My dividing line between working remotely and working out of the office

February 10, 2014

I want to talk about working out of the office (because I have some views on it) but before I launch into that I want to draw a careful dividing line between remote work and simply working outside of the office, lest I accidentally drag the former into a discussion of the latter.

To me, working remotely is when you are not in the same (general) location as your employer so you couldn't come in even if you wanted to; there simply is no local office for you. Working remotely is great for some people for various reasons; for example, they can live in their preferred location while working for a company that is located elsewhere (if the company is really located anywhere in particular; some companies these days are basically all remote). Remote workers and remote teams have their own challenges, which you can find a lot of people with actual experience writing about in various places.

By contrast working outside of the office (which often means working from home) involves there at least nominally being an office for you to go in to if you wanted to; you just don't, for various reasons. I have somewhat cynical views on how this particular situation often comes about. Certainly over the years I've read plenty of writeups about how an increasingly mobile workforce cuts down on your need for expensive office space and attractive office furniture and so on.

(Perhaps not oddly, most of the writeups were about sparkling new office spaces instead of retrospective looks back at how well such spaces had worked over the span of a few years.)

My personal view is that, for example, a coffee shop is not really a good working environment for most people and that if your office is really not better than the local coffee shop something terrible is happening. As for working outdoors in the nice sun and breeze, a lot depends on the typical local weather; here in Toronto we alternate between gloomy, freezing, and humidly hot with only relatively modest periods of temperate sunny weather in the spring and fall.

To be clear: despite my cynicism, not all people working outside of the office are doing it because their office is bad. There are plenty of people who do so for other excellent reasons, including wanting to spend time with their kids and wanting to live in a nice location they like that is a painful commute from their employer's office.

Comments on this page:

From at 2014-02-11 03:08:38:

remote working enables me to spend time with sick parents I would otherwise not be able to see.

Sometimes you do not have a choice and you have to leave to just get a job, so remote working is a blessing.

By -dsr- at 2014-02-11 06:45:04:

My company has a policy: everyone is equipped, technologically, to be able to do most of their work from home. If you are mildly sick, you are encouraged to work from home rather than spread the germs. If the weather poses a significant inconvenience to travel, WFH. And if you need to do any one of those myriad of things that require you to wait around the house unproductively (from the company's viewpoint), why not WFH while you're waiting?

The company gets more work out of you, it's true. In exchange, things that would, in other companies, eat out of your paid time off allotments mostly don't. In the disaster recovery plan, it's a regularly tested feature: HQ can be destroyed and the company can continue.

By Brennan at 2014-02-12 00:34:47:

Ever been in a "high density" bullpen crowded with desks, that is often as loud as a stadium?

That's what I work in every day... small wonder I often choose to work from home.

Maybe this fits your definition of "something terrible happening"...

By cks at 2014-02-12 00:41:15:

@Brennan: It does indeed, although I don't think a home office can be compared with a coffee shop (or at least I'd hope a home office is rather nicer). This is the kind of case I would put firmly in the 'your employer made the office suck' category (to steal the phrasing from a tweet of mine).

Written on 10 February 2014.
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