There has been a lot of noise about Yahoo’s decision to prod all those working from home to get up and report to work in the office. That has stirred up a debate about working from home, just when I have been feeling very smug about doing exactly that for some 20 years.
You may not have noticed that I have been at home and that I have been working. That happens when your one-man show is a wee bit small compared to Yahoo.
In my opinion, what really matters is not your location but if you feel at home where you work.
Making home work
In my early days, entrepreneurship was a euphemism for glorious, uncertain, nail-biting unemployment. I would often land up in the office (he had one!) of a friend. I would pretend to have just come from a client meeting; he would pretend to be rushing off to another. After both of us got comfortable enough to shed our masks, the first question he asked was, “How do you manage to stay awake at home? I could never bring myself to leave the bed. That is why I splurged on this (unprintable) office.”
A young manager at one of my early clients once sat me down to have a chat. When I told him I was not a management graduate, he looked at me as if I had just crawled out of the coffee vending machine. Just to make him comfortable, I assured him I came to office only two days a week, that too for a few hours. “It is just not professional,” he burst out.
I am a writer. I love my job because I love writing. My job places me in offices full of interesting people for several hours a week. I am fortunate to be working with some very intelligent people (some of them are so good they consistently reject my work and then offer tea).
I must understand all dimensions of an issue before I can attempt to resolve it for my client through my writing. That conversation must happen in the conference room, in the office, even if the chair they give me tends to sink to the floor without notice.
As for the actual writing, I would rather do it at home. I spend more hours at home than in various offices. That makes the house cleaner throw looks at the leech shamelessly living off his poor wife, who must trudge to work every day to keep the family alive and pay the servant’s salary.
Here and there
John Sullivan thinks I have the mix right. The New York Times report about the Yahoo missive quotes this professor of management at San Francisco State University, who runs a human resource advisory firm. “If you want innovation, then you need interaction,” he said. “If you want productivity, then you want people working from home.”
Now you know what I mean when I insist on your business because I am “innovatively productive”.
Susan Cain writes in her book Quiet what collaboration meant for Steve Wozniak, the co-creator of Apple: “the ability to share a donut and a brainwave with his laid-back, nonjudgmental, poorly dressed colleagues—who minded not a whit when he disappeared into his cubicle to get the real work done.”
No client has yet shared a donut with me. They have been generous with the brainwaves, though. I lug it all and disappear into my cubicle—my home.
In the same book, Susan Cain talks about Pixar Animation Studios, where “the sixteen-acre campus is built around a football-field-sized atrium housing mailboxes, a cafeteria, and even bathrooms. The idea is to encourage as many casual, chance encounters as possible. At the same time, employees are encouraged to make their individual offices, cubicles, desks, and work areas their own and to decorate them as they wish.”
So, it is about creating little spaces where you feel “at home” in the office. That is exactly is what I have been saying. You need a prudent mix of home and office for best productivity.
Yes, I will start work on your presentation, as soon as I finish cutting the vegetables before my wife returns home.