How does working from home work?

My employer is currently considering a part- or full- time work from home option for their workers. I’d like to try to convince them that this is a Good Thing, but to tell the truth I have very little idea how WFH actually works.

I know that part of the reason they haven’t done so before now is a concern about confidentiality - I work in the claims department of a Worker’s Comp agency, and so I handle all sorts of HIPAA protected documentation all the time, not to mention things like social security numbers, etc. However, our claims files are all on the computer now, so in theory I don’t have to print anything out.

They are also, of course, concerned that productivity would drop if the employees weren’t within their boss’s eyesight at all times. Also, there would be capital investment issues, since the WFH employees would have to have laptops as well as the desktops that the company has already invested in. Possibly cellphones, too.

So: Those of you whose employers have WFH - how does your company handle these issues? I’d like to hear both from employees who WFH and managers who manage them.

Also, how useful is a WFH option for those on maternity/paternity leave? On one hand, I know that babies are exhausting and that new parents are traditionally sleep-deprived. On the other hand, it seems that if the new parent could WFH, it would enable them to keep some income flowing in without having to leave the baby with caretakers. An advantage to the company would be that rather than new parents’ workloads being given to their co-workers for up to a year, the parent could keep part of their workload thus being less of a burden. Also, this would encourage some parents who might otherwise quit entirely to stay with the company, saving the cost of hiring & training.

Would an expectant mom on bedrest be able to WFH on a laptop while resting? Several of my friends have had to start maternity leave months earlier than they had expected because the doctor put them on bedrest at around 6Mo. Again, I think this would be a way for the employer to keep a valuable employee, and for the employee to be able to continue getting income. Am I off base?

(Note - this might be an IMHO thing. Feel free to move it.)

Babies don’t belong in the office. Not in the office nor your home office. This is a mistake people make. You can’t blame the kids either, mommy/daddy is home, “let’s play.”

We set one girl up to work from home and it worked fairly well for her. She came in one day a week.

If a worker goofs off at home it becomes obvious very quickly the worker is doing this.

The thing is if you’re sick or on bedrest or have your mind elsewhere, you’re not going to be working. It’s like if you were on bedrest and you went to the library to check out all the books you’ve been meaing to read. Will you read them? Probably not.

The key thing is would you have to work a set set of hours? Or could you work whenver you want? This makes a huge difference. Their girl we set up where I worked had to be available form 8am to 5pm Tues - Friday.

I would do it. If it doesn’t work out you can always go back to your system can’t you?

How well it works depends on you and your personality. My boss says I get more done faster when I work on files and paperwork from home but I am really anal about not letting things distract me. When I’m doing stuff from home nothing short of a death is going to pull me away from my task but at my bunker at the office, he (or something else) always seems to need attention here and there. Which slows me down. Sometimes to a crawl.

We dipped our toes in the telecommuting pool a few years ago and now have established policies for it. I was one of the pilot users, so I know a fair bit about it. :cool:

Most people in eligible departments are provided with a laptop from the start, so there’s no issues of duplicate hardware or synching files between the laptop and desktop. If your job is paper-intensive, you probably can’t telecommute.

Phone use has not been much of an issue. We use toll-free bridgelines for meetings. For the most part, phone calls have been replaced with real-time messaging. We used to use a “corporate” product from AOL, but have switched to Microsoft’s Office Communicator as the enterprise standard.

Our legal department has developed a standard WFH agreement that covers protection of customer’s PII and financial information. The main part is that you will have a shredder at home to destroy confidential documents, if you even have any documents to begin with.

Productivity really depends on the individual. Some people need to be watched in order to get things done, and others will do very well away from the office. Speaking for myself, my productivity is better at home as there are so many fewer distractions.

One consideration is ancillary equipment at home. The company provides my laptop. It’s up to the individuals to set up their space and obtain broadand service. If your remote users can operate via a “thin client” such as Citrix, they may not need a super fast connection. I do systems administration that requires a “fat client” connection and a 6 meg DSL line is very close to in-office speeds. Other than that, I’ve invested about $400 on a pair of 22" LED monitors (a recent birthday gift to myself) and about ten bucks for a laptop dock on eBay.

I would not recommend WFH as a sub for bed rest. Rest is rest and work is work. Speaking of kids, part of our WFH policy is that WFH is not a substitute for child care.

Gotpasswords covered our policy almost exactly. We use Microsoft Office Communicator and all WFH employees must update their calendars with the days they’re in the office and the days they are WFH. We have hoteling stations set up in the office so if we have 20 people on a WFH program there are 4 hoteling stations available. In practice people either settle into it and are rarely in the office or they can’t make it work, spend a ton of time in the office and eventually get a desk back.

I think the real success or failure is entirely dependant upon personality. The employee’s and the manager. If you like to drop by and look over your employee’s shoulders it’s unlikely to work out.

I know people who work from home almost exclusively, so that they don’t even have a permanent space in the office. That can reduce real estate costs for the company. (One firm had a “hoteling” system where if you needed to come into the office, you’d go to the front desk and be assigned a desk to use for the day or the week.)

I have the WFH option as well. I don’t have a separate laptop and destop, I have a laptop and a docking station and screen at work. I do also have a cell phone.

I log on to the server from home via a Cisco VPN. I do have less distraction at home, but sometimes struggle to keep to regular work hours. I tend to spread my work out from 7 am until about 8 pm - lots of breaks.

I work for a small company that does exclusive WFH. We have a virtual call center. The company provides VOIP phones, uses the employee’s own broadband Internet connection and computer. We use skype for communication and several internet-based applications: Broadweave, Salesforce, Broadsoft Unified Connector. Using skype IM allows us to have a virtual chatroom where everyone can talk to each other while we talk to customers, and since most call centers use IM of one form or another to communicate across the office, distance makes no difference.
I’ve found that I’m equally productive at home or going into an office. With the very small workforce and the virtual chatroom we can see who is on break so toilet visits don’t have to be on schedule, nobody steals from the fridge, I don’t have other people’s dishes in the breakroom sink, the commute is much easier and I have my own office with a door on it and a window that opens with a better view than a parking lot. I vastly prefer WFH to working in an office.

I forgot about that… We’re a huge company and somewhere arond 40-50% of our help desk staffers are full-time telecommuters. Seems to work really well, especially for the overnight shifts - just give them a laptop and a Cisco phone, and turn them loose.

Since the OP is asking for personal experiences, this is better suited for IMHO than GQ.

General Questions Moderator

I am a mom of a 6-month old and I do some work (maybe about 4-5 htrs/day) in the office and some (1-2 hrs/day) from home. My company is really good about letting us do this.

-We charge hours to contracts rather than get paid a salary. I tend to be rather more militaristic about charging when I’m working from home because I appreciate the company letting me do that, and others I’ve talked to say the same. So the company tends to get more work out of me actually in my working-from-home stage.

-I already had a laptop because I did a fair amount of travel before I had the baby. Because people at my company travel so much, we have a VPN network in place that seems to deal with the need for security.

-I have VERY flexible hours which is a must for a parent trying to do this. I work when she is sleeping, when she goes to bed at night, occasionally when my husband is looking after her… all of which happen at odd and not-particularly-replicable times. Sometimes it is a bit of a pain when a co-worker emails me at 3pm and I don’t get to the email until 8pm, when he’s quit for the day, but everyone is very understanding.

-I was pretty much incapable of getting any work done the first two months after she was born. The third month I was at the stage where I could maybe do an hour or two a day, though I didn’t usually (I made an exception for a couple of projects I’d been working on where someone needed my expertise). A potential first-time mom SHOULD NOT expect to be able to get anything done those first two to three months.

-Without caretakers?? Uh. I could potentially get maybe 4 hours/day right now without a caretaker, but that would be pushing the limit of my efficiency. I usually get about 2 hours done while at home, especially since I feel pretty strongly about spending time with my baby when she is awake (though she’s a pretty easy baby and could probably be left alone a bit more than that). I am told that once she can move all bets are off, too.

-As for an expectant mom on bedrest, it depends a lot I guess on why she’s on bedrest. If it’s because she feels totally sick, then probably not. If it’s just because she needs to keep the fetus still and she is kind of bored really, then yes, I could see working at home working out really well. The penultimate week before my baby came I worked about half-time at home. I was pretty tired but otherwise was feeling well. (I took off the week right beforehand.)

Oh, and one more thing. When I say that I could potentially get ~4 hrs work/day done while my baby is napping/sleeping, bear in mind that she is a REALLY good napper and sleeper in general. I know that I lucked out. A potential parent should not try to bank on this… I certainly know people whose babies nap very rarely, or only for 20 min. at a time, or other schedules like that which would make it very difficult to work during most of the day.

The first two or three links on this search are essential reading. The articles are from Inc. magazine’s recent issue highlighting working from home. (Note: In case the link doesn’t work, just go to and search for “work from home”) These articles address issues like supervision and hardware/software costs to get it working, along with the personal experiences when Inc tried doing it themselves for a week or something.

The key thing for workers is perception. You have to see the home office as an extension of a professional workplace that just happens (by accident, perhaps) to be attached to your house. Dogs, kids, laundry - they all need to wait until after office hours are over.

So it’s a lousy solution for maternity/paternity leave. (In fact, the only way I could see it is if the person working from home has a caretaker for the baby. The person simply cannot work and care for kids). Kids and dogs are especially a problem if you have to be on the phone - crying and barking in the background is guaranteed to make you look unprofessional.

As far as supervision of workers goes, it depends a lot on the type of work. Work from home is perfect for people who have a clear work product - if you goofed off and still got the work done, nobody really cares.

I used to work for a .com so it was a pretty paperless office by definition. Our team’s manager let us all pick a day (so the entire team wasn’t missing from the office at the same time) and we all got to wfh one day each week. We used VPN to get into the same files we’d use at the office, and we all communicated via IM and email anyway.

Personally, I can say honestly that I’m way more productive wfh than sitting in an office, and would love very much to be able to work that way again in the future. My transportation costs go way down, I eat better (I can have some beans or stew bubbling away all morning for my lunch instead of heating up some boxed frozen crap), and when there is down time I can get little things done around the house instead of trying to lump it all together at the end of the day whe I’m tired. (For example: I had a rash of conference calls I needed to listen in on, and got an amazing amount of dusting done. It’s a silent activity that doesn’t require much thought. The living room never looked so good.)

Productivity problems are usually a matter of personality, but most people I know are so happy to be able to wfh that they’re very careful about that. I think the biggest drawback to wfh full-time is the lack of the little information you get - conversations that spark an idea, for instance, or someone has a problem and mentions it aloud and it turns out three other people are running into the same issue but one has a solution. That sort of thing. But in the offices I worked at, there’s very little of that vs. idle time-wasting chitchat, and the less of the latter in my life, the better.

We have the option of working from home, but provide ZERO support for it. You provide your own computer, your own phone and your own connectivity. Some staff have laptops that can move back and forth, some people use their own home PC.

I find it dull to work from home - I do it one day a week, but don’t like it. I like being in the office.

I can’t see taking care of a kid while working from home. I’m not a parent but I had to watch a puppy for a week while working from home (my job is WFH by definition) and it was brutal.

My brother (who works for me, from his home) had his paternity leave, then about a month of baby + work, and after that he could no longer take it and was absolutely relieved when the caretaking grandmas stepped in. My mom goes to his house 3 days a week and she barely speaks to him while he’s “at work.”

I don’t do laundry or entertain visitors or do stuff around the house during work hours. I don’t cook anything that takes very long for lunch. You also have to remember to train your family and friends that you are still “at work” from 9-5, if that’s what your work requires. They can’t pop in or expect you to do stuff with/for them just because you’re home.

It works if you have the right mindset and if you have the right tools. And the right type of job. It’s definitely not a vacation, but it is quite nice.

My wife does the same thing, once or twice a week. She uses our landline, and connection, but the company gives her a laptop, and a docking station for when she’s in the office.

I work at home, and I’ve found that the only way I can do it is by “going to work”… at home. That means that every morning I shower, shave, put on clean, presentable clothing, and sit down in front of my computer to work. I start at a certain time every day, I finish a a certain time day, and when I’m “at work” that’s all I’m doing. It’s the only way I can find the discipline to do what I have to do, because by my nature I’m a lazy slacker, and without some sort of structure I’d never get anything done.

For most of the last 30 years, I’ve had my own businesses, but every time I’ve worked for someone else I had a work-from-home arrangement. I haven’t done this since 2001, so my info is a bit dated.

When I did curriculum design for Cisco Systems, we had a VPN set up. My desk at home was equivalent to my desk at the office. I brought my IP phone and notebook computer home with me, and nobody could tell whether I was at home or at Cisco unless they physically walked over to my desk. My boss was pretty hands-off, and he didn’t care where I was as long as the work got done on time.

In another case, I was working for a company 2,000 miles from home. I flew back to headquarters for meetings once per quarter. Aside from that, home was the office.

The secret in both cases was having an OFFICE at home. It was a separate room with a door that closed. I got up in the morning and went to work. The kids knew not to come in (I only worked at home on days when my wife was home with the kids), the pets were locked out, and I didn’t answer the home phone line. There were no distractions in my home office that I wouldn’t have had in an office building.

Also, whichever end of work-at-home I’ve been on, there’s an understanding that when you’re at work, you’re THERE to answer the phone, respond to IMs or emails, and generally interact with co-workers and customers as required. There’s no “sorry, I was out mowing the lawn.”

Now, to answer from the other side.

When I’ve had people working for me from home, the rules depended on the type of work they did. Most of the time, they were programmers, writers, or graphic designers. Since I have done all three of those jobs myself, I know how long something should take, and I always had new employees work at the office for a while before they started working at home. If a particular task always took 2 days at the office, but a week at home, I wouldn’t allow that employee to work from home anymore.

Generally speaking, I was very flexible about hours, but they had to be arranged in advance and there had to be overlap with regular 9-5 hours for conference calls and such. If you wanted to sleep late and start work at 1pm, that was fine with me. But if I needed you at 1pm, you’d bloody well better be there. I also figured casual clothes was one of the reasons to work from home, so I never used videoconferencing with work-at-home employees. You want to work in your underwear or ratty old bathrobe? I don’t care. Just so I don’t have to see it.

I was also very flexible about taking resources home (e.g., printers, scanners, video equipment, etc.) as long as everyone knew you had them, nobody else needed them that day, and you brought them back the next day.

I was very strict about booze during work hours. If you’re on the clock at home, and I need to have you talk to a customer, you had damned well better not be drunk or stoned. I don’t care what you do on your own time, but you spend your work hours clean and sober.

Back then, I generally required employees who wanted to work at home part-time to provide their own computers, but the full-time work-at-homers (mostly remote sales people and trainers) were issued company notebook computers.