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Be Careful What You Wish For

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A good friend of mine is cleaning out her office this week. You guessed it; yet another victim of recession induced cost cutting measures. But no – (thankfully) she hasn’t lost her job. Just her space.

Late last year her employer evaluated every job in the company to identify who truly needed and who did not need a desk in company-owned buildings. By reallocating unnecessary workspace, the company will save millions by leasing out the newly available office space. As a knowledge worker and manager, it was determined that my friend no longer needed a company-supplied office. So although she lives just 2½ miles from the corporate headquarters, she will be working from home on a full-time basis.

This latest trend seems to take a new angle on telecommuting/workplace flexibility discussion. Seeking greater autonomy, employee advocates have long argued for the right to work from home. Scores of websites coach employees on building the case for telecommuting. Benefits to the company are frequently cited, ranging from productivity increases to corporate responsibility/environmental impact. This fervor for the right to work where and when you choose has lead to the popularity of books like Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It and its case for building a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE).

It is true that employees ask for this. In the employee survey business, we frequently see requests from employees for the opportunity to occasionally work from home. Many state they would love to work one day a week from home or to be able to telecommute when they are home with a sick child.

But now, it seems, the tide has turned. As employers realize that knowledge workers can in fact work just as effectively from home, many companies are choosing to eliminate the extra expense of providing office space for these employees.

There is certain appeal to the idea of working in one’s pajamas, avoiding office politics, not to mention cutting the daily commute. But as the opportunity to work from home becomes an expectation to work from home, it seems to change the dynamics of the equation. And as the opportunity to report to the office becomes a privilege or a perk, perhaps we should pause to think about what we lose. Camaraderie, collaboration, mentoring, a sense of community and belonging – can these truly be replicated from a distance? And what about the boundaries between work and personal time? As one friend put it “You never get a snow day when you’re working from home. There’s really no reason for you not being available – all the time!”

So what do you think? What has been your experience with working from home? Positives? Negatives? Unintended consequences? I’d love to hear how it’s playing out in the organizations where you work.

Photo Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/kevharb / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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1 Comments

Working from home definitely comes with upsides and downsides. You really have to be able to manage yourself and the distractions that exist around you. Working from home with an infant around can be easier to manage, for example, that when that infant becomes a toddler. As someone who used to work from home regularly, I find that I have difficulty doing so anymore during the day because of the distractions that come from my daughter and my wife (who is usually off on days that are ideal for me to work from home). Rather, I prefer schedule flexibility combined with telecommuting, so that I can work from home after the kids are in bed. Best of all worlds that way.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Anna Erickson published on February 21, 2010 6:30 PM.

Don’t Always Believe the Hype: Ask for Sound Numbers (and Promises) was the previous entry in this blog.

Congratulations to APA's 2010 Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award Winners is the next entry in this blog.

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