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Working from Home vs the Office

The internet has been up in arms since a memo revealed Yahoo employees will no longer be allowed to work from home. That includes those who may have arranged to work from home 1-2 days a week as well as remote workers.

I spent several years working in an office, including a period split between office and remote working, before finally starting my own business, which has run from my dining room both as an advantage for clients (no office means lower costs), and a necessity when I started out bootstrapping my company.

Working from home

Having looked at various studies, and the experiences of friends alongside myself, I’m a big believer in being able to work flexibly, whether or not that includes working remotely. And here are some reasons why:

  • Social Interaction is important to humans: But who says that all the great insights into work come from social interactions with colleagues? And not family, friends, meeting random strangers etc? Not to mention events like #DPIP, or being able to chat whilst out during a walk rather than in a meeting room.
  • It’s not Either/Or: In an average week of ‘working from home’ I spent 2 days working alone by myself, 1 day in a client office, and 2 days with one of my colleagues from TheWayoftheWeb sharing my home office. That’s a pretty healthy mixture between social interaction and the ability to concentrate. And not wear trousers if I don’t want to.
  • I can still have meetings: Expanding on the above – where suitable I’ll happily attend any meeting/brainstorm/planning session etc. All it means is that I’ll not be around beforehand or afterwards, unless there’s a beer involved.
  • Getting more from breaks: Working in an office means that breaks tends to involve smoking, grabbing a snack or sitting around, and aren’t always the amazing watercooler moments of insight you might imagine. Whereas working from home means breaks can include putting washing in the machine, doing the washing up whilst listening to a podcast and other manual tasks which mean I can let my mind relax as recommended in every guide to creativity, but also avoid spending all my nights cleaning up. Which means I can work later if required, or spend time learning something new.
  • Getting more from me: There’s no shortage of time tracking and project management tools to show whether I’m working or idly surfing cat videos on Youtube. And at the end of the day it’s very simple – I don’t deliver the agreed work, and I don’t get paid.
  • Memory Bias: It’s great to remember that evening before launch when the whole team was in the office, hopped up on pizza and caffeine to meet a big deadline. Or that time someone had an amazing insight in a meeting and we all added more to it until it became the most awesome solution to a problem ever invented.
    Because why would you want to remember the other 300+ days of the year spent sat in a meeting room because everyone else was late, or spent trapped in a pointless debate about something irrelevant. Or spent sat in a queue in a car park to get in for 9am and out for 5.30pm, after standing in a line at 1pm to grab a sandwich to eat alone at your desk?

I’m not suggesting everyone should work from home. Or in an office. But it’s hard to rationally understand why I’m going to be more productive or creative in a room full of people away from a comfortable chair, my favourite music, my choice of food etc? Or why it’s better for me to be in rush hour traffic, standing on a commuter train, or trapped in a packed shop at lunchtime?

I like offices. I actively look forward to those days when I’m meeting or working with clients. But I appreciate it more when it’s not something enforced on me every day.

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Fenceless farming and flexible technology

I was fascinated by this article on The Atlantic website about virtual ‘fences’ and how they could change farming. By using a combination of GPS and deterrents, livestock could be moved around a territory to the best places for natural resources in real-time, which opens up a lot of possibilities for areas which were cost-prohibitive, as well as increased collaboration by groups of livestock owners, for example.

It’s well worth taking a look – I tend to find I get more inspired by seeing how technology is being used in non-marketing applications, and then applying that to my own areas of expertise, than simple watching the latest marketing trends and tools.

It’s interesting to think that in 20+ years, fences could be a symbolic symbol for humans, rather than required for animal control.

I also loved this insightful quote:

Anything that I can do in my profession to encourage flexibility, I figure I’m doing the correct thing. That’s where this all came from. It never made sense to me that we use static tools to manage dynamic resources. You learn from day one in all of your ecology classes and animal science classes that you are dealing with multiple dynamic systems that you are trying to optimize in relationship to each other. It was a mental disconnect for me, as an undergraduate as well as a graduate student, to understand how you could effectively manage dynamic resources with a static fence.

Given that humans are dynamic resources, it makes sense that flexibility is as important to us, whether that’s building businesses, or working with employees, etc.

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Previous employers coming together?

I couldn’t help thinking it was slightly ironic that Bauer Media has emerged as the frontrunner to buy Absolute Radio, according to recent reports in The Guardian.

After all I spent 8.5 years working for Emap, and then for Bauer Media following the acquisition of the consumer magazines and websites by the German publishers.

And then I left to join my former boss Chris Lawson at Absolute Radio in 2009, not long after the new brand had launched.

I can only presume that the Bauers will be contacting me sometime soon with an offer for TheWayoftheWeb.

Anything I write about any potential purchase would be pure conjecture, but I will say that I’ve worked on brilliant projects with amazing people in both companies, and I’ve never launched so many great things in such as short a period as when I worked at One Golden Square. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with both companies since launching my own business, which has always been enjoyable.

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Ferris Bueller’s tip for digital businesses

The question isn’t “what are we going to do,” the question is “what aren’t we going to do?”

It’s all about focus.

Sadly I still can’t afford a Ferrari 250GT Spyder California. Then again, neither could the makers of the film, as for understandable reasons a kit car was used for everything except the still garage shots. Not really surprising when a real one was bought at auction by presenter/DJ Chris Evans for just under $11 million, making it the most expensive car ever sold at auction.

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David Heinemeier Hansson on your life’s work

I’d be happy if 37signals is the last place I work….
Committing myself to this long-term focus has led to a peaceful work atmosphere and an incredible clarity of purpose. If this is the last job I’ll ever have, I damn well better make sure that I like it. I won’t just tough things out.
If you’re not committed to your life’s work in a company and with people you could endure for decades, are you making progress on it?

David Heinemeier Hansson from a post about work at 37Signals.

Since working for myself, I’ve noticed a similar process going on, especially as things have started to grow and become viable and sustainable. I doubt that any large companies are going to pick up a small virtual marketing agency in Peterborough, and I can’t really think about letting go on the niche websites which are like my children…

Even if there is a change and a pivot, the people and processes that are being worked on now will continue to be valuable, and the core will stay the same even if the ultimate output evolves over time.