Have you ever felt annoyed when one of your colleagues says they’re going to work from home? I have. But I’ve also been on both sides – the worker stuck in the office and the remote worker at home – and experienced many of the pros and cons. Today I want to share a story about how working from home (WFH) can cost you.
I totally get that when someone says they’re going to “work from home,” there’s a decent probability they won’t be doing much work at all. I’ve certainly taken advantage of being out of sight a few times over the years and also know that working from home isn’t as distraction free as you may think. As a result, when a manager has to decide who to promote or who to fire, the easiest workers for managers to screw over are those who primarily work from home.
On the flip side, if you’re strategically looking to get laid off and take your career in a new direction, constantly asking your manager if you can work from home is a fantastic strategy! By doing so, you can plant the seed of suspicion in your manager’s mind that you are no longer committed to your job. As a result, he or she should likely feel much less guilty letting you go.
When working from home = not working at all
As a freelancer, I do a fair amount of work from home, but I also work onsite a good chunk of time as well. One of the my former bosses at “Company Z” used to work in the office for many years, but managed to negotiate working from home 2 days a week shortly after I started working for him. That’s when things started to go way downhill. For fun, I’ll refer to him as “Mr. WFHb,” a nickname I came up with out of frustration, “work from home boy.
Before Mr. WFHb became my boss at Company Z, I had a really good manager but she got transferred. Once I started working for Mr. WFHb, I found out his reasons to telecommute were avoiding a long commute and wanting to spend more time with his family. Um, don’t we all? I was a lowly part-time freelancer for this company, so I was contracted to work offsite, but he was a full-time employee with a lot of departmental responsibilities.
Prior to this manager, I was consistently given two assignments a week and had a steady stream of income coming in. Having a steady rhythm going and a reliable paycheck was splendid – that’s how work should be.
But within just a couple months of working with Mr. WFHb, my assignments got slashed. I had to really start hustling to find extra work to make up for the drop off in income and projects. What the heck happened? WFH happened.
Ever since my manager Mr. WFHb started working from home, the response time on my project submissions went from 12-24 hours to 48-72 hours or more. At one point I remember wondering if he was still with the company because I’d hadn’t heard from him in over a week. Not even my follow up emails were getting acknowledged.
I pinged one of his colleagues asking where he was. I figured if he wasn’t fired, he must be on vacation or in the hospital or something. To my surprise his colleague said, “Do you want me to try and reach him for you? He’s working from home.”
Later that day after the colleague messaged him through their internal chat portal, Mr. WFHb eventually responded to me and said, “Sorry I didn’t see your emails until now. I’ll get back to you on your projects as soon as possible. I’m a little backlogged at the moment.” hmm, hmm, yeah right. More like he’s slacking off at home. The reason Mr. WFHb was “a little backlogged” was because he stopped checking his e-mail! I was so frustrated because as a part-time freelancer I can’t earn any money unless I’m given assignments. His slacking was causing me to lose money.
His response times didn’t get any better after that. Fairly soon thereafter, I wasn’t too surprised that he ended up leaving the company! Rumor has it he was pushed out because he was slacking off too much and stopped performing. Everyone knew it and the company – and me – were suffering as a result. Slacking off at home cost him his job.
If you’re a new employee, don’t even think about working from home
Unless you’ve been at your firm for years, are super senior or a proven superstar, working from home can be serious bad news for your career. When you are out of sight, you are out of mind for pay, promotion and camaraderie. If your job involves working with other people – which most jobs do – it’s just not as efficient to be offsite. I’ve been there, done that. Everyone hates commuting, but you just have to suck it up and not let it hinder your career trajectory.
If you have special privileges to work form home on a regular basis, don’t be surprised if your fellow colleagues start hating you for being out of sight, relaxing at home while they slave away at work out in the open. It’s so easy to get distracted and start doing all your personal things on company time – don’t do it.
If you really want to work from home, start your own online business and be your own boss. You can slack off all you want to the detriment of your own company and finances. But if you’re working for someone else, be smart! Show some respect and join your colleagues at the office. Once you climb the ranks, you can work from home as a one-off when you really need it. Don’t make wfm a weekly routine to slack off or you could find yourself without a job like Mr. WFHb!
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Untemplaters, do you think people who “work from home” work as much as the people in the office? What’s your company’s policy about working remotely? Do you think employees who work from home or ask to work from home will be the easiest candidates to let go during the next downturn? Share your working from home stories with us below!
I just recently wrote a post about working from home. I had initially started off going into the office but after my probation period, I had asked to work from home a couple of days a week, mainly because my commute was over an hour each way. The rest of my team worked remote, so it made sense. Eventually, I ended up working 100% remote and enjoy it. My boss is quite responsive. I think it’s very important to have open, constant dialogue, especially when you’re working remote. Overcommunicating can be a good ting. Prior to this job, I used to be very jealous of people who got to work from home. I thought I would never be able to experience that until I switched industries.
Christina Tang-Bernas says
I think whether working from home is beneficial or not really depends on the person and the company culture/expectations. Your experience definitely sucks (especially since you have no control over whether your manager is working or not). However, my sister regularly works from home (it’s common in her company. Her manager is across the country, so my sister’s technically out-of-sight all the time even if she does go into the office.), and she was recently promoted to a senior position. I work for an academic journal. Our production staff all work from home (unless they have big meetings), and they said they often get more work done at home than if they were in the office. Of course, their company culture is set-up for this, and they are all in constant communication with each other via web messaging. But, yeah, no slacking off allowed, whether you’re in the office or working from home.
Financial Slacker says
I worked at home with my last company. I can tell you that I actually found myself working more than when I was in an office. With no commute and regularly only spending about 10 minutes eating lunch, I put in many more hours.
But I agree, you are definitely at risk for losing your job when you work at home. You need face time in front of the company leaders. I had to travel (3 hours by plane each way) about 40 to 45 weeks per year in order to keep that face time. It was better for me to be in the office for even just a day or two a week every week than for four or five days a week every other week.
And sure enough when the company’s financial situation deteriorated, I got laid off along with a number of other work-from-home people. And we were all replaced by local people.
NZ Muse says
Plus the lack of distractions of being in the office (people coming up to you with random in person requests, striking up conversations), and – at least for me – the fear of seeming like a slacker if I don’t keep up a good pace! – and between all that I definitely am super productive at home.
Financial Slacker says
Absolutely. Working in an office has many distractions.
I had a job with a very stodgy old company. And during a performance review, I was criticized for not spending enough time sitting at my desk.
Of course, they didn’t want to hear that I was in meetings for most of the day every day, which is why I wasn’t at my desk.
Much better working from home – but riskier too.
I’m part of a global team and we are all scattered around. We have the ability to work from home if our schedules allow it. Depending on my schedule I CAN work from home about once a week. Sometimes I don’t work from home at all because I need to be in the office. But it is nice to work from home sometimes. It gives you a little break from all the office people. For me, after one day, I’m ready to be back in the office and interact by the water cooler.
That sounds like a great arrangement and you’ve found a happy balance. Flexibility to wfh is a great perk to have as long as your colleagues don’t abuse it! 🙂
Excellent post, Sydney. I was nodding my head in agreement the entire time I was reading it. I wondered if you would mention a side hustle/personal business as an exception, and sure enough, you did.
While I will likely never experience the ability to work from home in my day job, all of my current side gigs afford that opportunity. I haven’t been too tempted to slack off, yet, mostly because I’m working for myself and nobody else.
I feel for you for having to put with Mr. WFHB. An unresponsive boss is the worst. You must have been relieved when he was shown the door.
Yes I was happy to see him go but not happy at all to see my assignments shrivel up. It’s very different wfh when you’re self-employed right? Such a night and day difference I think. Most people have no idea how hard it is to survive on your own!