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Working From Home is Like Saying No to Drugs (micahwedemeyer.com)
59 points by MicahWedemeyer on Mar 12, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 81 comments

I don't know if I get more or less done when I work from home, but I do know that when I have down time at home, I find myself doing things I needed to do anyways (e.g. laundry, dishes, etc.) and that makes me feel better. While at work, I end up reading a bunch of Hacker News articles I don't really care about just because I'm stuck or bored. I also find myself working a little later when at home since I don't need to worry about commuting.

You're probably more productive since - during your downtime - at home you're doing something that makes you feel better vs. at work doing something you don't really care about. When you return to your "work" activity, you're probably better able to focus. Plus, while doing housework, you might mull over whatever you were stuck on and come up with a solution.

This is huge for me. It weighs on me mentally when I am at work during a slow period adhering to a "butts in seats" rule, trying to find things to do or articles to read to pass the time while at home I have a sink full of dirty dishes and a laundry hamper full of dirty clothes. Then I feel guilty or stressed when I leave the office for not feeling like I then have enough time to interact with my family, decompress from work and actually do my household chores!

Not to mention the fact that in many offices, even high-end ones, there just aren't any comfortable places to sit or just be for eight hours, including you're own "ergonomic" chair. It's hard to overstate how fatiguing this can be. Home is everyone's most comfortable place, and if you can leave the computer for a few minutes to ruminate on the sofa, or do the dishes, or walk around the block, it can substantially extend your hours of effectiveness and alertness.

Exactly. Overall my life is more productive, when I'm thinking about a problem I'll go water the plants or do some dishes. Then come back and smash the keyboard with gusto. If I have to be in a office I'll usually end up just looking into my phone to kill time.

Kevin Purdy has written a nice article on working from home... http://www.fastcompany.com/1806307/how-work-home-you-mean-it

Just be aware and dont let this happen :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P785j15Tzk

This article is garbage. It can be boiled down to one sentence: "if working from home makes me happy at the cost of productivity, forcing me to come into the office just because it's more productive is the moral equivalent of requiring me to take Adderall."

To which the appropriate response is: "bullshit". Requiring someone to take physically harmful and addictive drugs is not even remotely in the same galaxy as requiring them to come into the office. Maybe instead of working today, I'd be happier staying home and reading novels and playing with the cat. You don't get paid to be happy though, you get paid to be productive.

>To which the appropriate response is: "bullshit". Requiring someone to take physically harmful and addictive drugs is not even remotely in the same galaxy as requiring them to come into the office.

Not sure. The things some companies demand of their employees do have a health toll, and it's higher than Adderall. Working 14+ hours for days (EA style) is not better than taking Adderall. And a "death march" type of project is even worse.

Not working from home isn't even the equivalent of working 14+ hour days.

OK, let's see it this way:

Even for a 8-hour, 5 days/week job, the daily commute + wasted office time + coworker disruptions add up to 3-4 hours per day for most.

Thats years off of your life.

Adderal might be better after all.

You're double-counting "wasted office time" and "coworker interruptions", which leaves commuting. If your daily commute time is measured in hours, maybe you should live closer to work.

It's not like software developers are poor. Maybe if we were we wouldn't develop these prima donna attitudes.

>You're double-counting "wasted office time" and "coworker interruptions", which leaves commuting.

Not really. Even if I had double-counted them, that would live both ONE of them AND commuting.

Working at home you have far fewer interruptions (mostly through IM and email) not BS meetings, people breaking your concentration and such.

>It's not like software developers are poor.

Sure, but it's also not like they all work in the US, or have a > $30.000 annual salary.

"wasted office time + coworker disruptions"

These are part of the 8 hours of work and many might argue that interaction with coworkers is both healthy for the individual and a useful, productive part of your job.

What if requiring coming into the office subtly introduces stress of commuting, dealing with people on a day to day basis that you might necessarily not want, wasting your down time, potentially forcing you into a very sedentary lifestyle for 8 hours a day? Not to mention that the 40 hour work week is a remnant of the industrial revolution. Relative to the speed of tech innovation over the last 20-30 years, it's an outdated relic of a time long forgotten.

Those are unhealthy things that can cause cancer, depression, anxiety, obesity, etc. They ultimately lower your potential and functional ability. If working from home can ease and circumvent a lot of those things, why wouldn't you do it? If nothing more than just for your own personal health, which is more important than work anyway..

Yeah, working in an office is practically the equivalent of coal mining. This prima donna attitude really makes me sick.

>Yeah, working in an office is practically the equivalent of coal mining.

Yes, because coal mining is the absolute criterion of unhealthiness in the workplace.

And given that people do coal mining, "working 10+ hours, 5 days a week in an office" can never be viewed as bad, right?

Who said anything about working 10+ hours?

Tons of employers.

I agree that you get paid to be productive, not happy. However, companies should care a great deal about happiness.

Guess where unhappy, highly productive employees go to work? At your competitors.

But the stipulated scenario is not about highly productive employees. The author is saying that even if he's less productive, he thinks that he should be allowed to work at home.

Obviously, "less productive" is an implicit comparison with some base level of productivity, and we don't know what that level of productivity is. I think that the author implies that he thinks his base level of productivity is "high enough." On the other hand, reading between the lines, his coworkers may think that his base level of productivity is "not actually all that high." And we don't know how much less "less" is.

If an employer has a choice between "happy, unproductive employee" and "unhappy, productive employee," I'll suggest that the rational approach is to get "unhappy, productive employee." In that scenario, you'll get useful work out of the person until they quit, and then you'll have another chance to hire someone who's happy and productive. In the happy, unproductive scenario, that person is a drain on your resources until you fire them, which is inherently more expensive than someone quitting, and often more of a morale hit than an unhappy person quitting is.

(Any real scenario will be more complex than the previous paragraph).

I guess I've been doing it so long that I don't really think of it as allowed anymore. It's just something that I feel is my choice. I've gone so far as to co-found my own consulting company so that no one will get to make that decision for me in the future. I will make my own decisions about how and where I should work.

Well, if you own your own company, I'm not sure who you're justifying yourself to.

If, however, you are in a situation where you have an employer, I'm sorry; you're just wrong. Working from home is not a fundamental human right. You are, or are not, allowed to.

This idea cuts straight to the heart of the argument.

If you view your employer as a master who gets to tell you how and where and when to work, for the pittance he affords you so you can live to work another day, and so he can take all your extra productivity and initiative and IP and profit from it as he wishes, then I guess you are right.

If you view your contract with your employer as a mutual agreement where you provide a set amount of work for a set amount of money, then your productivity is your own. You can use it for a better life or more money.

I guess this is why I contract. I happen to think my pay should be directly linked to the value I create, rather than an arbitrary amount based on how much it costs me to live, and how long it takes me to find work.

How do we know they're highly productive? The guy as much as admits that productivity is a secondary concern to his own happiness!

(Not that I am saying this is bad, happiness is very important to me and why I've gone contractor)

Yeah, a more honest comparison between working from the office and taking dangerous drugs is to actually make that comparison: "come into work or stay home and take Adderall."

Bonus: you will find out which of your staff would rather stay home and do drugs than come to work.

I think your critique is using a major false equivalence. I don't see any suggestion in the article that keeping someone from working from home is on par with forcing them to take Adderall. Instead, both were being held up as examples when discussing the question of what changes employers ask you to make in your life to create productivity. I agree that the Adderall example was hyperbolic and the article would probably be stronger without it, but I don't think any moral equivalence was being asserted.

As to your last point, you don't get paid to be productive (necessarily). You're paid to provide work, and different jobs have different metrics for that. There are for instance substantial differences between salary, hourly wage, and commission work - someone being paid a flat fee for a project has no obligation to be efficient or productive, only to fulfill their stated terms. Diminishing efficiency in favor of happiness is a perfectly reasonable aim, particularly in certain jobs.

Yes, but I live to be happy not to get paid.

That's your tradeoff to make. There are lots of happy people in the world who don't get paid.

He's using a reductio ad absurdem arguement. He takes the principle of "a company valuing productivity over happiness" and extends it to an absurd degree to argue that company's shouldn't prohibit telecommuting in order to increase productivity. It's a pretty stupid argument that is equivalent to saying companies shouldn't do things that are in their own self-interest.

You're right that I'm using reductio ad absurdum, but my goal is to call into question the idea that productivity is all that matters. If we're going to argue things based solely on productivity, then all sorts of absurd policies become viable (Adderall, not hiring pregnant women, not hiring people with disabilities)

You're wrong. Policies like you listed are not viable because of either government regulation or the mere fact that a company will not be able to hire and retain good people if it treats them like shit. You offer an absurd and totally unrealistic situation.

It's also naive to expect companies to be concerned with anything other that making a profit. At any moment, another company can come in and implement changes that the first company was unwilling to make and undercut it's business.

You can make a reductio argument either way, which is what I demonstrated.

This is a very rude comment. You are implying that you must sacrifice happiness in order to be productive. But many people are able to be both productive at home AND be happy.

Why doesn't HN have a downvote...

I think the crux of the question is "to what extent is it reasonable for an employer to expect that an employee will change his life to increase his value to the company".

There are numerous examples of this. I'm sure plenty of people here have gone drinking on a school night and been useless at work next day due to the resulting hangover. If this happens occasionally you may just get light ridicule, however do it too much and you're probably going to get into trouble.

Perhaps you enjoy playing contact sports of some description. Well you might injure your hand and that is going to hurt to your typing speed. At what point is it reasonable for your employer to request you reduce or cease these activities?

These things are probably going to be dictated by supply and demand ultimately, a popular device in fiction is a "maverick" character who breaks every rule but people still keep around because he has some particular skill that is of high demand and short supply.

It's also dictated by how much an employer can force an externality to an employee. For example if it were legal for a company to mandate adderal use and there was evidence to suggest it improved productivity then you would expect rational companies to mandate it unless the very best programmers uniformly refused to use it.

Though adderal may be illegal for this purposes that may not stop it becoming defacto mandated. For example if everyone at work is using and it is known but denied in a nudge wink sort of way. If you are a non using bottom performer who is worried about your upcoming review then there is going to be very strong pressure to use. In other words the company has externalised the legal risk.

The way it applies to working from home is that there is historically and currently an expectation that you "go to work" and therefor working from home is a bonus.

If it was the other way around and there was an expectation of home working, would that change the equation?

It's kind of what I expected, but all the comments here are actually debating the Are you more productive? question, and the point of the post is that I really don't care anymore.

Try examining the other part of the equation: Are you happier? If the answer is no, then WFH probably isn't for you. But, if the answer is yes, perhaps productivity isn't so important?

I formerly ran a large team and cared about both things for my employees: their productivity AND happiness.

Part of that is that I am a human, and part of that is practical -- namely, productivity is a long game (at least for knowledge-workers). It's not something you measure in work-units-per-hour within the confines of a single day. Same reason you can't have a death-march release cycle and ignore the plummeting "productivity" in the days/weeks/months after... or the lost productivity from employees who seek more manageable work elsewhere and need to be replaced, etc.

Your post is too one-sided and uses Adderall as a straw-man (or similarly fallacious argument). Your personal happiness as others have said isn't the only factor in an employer-employee relationship -- but that said, viewing productivity as a many-factored, nuanced thing that includes overall worker happiness (or, better put: satisfaction) is probably pretty appropriate.

I agree that being happier is important. But it's only natural that responses tend to skew towards the other side of the equation since, in the back of our minds, those of us who enjoy working at home, are almost always thinking of ways to convince management of its value in ways that can't be directly measured. So we're trying to figure out a way to pull "happiness" into the equation in a way that works for management. . .since they don't care if we're happy or not unless it affects the bottom line.

In Silicon Valley, companies spend a fortune on "happiness" - catered lunches, employee off-sites, release parties, snacks and sodas and beer, interior decorating and office design, pool tables and ping pong, expensive hardware, gym memberships, etc.

It might be cheaper to just let people be at home!

Companies want happy employees who work, not happy employees who are doing their laundry.

They seem to want happy employees who are playing ping-pong more than either of those.

That depends on your situation surely - if you're working for yourself, awesome, you get to make those decisions. If your employer decides that they don't want people working from home because they're less productive, then that's their call.

Productivity isn't as important as happiness once you have the skills to back up the demand for working from home. If you are valuable enough, you can demand that type of control. If you aren't, then whether or not you are happier doesn't matter.

Things like working from home are great, but not something you are entitled to. You have to provide the value to justify it.

The Adderall analogy really drives the point home. This is well put, and a powerful message more people (especially those in a position to effect policy) ought to read.

The Adderall analogy is terribly suspect, though. Why should I believe it's a useful analogy? Are we suggesting that ANY kind of non-productive-but-fun behavior should be permitted, and that trying to say, "No, you can't do that because it's not productive" is like forcing someone to take drugs?

What if it's the reverse? Say I'd like to drink, or do heroin, in the office. Yes, sure, I'll be less productive, but I'll also be happier. Does that mean that an office "no getting drunk or high" policy is unreasonable? If not, what is the line that you're drawing between that scenario of "not productive, but happiness enhancing" and the author's scenario of "not productive, but happiness enhancing"?

The Adderall analogy is just a device to underscore his point that judging anything by a single metric (i.e. "productivity") can lead to equally absurd and inhumane work policies.

Also, productivity is nearly impossible to measure yet I'd argue that some of the "feel-good" benefits of work-at-home actually do result in higher productivity. Let's take a few:

1) Commute time: 2 hours that I can be more productive and/or take care of personal business that would have cut into work time 2) Focus: Everybody (not just execs) can have a door, can screen their interruptions, etc. This is vitally important for think-work and creative-work. 3) Other high-end perks that come for more or less free to the employer: healthy meals, exercise options nearby, potential 24x7 support when needed

Frankly, the only two arguments people are making against work-at-home boil down slacking and lack of face-to-face collaboration. Both are fixed by some technology and a measure of feedback and discipline.

I wish I could upvote you more. You're exactly right in that I'm trying to make a "reductio ad absurdum" argument: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_absurdum

I really don't expect companies to start forcing Adderall on people, but if productivity is all that matters then it's a viable strategy. Therefore, if you agree that giving Adderall to your employees is absurd, then you're forced to agree that productivity is not all that matters. (Or at least, that's the hope.)

But that's not the author's point. He says that even if we stipulate that working at home is not productive, he should get to work at home, and indeed that making him work in the office is like demanding that he take Adderall!

Pivoting from there to, "But actually maybe he is more productive at home" isn't defending his point.

A colleague will say, “Well, it’s nice, but you’re just not as productive as if you were in the office.” Something about the argument never sat well with me, and I’ve finally nailed down what it is: it treats productivity as if it’s the only thing that matters.

Frankly, I don’t really care if I am less productive working from home than in the office. Productivity is only one variable in a complex equation.

It seems like a bad idea to argue with a person (the colleague) who makes claims without any evidence. Are they measuring productivity with some metric, or just guessing?

I think that, like the taboo topic mentioned in the title, the key to success for each person is individual moderation. A little bit of X works for some, a lot works better for others, and maybe not doing X at all is the amount you need. For me it's probably 80 home / 20 office for personal happiness and work life balance.

I sorta read this post and boiled it down as a protracted "I'm doing this because it makes me happier" kinda post. That's great! I'm wary of basing some general policy so heavily on personal happiness, though. It's a highly personal and varying thing. At a personal level, though, happiness/contentment is pretty much paramount. Do what gives you purpose and fulfills you...otherwise what's the point?

I guess what I'm saying is if you want to work from home, do it! Making the leap to enabling/convincing everybody else to do it may be a bit of a stretch for me, though. It might not make sense in the general case.

I'm snowed in and working from home right now, but I know I'd get twice as much done in the office and I feel a lot more connected to the product when I'm in the office.

Maybe if I worked at home more often I'd have a more stable set-up here with better (multiple + larger) monitors and a workspace I can think in, but as it is, any days I work from home I feel like I'm running about 60%.

On the other hand, 2.5hours less commute means longer working for less stress.

So basically you're saying that you haven't managed a valid comparison of home vs office?

I'm more productive at home, but happier at work. For me personally being around my co-workers and joking during the day, getting lunch with them, brings a lot of happiness (jokes, fun discussions, etc). Working from home...aside from all that interaction, I do get more done, but am less happy. When I refer to happiness I'm using the "first world problem" scale.

Actually I think this is a very personal matter.

The guy that is saying that he is more productive in the office is probably just as happy with his choice as you are with yours.

Actually going to work and working in group and interacting with eachother makes me happy, I get a lot of satisfaction out of my work and I rather work in a team than by myself. My previous project we were at the office all day every day and even then the level of communication was too low. That was probably the type of people that were in the group.

But still, standing up, talking with people about the business, being able to point at a screen without the hassle of setting up a conference call is pretty easy.

Another thing I like about going to work, when you go home and you had a productive day it's a closed chapter for me. I get in my car, don't think about the project (most of the time) until the next day. It's a good separation between working life and personal life for me.

So this article is addressed to the people that have the option of working from home but choose not to because they think it makes them less productive, and haven't factored their own happiness into that decision. Are there really that many people that fall into this category?

Well, if you have a job you're satisfied with, then maybe you're stuck doing what you're already doing. But if you're job hunting, you can prioritize work-from-home. Lots of engineers change jobs every couple years, so it's not like it won't ever be relevant for most people.

Hahaha! Good point! I'm probably not going to convince many people to change their minds or their habits since most of us who can choose have already made a choice.

Most people argue that people who work from home are more productive, because of the lack of interruptions and surrounding distractions. Of course, for that productivity boost to be maintained, you also need to resist the temptations of HN, cat gifs, and daytime TV.

For knowledge workers, what constitutes as productivity? Is it completion of tasks in time? If yes, then why does it matter where you work as long as you get it done? Also the solutions to problems you are working on, hardly ever strike you during office hours (there have been so many instances where I've found a solution to a tough problem late into the night while sleeping or dreaming lol). the flip side of working in the office is that you're more connected to the people (if they aren't the grumpy kind) and the company itself. You get a sense of what's going on around you, not just in your immediate team.

I really think he hits the point. I'm happier working from home and because of that I find my self working 'til 1:00am some days because I enjoy my job and I'm grateful I have the flexibility to spend time with my family. Actually, it's past 8:00pm and I'm still working while my kids do homework. And it doesn't feel as "over-time". I also like office time, but I get enough of telecommuting and people after a day or two. Also, working from home means virtual meetings, just remember to mute your mic before farting!

Employers in knowledge fields have a tough time scaling pay with performance or productivity (pg's essays cover this), so we see them exploring other methods like remote work and free food, etc. I guess when the employer agrees to let you work from home, your perceived value is high enough that satisfying you with money only would be painful. But as you spend more time at home, they start noticing your value less, which leads to the whole "people are more productive at the office" mentality.

These sort of posts always amaze me. Nearly everyone I know optimizes their life for more time at home. We eschew bonuses in favour of a shorter work week. Or more holiday or longer lunch breaks or shorter commute.

When, inevetably the overtime requests come pouring in, or the new boss hates people leaving 'early' then people start looking around for new oppertunities.

Taking an hour out of each day usually shortens the commute by 50% - if your day is 9:30 - 4:30 == happy times.

I am productive at home, but I'm less happy. I need people to be happy and at home, I just have myself (and my cat). At work, i have my colleagues who energize me, distract me, make me laugh, teach me new things. The biggest reason I don't work from home isnt about productivity. It's because at home nobody's phone rings to the tune of Lady Gaga and nobody tells stupid jokes that make me laugh even while the site is crashing.

The thing is, its not the same for everyone. Working from home makes you happy ? Really cool, but for me it makes me depressed sitting there alone all day.

"Am I more productive?, look at the other side and ask, Am I happier? If the answer is no, then working from home probably isn’t for you. If the answer is yes, then think hard about how valuable productivity is versus your own happiness."

This is great advice if you're self employed or can pick and choose employers.

The other point of the article, that forcing people to come to the office is somehow morally wrong, is nonsense.

It's a great analogy!

However, I would argue that one can be as productive working at home as working at the office, sometimes even be more productive.

Little things that I can do at home that I can't do at the office (ie. Nap) help to focus better. It just a personal experience but it might be true for other people as well.

I'll share my dirty secret with you - if I'm really worn out during the day at work, I've done a 15 minute nap in my car. At some point I realize that I'm not being productive at all and would space out anyway at my desk, better to kill 15 minutes and come back refreshed.

YMMV depending on your parking location. I park in underground parking that makes for a comfortable nap. Just make sure not to park in front of the elevator, haha.

Very interesting... too bad that I don't drive to work :(

> "I’ve finally nailed down what it is: it treats productivity as if it’s the only thing that matters. Frankly, I don’t really care if I am less productive working from home than in the office."

You may profess to not care, but your employer certainly cares how productive you are. That's why they're paying to employ you, after all. And, in the long run, people's salaries depend on their productivity.

If working from home is so important to your happiness, then find an employer who will let you, but be prepared to settle for a smaller paycheck. But beware of saying things like "frankly, I don't really care if I am less productive" -- that's not exactly a professional attitude.

You may choose to be less productive, but to not even care about the effects of your choices on others, sounds like someone who is not exactly cut out for working together with others. In a healthy company, the company cares about the well-being of its employees, and the employees care about the well-being of the company, which is dependent on their productivity.

Then what about the author's other points where you can increase your productivity if you avoid all alcohol and get good rest. If productivity is what is most important, then maybe your employer should be allowed to limit your alcohol consumption during your off-hours.

If you're employing someone putting together sprockets on an assembly line, then yes, productivity may be the most important thing to you. If you are employing managers, designers, programmers, advertising folks... then maybe productivity is not your primary goal. Maybe getting the smartest work from them is more important than getting the greatest amount of output.

Personally, I'd rather have one brilliant, game-changing program/algorithm/policy/advertisement than one hundred mediocre pieces of output.

I would assume that from a management perspective a slight dip in productivity is worth it if it means that the office atmosphere doesn't stink of upset moods.

If it doesn't bother them, then I would also assume that they're accustomed to such smells and quite a few other messy things.

>what if your employer started handing out Adderall every morning?

I wonder if that's as uncommon as the OP thinks. I once worked for a rather large media/advertising company and they actually did that. We called it "Focus Fridays"

1. challenge your friend to come up with a productivity metric. 2. outperform your friend in the productivity metric, while working from home. 3. profit! (be productive AND happy; a novel concept, i know...)

I thought the article was going to be about how it's easier said than done, but usually works out fine...

that which cannot be measured cannot be improved. measure what matters. http://blogs.hbr.org/video/2013/03/measure-employee-producti...

You may not care but your employer might.

So, this is a really bad analogy that tries to force the bad connotations of drug use onto working in the office. And it's kind of ridiculous that this is almost a reasonable logical step from the previous arguments for working from home. That aside, I'll say this: maybe Adderall isn't the drug for you. If the office you work at makes you personally unhappy, it doesn't prove that working from home is better, but that your office sucks.

Find a new office and stop comparing personal preferences to actually addictive drugs.

The argument has very little to do with drugs. It barely even has anything to do with working from home.

You may find that you have other personal preferences in addition to maximizing shareholder value.

Indeed you may, and you are free to put these preferences to management or find alternate employment, would be my take...

I love working from home.

I can get all of my work done and have time left over to work on my startup. Since I'm not using my company's network, it's less of a risk for me.

It also feels like I'm working for myself. I'm not stuck in a stuffy office all day.

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