Loving The Cubicle, Part II


So I’ve had some interesting feedback since posting about how I learned to love my cubicle.  While the majority of readers seemed to agree with the majority of the points in that article, I also heard from some vocal work-from-home proponents. The readers tended to fall into three categories:

Category 1. People who work remotely for an external company (the “classic” work-from-home situation)
Category 2. People who work remotely for themselves, as consultants or other business owners
Category 3. People who may or may not work from home themselves, but work with and/or employ those who do.

These people all offered interesting opinions about how working from home has impacted their professional effectiveness. Some of their ideas were ones I hadn’t considered. So here are a few of the new thoughts I’ve been chewing on – let’s keep the conversation going!

Category 1: People who work remotely for an external company
By far the most interesting responses in this category came from people who have transitioned into successful work-from-home careers, but have had to construct a careful routine to stay productive in their informal environment. I heard about one guy who leaves the house every morning by his front door, gets a cup of coffee from the nearby Starbucks, comes back into the house via a different door (his “office” door) and starts his day’s work. In the evening, he leaves the house by the “office” door and immediately rejoins his family through the front door. (No word on whether he then shouts “Honey, I’m home!”) This unusual “commute”, short though it is, helps him make the mental transition between his personal and professional lives. And it’s not as crazy as it sounds; more than one person mentioned other “remote coping mechanisms” like getting dressed up for work each morning or having a designated office space that is physically separated from the rest of the house. The lesson seems to be: good work requires structure, something an office provides by default, and successful work-from-homers will go the extra mile to provide that structure for themselves.

Category 2: People who work remotely for themselves
I wasn’t really thinking of the people in Category 2 when I wrote the original post. In my mind, working for yourself is such a different situation from reporting to a boss that location is a secondary concern. But in the tech world, where many top talents eventually branch out on their own, keeping your skills fresh through regular exposure to colleagues’ work becomes more necessary even as it gets more difficult. Reader Blake cites the lack of collaboration as the number one thing he misses since transitioning into independent consulting. But he also mentions the lack of distractions as a definite bonus.

Category 3: People who collaborate with and/or employ remote workers.
My original post took the everyday employee’s perspective, so I didn’t spend much time considering why a manager might like to hire remote employees. One reader, who manages an all-remote team, points out that his setup allows him to hire the best available talent wherever it happens to be, without anyone having to pack up and move. This reader also feels that next-generation collaboration software like Sococo has essentially closed the collaborative gap faced by remote teams.

I’m not as convinced as he is about that last point. After all, the more realistic a collaborative product is, the more susceptible it is to the kind of problems (distraction in particular) that have caused tech workers to flee the office in the first place. And even if you could invent a software product that somehow incorporated all the benefits of a real office while eliminating every one of its flaws, I think the illusion of perfect connection may be more dangerous than we realize. Any time your primary interaction with another human is filtered through a screen, you lose a sense of–if I can risk sounding really weird–consequence. If we can always mute people’s voices or disconnect from their chatrooms when they are bothering us, doesn’t that contribute to a general sense that people are abstract, disposable…even Ctrl-Z-able? (This is also why it bugs me a little bit when technical managers refer to employees as “resources”, like they’re something you could kill in Task Manager if they start taking up too much of your CPU.)

Sorry, that got deeper than I intended. Feel free to tell me how wrong I am. 🙂 Anyway, whether you work in a cube farm or on a beach towel, I think we can all agree on one thing: nobody should be this guy.

Thanks for reading!

Loving The Cubicle, Part II

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