As we begin to contemplate a post-Pandemic world the air is awash with musings as to how WFH is going to become the new normal (God, I hate that phrase). There is no doubt that we have all discovered some interesting things about how we can or cannot work from home.
Please know that in comparison to the rest of the world, the American worker works longer hours than any competitor country. Whenever I recite that figure, I wonder how we are including the Chinese.
To whom does this apply, Big Red Car?
Great question. This is a fairly small group of folks for whom this is an option.
Steel mill workers? Nope.
Software engineers? Yes.
Uber drivers? No.
Startup/tech workers? Yes.
Restaurant workers? No. [We have more than 15,000,000 Americans who work in restaurants.]
You get the picture. In general, this is brain workers v muscle workers, an important, but vastly overlooked distinction.
Why does WFH work again, Big Red Car?
Ahhh, Grasshopper, it is a wonderful thing for the following reasons:
1. It is pandemic friendly — the original driver of WFH. Fewer sick persons is always a good thing. [Why I used to insist my insurance company provided free flu shots.]
2. It does away with the daily commute in both time and the stress of fending off other cars and commuters.
Less time being stressed has to be a good thing. Huge lifestyle improvement (beyond just cozy clothes and no makeup) even if the time is used solely for the benefit of the employee.
Stop: 2 hour a day roundtrip commute x 5 days a week = 10 hours/week. This is like receiving a gift of a whole additional day per week. Look at what that means for a year! Wow!
One more thing — huge cost savings for the employee with zero commuting expense, no lunches out, maybe reduced child care expenses. Sell the truck.
3. Fewer distractions — no discussions on politics, cryptocurrency, best restaurants — means higher productivity and fewer long, drawn out useless meetings.
The employee can design her own work space, no imposition of a cube. Good news, bad news. May not really have the room?
The reduction of commuting stress may also make it easier for an employee to work a couple of extra hours because they are not sprinting for the train. They are luxuriating in their loungewear. Who doesn’t feel better working in their PJs?
Need to have a plumber replace that broken disposal in the vegetable sink? You will be home to let him in when you WFH.
4. Reduced demand for and expense of office space — rent expense goes down — benefitting the employer. You can add in reduced demand for coffee and snacks.
5. Hiring is improved because geography is not a consideration. Hiring can come from markets that have lower compensation expectations — the Nebraska software engineer v her NYC or Silicon Valley counterpart.
6. Some argue that employee retention goes up because the employee is happier working from home.
7. There are a ton of software applications that improve remote group productivity — not just Zoom — which enhances overall productivity. Some say they deploy these tools with WFH, but not in the office where they can meet endlessly.
8. Part of that productivity improvement is the sense that WFH workers take fewer sick days. Less impact on vacation planning.
9. Better work – life balance. A WFH employee can take an hour walk with the dog or push the bambino around the park in a stroller in the middle of the day and make up the lost work time with an earlier start or a later finish.
Not just work – life balance, but also quality of one’s day. Huge motivator.
10. If you have happier employees, you will engender more loyalty which drives lower turnover.
I am stopping at ten on purpose. There are a few others. There are some pitfalls.
Pitfalls, Big Red Car?
1. There is a loss of the structure and discipline of the office. This requires the employee to be self-disciplined and exert adult willpower. This could be a heavy lift.
2. You can get bored without the juice of jumping out of bed, showering, dressing, and getting that latte on the way to work.
The successful WFH employee will have to establish a routine that works for them.
3. When you are essentially your own boss, you may work at a pajama/robe speed with nobody to spur you on on a daily basis.
4. You could get too damn comfortable and find yourself taking a little mid-morning or mid-afternoon power nap followed by turning off the computer a little early.
5. You may take an inordinate amount of time on making that new lunch or early dinner recipe from the New York Times.
6. Loss of social stimulation. There are people who are energized by the social aspects of life. Duh.
7. Those fucking Zoom calls. Cross eyed, boring Zoom calls. Death by Zoom. They do require a power nap.
8. No bonding Happy Hour events. No face-to-face mentorship.
OK, so, Big Red Car, the White Underbelly Of WFH?
Yes, dear reader, there are some things that need to be addressed. Here are a few:
1. Does the employer have a duty to pay the employee for the use of her home office? What happens if the employee doesn’t have adequate space?
Pro tip: Go look at the IRS rules on home offices. This is a huge issue.
Does the employer offset this by the reduced cost of commuting?
2. Who provides Internet in WFH? At what speed? [Darling, you have to have 1G fiber. You must.]
3. Who provides office machines? Laptop? Printer? Cell phone? That second, third monitor?
4. Who provides tech support?
5. Are you covered by a Workwomans Comp policy in the confines of your home, home office?
Are you covered if you fall down the stairs with your cell phone stuck in your ear? Are you covered for sunburn? Does the employer supply sunscreen — 50SPF?
6. Will you be compensated at the “normal” rate or at some contrived, reduced WFH rate?
7. How will you be appraised performance wise?
8. What exactly are your work hours and what about time zones?
9. What are the Zoom work dress requirements?
Can you opt out if you are having a bad hair week? Can you eat while taking a Zoom? Can you breast feed?
[No, you cannot Jeffrey Toobin. That is out.]
10. What does your boss’s Open Door policy look like when you WFH?
Again, limit is ten, but you can get the idea.
Bottom line it, Big Red Car, we have places to go
You seem a little hostile today, amigo. Calm down.
OK, here it is. This WFH is a business function and businesses are going to have to lay out a set of rules just like any other policy in their employee manual. It will work for some and it will not for others.
Somebody is going to get sued for something? No more free M & Ms? It will happen.
Can an employee WFH at the beach? In the mountains? From the pool?
But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a WFH Big Red Car. Gotta run, honey, getting my oil changed in fifteen minutes.
You have a damn nice weekend. Call somebody you haven’t spoken to in a long time and tell them, “Been thinking about you. Let’s gossip.”