An Independent Venture: Flexible Work Arrangements – Working from Home

Continuing with this series of posts, I’ll describe some of the flexible work arrangements I’ve investigated. Thus far, I’ve explained that once I determined that my job was the main source of my unhappiness in life, I started researching how to change it.

I was working in a large tech company that was typical Monday to Friday, 7 – 9 hours of work per day. This company offered me all of the benefits of working for a large, established company that was successful enough to liberally fund its development groups. Given that this was a very comfortable position, I started off looking at ways I could make it work for me but also change the situation. Previously, I described ways of making small changes to your work life to reduce stress without any significant job changes. The changes here are more significant and will require working with your managers or potentially your HR department.

Working at Home

If you find that you are unhappy at work either because of your commute, your coworkers, or the work environment, you can look into working from home. This can take a few different forms and which works best will depend on the problem. Here are a few things I’ve tried.

Work from home in the morning to reduce commute stress

I noticed that my commute was causing me some stress, especially on days with bad weather. My commute time would go from 1 hour to 1.5 hours. Sometimes I’d be squished between smelly commuters in an overheated bus. Or stuck waiting on an off-ramp for 30 min. I decided I could try to change this by working from home in the mornings just until after rush hour and still make it in time for team stand-up.

I approached my boss about this asking if the work arrangement would work. Since no one in that team booked meetings before stand-up unless absolutely necessary, the arrangement had no problem and I got the green light immediately. Here’s a comparison of what changed:

  • Work start time: 9 am → 8 am
  • Commute time: 1 – 1.5 hours → 40 min to 1 hour
  • Commute method: Bus or car → car
  • Daily cost: Bus (free) or car ($20) →  car ($20)
  • Likelihood of finding parking in my building: 100% → 0%

Did this work? No. I exchanged my commute stress for more costly commuting and stress finding parking. Interestingly, I later found that if I rode a motorcycle, I would get free, guaranteed parking. Unfortunately, that does have an increased risk of death. [Disclaimer: I currently ride a motorcycle to work from time to time when I want to come in late]

Let’s try a different tack.

Work from home to avoid going to and being at work

Since working part of the day didn’t work out, I upgraded to trying out the full day. It turns out a lot of people like working from home or at least not having to work from their desk. Several of my teams have had a policy where if you don’t have meetings in a day, you don’t need to be in. Virtual stand-up was supported on these teams. Generally, I made use of this as often as I could, which was probably 2 – 3 times per month.

When I approached my managers on each new team and described my circumstances with stress and work, they said they understood and wished they could accommodate me. Usually they would say I could work from home if there were no meetings but I had to be at work during team meetings. On some teams they said they didn’t trust that the team would be productive if everyone started working from home (apparently the natural escalation from accommodating my needs is that everyone is going to want to work from home).

I decided to talk to HR about what I could do to force the issue. I did have a doctor or two that could certify that I have a need to reduce my exposure to stress at work so I could swing it if needed. HR at more than one company said that I could go the medical route but if my manager wasn’t willing to support the accommodation, my performance would suffer.

Conclusion: this is a good option but ultimately not in my control.

Can I just work from home all the time?

I never tried this. If working for myself doesn’t work out, this is what I’ll be aiming for. So, why didn’t I try this out?

Doing a fully remote job is definitely on my radar. One of the catches I’ve noticed about some remote jobs is that they require you to be at an office from time to time. This can range from once a year to once a week. Depending on your location and life situation, this can be challenging.

For my next venture of working for myself, I will primarily focus on working at home and going to meet clients when necessary. This won’t be easy or simple. I will need to make sure not to fall into the traps of working where I live like getting distracted by my cats, sleeping in too late, or just not being in the right mindset. There will likely be a post from me on that topic later on.

Next up: An Independent Venture: Flexible Work Arrangements – Working Less

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