Hey, I need to wait around for a package to be delivered next Friday. Can you cover for me if I take your shift on Saturday?

We all have things that need to get done and sometimes that means we have to be someplace other than at work. And it’s amazing how often this involves just waiting. Waiting for the phone to ring. Waiting for the mail or a package to be delivered. Or waiting for a certain time when you can pick up your kids from school.

What do you do when you’re supposed to be at work?

Well, if you have a job where you really do have to be at some location, then you don’t have a lot of options. But more and more, employers are realizing that the need for employees to be sitting at their desk in the office is not real. It’s a left-over custom that’s fading fast and really just means that your manager is too lazy to judge your performance unless you’re within sight.

Some companies have no office at all and everybody works from home. They do very well and this trend is taking hold. The best employees are motivated as well as being good at their job. Once you’re motivated, you’ll find ways to get things done and don’t need a manager watching your every move.

The only question remaining is do you have the skills required to get one of these jobs?

I’d like to stop here a moment to make clear that you don’t have to have a job that can be done anywhere in order to be happy and motivated. I’ve worked in a factory before making integrated circuits and loved it. I was always on time for my shift to start and would often get so caught up with what I was doing that I’d look around and realize that everybody had already left for lunch.

Listen to the full episode to learn directly from a friend of mine who works remotely. I had the chance to interview him and included the dialog in this episode. Or you can also read the full transcript of the episode below.

Transcript

We all have things that need to get done and sometimes that means we have to be someplace other than at work. And it’s amazing how often this involves just waiting. Waiting for the phone to ring. Waiting for the mail or a package to be delivered. Or waiting for a certain time when you can pick up your kids from school. What do you do when you’re supposed to be at work?

Well, if you have a job where you really do have to be at some location, then you don’t have a lot of options. But more and more, employers are realizing that the need for employees to be sitting at their desk in the office is not real. It’s a left-over custom that’s fading fast and really just means that your manager is too lazy to judge your performance unless you’re within sight.

Some companies have no office at all and everybody works from home. They do very well and this trend is taking hold. The best employees are motivated as well as being good at their job. Once you’re motivated, you’ll find ways to get things done and don’t need a manager watching your every move.

The only question remaining is do you have the skills required to get one of these jobs?

I’d like to stop here a moment to make clear that you don’t have to have a job that can be done anywhere in order to be happy and motivated. I’ve worked in a factory before making integrated circuits and loved it. I was always on time for my shift to start and would often get so caught up with what I was doing that I’d look around and realize that everybody had already left for lunch.

These were twelve hour shifts from 7 am to 7 pm. There was no concept of working from home. Of course I had to be present at the factory in order to do my job. And I had fun.

There were some times like holding my breath while scrubbing the inside of a large dome lid that I could stand up inside that weren’t the most pleasant. It involved a lot of quick ducking in and out so I wouldn’t have to breath the fumes that built up inside the dome.

But there were fun times too like climbing up inside a machine to look for a broken switch. Or filling up a container with liquid nitrogen. Or reading a large schematic diagram to figure out where to look for a failed integrated circuit. These times were fun because I had a puzzle to solve. Why was this million dollar machine not working right? Sometimes it could be caused by a laser hitting a mirror that was just slightly out of alignment. Or somebody didn’t notice the hole in their glove and left a fingerprint inside that dome that had to be scrubbed. Even changing the oil was fun if you just knew where to find it.

The point is, the biggest part of doing well at your job and therefore advancing your career is enjoying what you do. Where you do your job doesn’t matter if you have the type of job that can be done anywhere. That means you can work from home on those days when you’re expecting a package or a phone call. You don’t need to take the whole day off as vacation, or pretend to be sick, or swap schedules with somebody.

There’s been a few cases of high-tech companies reversing this trend. Yahoo in 2013 asked employees to stop working from home. And I just read an article that IBM is doing the same thing now. The article says that IBM is giving remote workers the option to either relocate to a regional office or find a new job. Many of these employees have been working remotely for years and IBM is sure to lose quite a few employees.

It’s been said that moves like this are really just layoffs in disguise. The company can claim they just want to encourage better collaboration by having employees physically present in the same office. But they know that many remote employees will not accept the offer. It seems to me that moves like this are just desperate attempts to cover up some more fundamental problem.

While I was preparing this article, a long-time friend sent me a message wishing me a happy Ramadan and asked how I was doing. His name is Jason and I thanked him and told him I was working on this episode about working remotely. Well, Jason mentioned that he works remotely two days each week as a system administrator for a hospital. I started asking him some questions.

What follows is a virtual interview with Jason.

◦ Before I could ask the first question, Jason said that he loved it. This shows his motivation and dedication to the job.
◦ I asked if he works with Linux machines or Windows. Jason said that he manages outpatient electronic medical records which is all Windows but that they’re converting to more of a mix between Linux and Windows machines. I’ve always found it easier to manage Linux machines remotely but Microsoft is making progress in this area and it’s no longer required that you be sitting right in front of the computer in order to make changes.
◦ Jason said that he likes Linux but some of the software the hospital uses will only run on Windows. This is sometimes the case that a company needs to use some software that requires environments that may not be suitable for working remotely. It doesn’t affect Jason in this case but it could. This gets back to the factory. Some jobs just can’t be done remotely.
◦ Luckily for Jason, he said that he can do everything from home that can be done at the office. He works from home two days each week mainly just because the hospital management wants to see their employees at least sometimes. If not for that, he would be able to work from home all the time.
◦ A lot of companies are like this where they’ll let employees work remotely a couple days each week either on a fixed schedule or as needed.
◦ Jason said that he’s actually more productive at home than at the office because he doesn’t get dragged into things he can’t help with.
◦ I asked if there are any differences between working from home vs. the office. And I mentioned that in my case, I like that my office has larger monitors and that I can participate in ad-hoc conversations. Sometimes I’ll be working when I hear a nearby conversation that relates to what I’m doing and I’ll join in. You don’t always get that when working remotely. However, a team that fully supports remote employees will make sure to have not just direct communications but chat rooms. Each team can have their own room. And sometimes each project. This is a way to participate in those conversations but selectively. Jason said that he can get distracted by random conversations and that working from home allows him to avoid those distractions. Maybe IBM could learn a bit from Jason and I’m sure IBM has the ability to setup a few virtual chat rooms.
◦ I asked about his commute and he said that he spends 30 minutes driving to work and estimates that working from home twice each week saves him about $150 each month. And the savings are more during the summer because he doesn’t have to spend extra money on daycare for the kids.
◦ I asked if he was expected to respond quickly to emails or messages while working remotely. Jason said this is important and these days everybody has access to email and messages right from their phones.
◦ He mentioned that it was actually harder to convince the hospital management to let him and the other administrators work remotely than it was to get the necessary equipment in place to support working remotely.
◦ I asked what kind of justification he had to provide in order to convince the hospital to allow working remotely.
◦ He said that was an odd story. You see, the IT department in hospitals is not always the best place to work. He’s worked in four hospitals and two of them had their IT departments next to the morgue.
◦ He said that his department was stuck in an old office that hadn’t been used in years. It smelled moldy. They complained but the hospital didn’t take them seriously until a ceiling tile fell on a patient across the hall.
◦ Jason said that the hospital decided to move them but didn’t have another office. So they all got to go home.
◦ Then the hospital noticed that productivity actually went up while the team was at home. When they realized that they no longer needed to find an office and the fact that the work was being completed better anyway, they decided to let the team continue working from home.
◦ The hospital later found an office for the IT department but it doesn’t have to be as big because not everybody needs to be at the office each day and when Jason and the others are at the office, they share desks and computers.

That was the end of the interview. My take on this is that everybody wins when companies provide extra flexibility to work from anywhere. Productivity goes up and employees feel better.

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