some of those in the coming weeks and months.
For me personally, the difference is huge, but that difference is really an aggregate of little marginal differences, some of which seem insignificant when you consider them individually. The following is a then-versus-now analysis of the little differences that I can describe from my own experience, and of what those differences mean to me and, potentially, to my clients and my team.
Daily Routine 10 years ago:
— 1.5-hour commute. (standard, average commute in Northern Virginia)
— 8-hour day, including regular 10-minute breaks to smoke cigarettes with team mates.
— Skip lunch/eat at my desk so that I can shave time off of the rush-hour homeward commute, a 2-hour (if I was lucky) drive through rush-hour traffic..
— Home by 6-ish. Handle any necessary chores or errands (laundry/dry-cleaners/shopping/scooping kitty litter).
— Cook dinner. Eat. 2 hours left . . maybe?
— Might as well watch some TV.
— Zero time for exercise (because who’s going to fight more suburban traffic in order to drive to the gym at 9pm?).
Daily Schedule Today, working from home for The Yeomen:
— 1-hour walk in the Park.
— Morning commute = 0 minutes.
— 1-hour lunch. If I want a longer lunch, I start earlier; if I want to skip lunch entirely and knock off early, I can do that, too. If I need to run an errand or two in the middle of the day, no worries.
— Home commute = 0 minutes.
Obviously, the most striking difference is the first one people always think of when they think about working form home — the commute. There is an awful lot that you can accomplish in 3 hours. Because I don’t have a commute, I can complete all of the annoying little daily tasks of home management and still have ample time for my wife/family and for myself. I’ve started drawing again for the first time in years, and I’m reading again. Dishes? Done. Vacuuming? done. Kitty Litter? . . . (ugh) done! Banking? . . well . . we’ll go Saturday . . .
But it’s not just the time associated with the commute, it’s the stress. Compared to that time in my life, I now have 3 extra hours in my day, which is invaluable to me; I can get to the end of a day feeling as though things are handled, not just work things, but life things, so when I wake up as I often do in the middle of the night, I can actually get back to sleep instead of lying there awake turning a calendar in my head, doing that early-morning alpha-state calculus, making sure all Is are dotted and all Ts crossed. Another name for that is stress. I no longer carry the daily stress of “things not done,” which is an inevitable stress when you have a heavy commute. More importantly, I no longer have to deal with the stress of driving for 3 hours a day — 15 hours per week — in white-knuckled, soul-crushing, rush-hour traffic. I normally smoked 5 cigarettes each way, and another 6 or 7 at work. Add 2 or 3 more with my morning coffee (never fewer than 4 cups), and more in the evening, and bingo! Pack a day, easy. Now, I’ve quit smoking, mainly because I don’t begin the day with a stressful commute, but also because I can “smoke” an e-cig at my home desk. Also, I don’t work close to other smokers. I drink less coffee for the same reason. My clients and my teammates, and even my wife, benefit from this directly, since they don’t have to wait for an hour for me to decompress from traffic and become approachable. Because I start my day with exercise and a nice cup of coffee with my wife (instead of 4 cups of coffee, a fistful of cigarettes and a punishing 1.5-hour rush-hour drive), I start the work day relaxed, wide awake, and happy.
So, I start the day happy, and end it less stressed. Big deal. Well, it really is, but there’s more . . . There are a lot of sources of stress in the workplace, and they add up. Of course, I may be unique in my dislike of the windsor-knotted silk phallus, of rigid leather shoes and restrictive blazers, and of all of the other style-driven accoutrements of the Big-Blue-era corporate status quo. I may be, but I doubt it. In hindsight, those aspects of Cubicle World caused me a lot more stress than I ever realized at the time. Stress, time, and money (dry-cleaning, wardrobe maintenance, shoe-shining, etc.) Ever been unable to fart at work, because of your close proximity to others, causing you to hold it in until your current task is finished, or until an approved break time, or until the friendly little widget pops up to say you can pee now, only to wind up walking that fart all the way down a long corridor, crop-dusting your colleagues and teammates? I don’t need to describe for you how that works when you work from home, because I’m sure you can imagine it. It’s a different story. It’s a lot like Freedom. In fact, it’s the very essence of it. Try maintaining your A-game in a meeting with a client when you’re holding in a good fart. Forget about it.
Of course, I’m having a bit of a laugh here, but there’s truth in it. Work atmosphere is important. In my last job, we were able to split our hours between home and the office, which was nice. Our office was beautiful, and no expense was spared for goodies. We had a fridge full of food — four flavors of ice cream, frozen yogurt, coffee extract, beer, Coke, Mexican Coke, bagels, eight flavors of cream cheese, a giant dispenser on the counter full of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, and baskets brimming full with Kind Bars and Granola Bars and chips and Famous Amos and peanut-butter crackers and Moon Pies . . yes, Moon Pies. We had a water cooler and bottled seltzer and San Pellegrino and coconut water and pineapple juice. We had a kegerator with 2 kegs loaded at all times, and a wet bar with whiskey and champagne and a rainbow of Apéritifs. We had lunches catered from tasty local restaurants . . . We had a stand-up desk and a treadmill desk and a vibrating lounge chair, and really cool art on the walls and a phenomenal view of the city. You could even bring your dog to work. It was the coolest office in the world, but we also had a thermostat, and that thermostat became the focus of an intra-office war that lasted for more than a year; with all of the comfort and the extras and the goodies, it was still an uncomfortable place to work, because you were either burning up or freezing. Of course, how I define “comfortable” is not how you’re going to define it (ask any married couple). Granted. But, these days, I’m always comfortable. I wear what I want, and the temperature is just so. I’m Little Red Productive Hood, and everything is always just right. There is a lot to be said for that, and the coolest part is that, at the end of the day, my clients are the ones saying it.