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Snow Day Thoughts: The Work from Home Dilemma

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As I write this blog I’m sitting in my bedroom on our “butterfly chairs” looking out the window. All I see are beautiful rolling hills and snow flurries as the winter elements are starting to fill the air. I’m in my sweatpants and tee shirt while my daughters are watching television home from a snow day. It is 9am and I’ve already worked out, sent dozens of emails, and made a few phone calls. Generally I’m not a big work from home guy (although I feel like I’m always working regardless of where I am) but today’s weather has got me thinking. What would it be like to work from home all the time? Would I like it myself? As an owner of a small company would I like it for my employees? Let me share my thoughts and would love to hear yours as well.

I’ll preface my analysis with no one in my firm works from home. We have worked with a handful of consultants through the years that do work from home.

Let me first put myself in the employee’s shoes and analyze the pros and cons.

Pros of working from home:

1. The first obvious pro to me is comfort. As I mentioned earlier I haven’t gotten myself all dolled up. No gel in my hair, sitting in my comfy bedroom chairs, and wearing my favorite pair of sweatpants. Needless to say I am quite comfortable.

2. Next big benefit I’m seeing is convenience. Again another obvious observation but it is convenient. I slept a little later today, didn’t have a twenty minute commute to work and back, and not saddled with all the normal workday rituals.

3. Cost savings are real. I wouldn’t be a good financial planner if I didn’t look at the cost savings of having this work from home luxury. Doing some simple calculations If I worked from home every day I’d save on dry cleaning, gas, and lunches to name a few. Doing some back of an envelope calculations I would estimate I’d save somewhere between $75-$100/week. That can amount to a real annual savings.

4. Family time is precious. Now today is an anomaly as my children (ages 7,4,1) are home from school today. However, even if it was a normal day I’d maximize time with these special little people. On a typical day I leave pretty early in the morning before anyone is awake. I then get home to get a good 2-3 hours with them before bed. If I worked from home every day add in another hour or so of quality time spent with these precious kids and my lovely wife. Thus far this is my favorite benefit I’m experiencing.

Cons of working from home:

1. The biggest con I’m having working from home is distractions. This is a picture of my bed right now. My kids are jumping all around and the television is blaring. My monster of son is downstairs, oh wait he is upstairs right now. BOOM my daughter just fell and hurt her toosh, she is crying I’ll be right back. Five minutes later; OK where was I? Oh yeah I’m finding plenty of distractions. Even if my kids weren’t off school I can see how I could get pulled in many non-work distractions.

2. Motivating myself is definitely harder. Not sure if it is the weather, the three screaming children, or working from my sweats but motivating is harder. I’m sure I could teach myself to get more motivated if I did this every day, but today is difficult. There is something to team comradery and energy of a work place that I feed off of.

3. Lack of resources. Now again I don’t do this every day so I don’t necessarily have a defined work area. No printer, fax, or big computer screen. Some of these things could be fixed if this were permanent. That said I will never have the resources here that I do in my fancy offices.

4. Lack of comradery and team atmosphere. I truly care about everyone I work with. I care about their families, successes, and growth. I also enjoy their company and collaborating with them in person. I like stopping by their desks to catch up for a minute or ask them a quick question. If I were working remotely all these things would get compromised one way or another.

Oh wait daughter number two is now crying my son pulled her hair by accident, ugh hold on a minute. Alright back to it where was I…. That’s right let me now put my “boss” hat on and look at some pros and cons from that perspective.

Pros

1. Happier employees makes for a better environment. If working from home gives my employees more joy in their lives, as they are more comfortable and see their family more, isn’t that a good thing? Won’t it lead to more loyal productive employees?

2. Saves me costs. If half my employees didn’t take up office space and resources I could save a lot of money. I could also turn that savings into more employees or better paid current employees.

3. Save employees time thus more time in all our pockets. Seems natural that if an employee has to leave early for a personal item they could use that commute time working versus commuting. Not to mention all the prep time in the morning.

4. Less time boundaries in general. The fact that working from home gives employees a lot of flexibility the expectation is they still put in the time necessary to get stuff done. Since these individuals are used to working abnormal hours to some degree they have less issue working in the evenings or early mornings. Do I actually benefit from more time spent working this way?

Cons

1. The big one that comes to my employer brain is lack of control. By having lots of employees not in the office I can’t monitor or control their activities. I can’t help them improve or see that they are slacking. I don’t have the transparency as to what the people I am paying money to are actually doing. This bothers me a lot to be honest.

2. Technology not quite there yet. Although technology is rapidly improving there are a lot of things my employees would be hampered with working from home. I imagine this gap will get shortened as technology advances and gets less costly. That said I anticipate it will never be 100% equal.

3. Out of sight out of mind. This issue seems to cut both ways. As an employee and employer the squeaky wheel gets the oil. I was once told you want to work at a company’s main offices as that is where management works. If management gets to see you every day and you develop a working friendship you are more likely to advance with in a company. All things equal as an employer aren’t I more likely to advance someone I see working every day versus an unknown?

4. Lack of senses is an issue. They say communication is 93% nonverbal! You lose a good deal of this when people aren’t working with you side-by-side. I lose the ability to tell when someone is annoyed, sad, or confused. I have to rely in the tone of their voice and sometimes that isn’t good enough. If I am working next to someone I’ll be better able to communicate with them and thus a better work environment for all.

Related: Why Should I Care About Long Term Care?

Still torn? So am I.

The debate continues as I sit here watching the snow piling up. Where I’ve landed for now is I’m glad my company has everyone working together in person. Seems to me the collaboration and team work is optimized this way. I don’t mind if an employee needs to do some work from home occasionally, but not quite there from a regular occurrence. Also a lot of the work we do needs to be in person.

Although I do feel differently if it is a consultant we work with. There are more advantages and opportunities that present themselves when I can open up my scope.

Who knows what the future holds as I’m sure my opinions might change. Love to hear your feedback or experience if willing to share. Ok lunch time my wife has eggplant parm coming up (big advantage)!

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