How "Working From Home" Became "Just Working"

The end of the default?

September 25, 2016

Something has changed. This change has occurred so gradually that we may be having trouble noticing the shift.

This change is that working from home has become - just - working.  

We are at a point where we can drop the "from home" descriptor that follows "working" - just as we are dropping the "digital" before "camera." (Or "smart" before "phone").

At a time in the not so distant past the default place of work was the office. The assumption was that paid employment would take place at a place other than home.

Working at home was an alternative.

In negotiating a new job, working from home (for a day or two a week or full-time) was an “extra” that was negotiated.

If on any given day we were going to work from home we would let our colleagues know that we were, for that day, working at home.

Today - not so much. And tomorrow, probably not at all.

Many workplace cultures, including non-faculty academic cultures, seem to be shifting away from the normative expectation that work is synonymous with office work.

The growing utilization of low-barrier communication and conversation platforms enables us to stay in constant touch - without the need to share the same physical space.

Face-to-face meetings are almost as good on FaceTime or Skype as they are - well - face-to-face.  Adobe Connect and BlueJeans work perfectly well for larger meetings.

This is particularly true for colleagues and teams who have built ties of trust and understanding through shared projects. It is an open question if that trust needs to be built through in-office / in-person collaboration - but once that trust is built then collaborative work can move online.

E-mail and chat have been available for asynchronous and synchronous communication for what - 30 years? I bet that some of you have a history with Eudora (1988), Lotus Notes (1989), and ICQ (1996).

Today, platforms such as Slack and Yammer blur the lines between asynchronous and synchronous communications. Our collaborative work takes place in Google Docs.  We use Asana and Basecamp to track projects and assign tasks. 

Without us really noticing, the technology for distributed collaboration just got much better.  

FaceTime is my favorite example. FaceTime always just works. Click on one-button and you are having a two-way high quality video conversation. I like FaceTime because it does so little.  No file sharing. No built in chat or screen sharing.  When will FaceTime allow multiple people to join a conversation?

The shift away from the office being the default place where work happens has its plusses and minuses.

On the minus side, we have totally demolished the zone between work and home. We are always working. Work happens all the time. We are in-touch and in-communication from when we first wake up in the morning, to when we pass out at night.

There are many positives for discarding the office - or the campus - as the expected and default place of work.

The rise of open offices and shared working space makes sustained, deep, and quiet work difficult. Working from home is often the most productive way to actually get some work done.

We have known for a while now that people who telecommuter are amongst our most productive employees. There is something about avoiding the commute, the office chitchat, and much of the office politics that leads to focused work.  (Despite what Marissa Mayer might think).  

Less talked about is the practice of flexible - spur of the moment - working from home.  The decision to work from home for half the day. The decision where we no longer inform everyone that we will be “working from home” - but rather - we just work from home.

How do we get the last holdouts to give up the idea that work means being in the office? 

How do we get rid of the practice that if we are going to work at home that we need to let everybody know that we are planning to work from home?

How often do you work at home?

Who do you let know that you will be working at home?  And why do you let them know?

What sorts of work do you need to be at the office - or on campus - to get done?

How has your use of technologies such as FaceTime or Skype changed how and where you work?

Are you working from home today?



Back to Top