how not to look like a slacker when you’re working from home

A reader writes:

I recently started working from home. I’m one of the first people in my company to be allowed to do this, and I’m being looked at as a bit of a test case. What are the things I should think about or do in order to make it clear that I’m really working, not watching soap operas all day? I’m concerned that some colleagues may assume I’m slacking off.

Yep, people will sometimes assume that you’re not working hard since they can’t see you, especially when you’re the only one telecommuting and everyone else is in the office. And some people even think “working from home” is code for child care or day-long Candy Crush tournaments. But fear not — there are things you can do to combat that impression.

You can read my suggestions over at the Fast Track blog by Intuit Quickbase today.

{ 83 comments… read them below }

  1. Mena*

    In a previous position, I worked from home 3 of 5 days per week. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be quick in responding to phone calls, emails, and IMs. You need to reinforce that you are indeed ‘right there’ and truly available. It is important to respond MORE quickly than you might if you were in the office and perhaps down the hall in a meeting. The key is to make your remoteness seem entirely transparent to all others.

    1. LizNYC*

      This +1000. In OldJob, my boss was the test case for WFH 4 days a week with one day in the office. Not only was she notoriously incommunicado while she was at home–taking HOURS to respond to simple emails–on her only day in the office, she came in late (and constantly blamed traffic — um, the rest of us managed to get there on time 5 days a week) and left 2 hours early to beat the same traffic home. It was frustrating in so many ways, as a fellow worker and as her underling who had to pick up all of her slack. (And no, her manager didn’t care.)

      When I was granted 1, then 3, days to work from home, I made sure my responses were as timely, if no more so, than when I was in office (hearing that someone didn’t realize I was working from home was a huge compliment). I also made it super clear when I was going on my lunch break and would be away from my computer (just like at my office) so that no one would get the wrong idea.

      I think being a conscientious worker in the office helps a lot too. If people see you as a hard worker IN the office, they will be more likely to believe that you’re slacking off at home. (And I found that people who thought you were slacking off at home usually did so themselves — at least my boss did — a coworker home sick saw her at Target during supposed-to-be-at-her-home-computer hours.)

      1. Jamie*

        Yep – the ones who abuse the privilege can ruin it for everyone else. But these things do happen so caution and a little wariness isn’t misplaced.

        Companies just have to look at each on a case by case basis and not tell Billy he can’t do X because when they let Susie try it she went to Target.

        1. LizNYC*

          I just realized I typoed above — if you’re a hard worker at the office, people will think you’re actually working when you’re at home.

          And yep, my OldBoss ruined it for lots of people who wanted to work from home at my OldJob because of her inability to actually get anything done at home.

      2. Rob*

        Is the frustration towards home workers not fear that you can’t cope without them there for reassurance? It’s their home they are in, and have given up the ability to distinguish between home and work (trust me, I have done it for years)…we get use to the ‘simple e-mails’ and ignore them so that you will eventually one day be able to think for yourself. The phone calls at 9.30am to check that we are out of bed…the fake anxious tone when you leave a voicemail message ‘it’s really urgent and I’ve been trying to get hold of you’…yeah, yeah, yeah. If someone has these issues with their boss home working, it says more about how they misunderstand their role within the company…it says to me, you think your boss is their to supervise you, that you need that security of having someone more senior on hand to refer matters to…otherwise, why do you care? Is this not just jealousy? As for your friend off sick, why was she out shopping? Surely that is the moral of the story…office based workers who call in sick are nearly always faking it!

    2. Vicki*

      Another Yes for this.

      When they “ping” you in IM, be sure to respond. Do not set your IM status to “Away” unless you’re actually away. Never use invisible mode. Use IM status messages that say things like “working on a project” or “at lunch” if you are actually busy. Respond to email quickly, even if you just say “I saw this and I’ll get back to you.”

      Turn down the sound if necessary, but check email at least once an hour. The price you pay for no commute and not being constantly bombarded by voices, ringing phones, drop-ins, breakroom chatter, etc, is to be _available_.

  2. fposte*

    One reason I like email as interoffice communication generally is that it works the same whether I’m working at home or in the office, so people don’t have to change their habits or remember where I am to keep in contact with me.

  3. The IT Manager*

    Keep the same hours you kept before. / Be extra responsive when working at home.

    These are two sides of the same coin. If customers or co-workers need to reach during their work hour, you need to be available and can’t timeshift. Not being reachable will make you look like a slacker because people will usually assume the worst.

    This is my personal concern about working from home orworking with people who work from home. Even though I am very aware that people can sit all work all day, surf the internet and goof off, and be a slacker even in the office.

    1. Vicki*

      To ensure that everyone knows you are keeping those hours, be SURE to log in to the company network as soon as you begin work. Don’t say to yourself “today I’m reviewing documentation” or “I’m writing / coding / editing / working on my spreadsheet and I can do that without logging in”.

      One of the “reasons” Marissa Mayer gave for shutting down telecommuting at Yahoo! was that employees were not logged in. She made the (probably inappropriate) assumption that this meant they weren’t working.

      I had things set up so that the login program launched as soon as I started up my at-home computer.

      1. Erik*

        Being logged in doesn’t mean anything. It’s too easy to log onto your work computer, while going back to Facebook on your laptop. Other considerations – what if you’re in the field doing business and unable to connect for some reason? I lost track of the number of times when I couldn’t log on to check emails because of various connectivity issues.

        1. Jessa*

          If you are having connectivity issues COMMUNICATE. For heaven’s sake call your office and let them know. Don’t just sit around and work and not tell them. If there are recurring issues get them solved. But if they cannot see you they don’t know you’re working. This is critical.

          But being logged in does matter. You really do need to have whatever instant messaging/email etc your company uses up and be using it.

  4. BCW*

    I think this is great advice. I started working from home a couple days a week earlier this year. However, this post kind of speaks to a bigger issue I have. This is nothing against the OP, so please don’t think that. However, for me it comes down to your co-workers just minding their business. If your boss trust you to work from home, and you are still producing at the same level, your co-workers and their perceptions shouldn’t matter. Now I get the whole “perception is reality” thing, but to me that matters what the people above you think.

    With that said I do think you should be as responsive as you were before, however I don’t think you need to go out of your way to respond immediately to any email, unless that is what you would have done before. If you are on conference calls, working on a project, or just on a lunch break, you shouldn’t feel obligated to interrupt those things because Jane has a question for you.

    So many people are just too concerned about what someone else is or isn’t doing that its becoming ridiculous. Unless it is seriously impeding your work (and no I don’t consider taking an hour to respond to an email a serious impediment) just mind your business and worry about yourself.

    1. Jamie*

      I agree with much of this. When I work from home I’m just as responsive as I am in the office, but not more…because if I stopped what I was doing to respond to every single email that can wait I’d get a lot less done.

      It’s not just what the people above you think, though, and that’s where I disagree. A quick way to get the privilege pulled is to have enough people complaining to tptb that you’re unavailable…even if you’re exactly as available as you were in the office. Now for some of us, that’s not an issue, but for some…who are just starting the wfh thing and the jury is still out on the whole practice it might very well be.

      Perception shouldn’t be as important as reality, but it’s more important. At least in the beginning until you’ve cemented your reputation in the wfh arena.

        1. tcookson*

          HA! me too . . . and I know from the weirdest coworkers post that we’ve all had co-workers who have “cemented [their] reputation in the [WTF] arena.”

    2. KellyK*

      Yeah, I definitely agree with the sentiment, 100%. People do tend to get nosy, to want to catch someone else “cheating” rather than focusing on what they need to get their job done. Unfortunately, a lot of people jump to the “work from home = slacker” conclusion, so you can do everything just as well as you did before but be viewed in a less positive light.

      I think the best way to address blatant nosiness or sour grapes is to redirect the conversation to the work. But unfortunately, with people making assumptions, there’s not much you can do to correct it unless they actually say something.

      I do think it’s a good idea for *managers* to initially respond to any sour grapes about people working from home with, “Is there something you need from Fred that you’re not getting?” because the real focus should be on exactly that.

    3. Mike C.*

      Lots of great points here. Sometimes folks just need to mind their own business until it becomes your own business.

    4. KellyK*

      As a side note, if you [generic you] have a problem with the amount of time someone is taking to get back to you, for pete’s sake, please make sure you let them know when you need it! If they don’t know how urgent it is for you, that makes it a lot tougher to slot into their list of existing priorities.

      1. BCW*

        Thank you. Use a high priority tag, or just say “If you could get back to me in the next couple hours, that would be great”. Many people like to answer emails by perceived importance. If yours doesn’t sound terribly urgent to me (even if it is) I probably will respond after other things.

  5. Sarah*

    I am currently trying to convince HR that I should be able to work from home- my boss trusts me 100% to work from home and is trying to help me navigate HR. Do you or any readers have any tips for how to convince risk management that I’m not going to fall and sue them or do my laundry all day? My entire job is done online- there is no difference except location when I work from home versus in the office. I’m the only person in my office, and my boss is the only person in the same state as me that I communicate with regularly.

    1. Anonymous*

      What do you mean fall and sue them? Do you get work comp for tripping over your own dog in your own house? That doesn’t sound right to me.

      Regarding the laundry thing, which is actually a concern about productivity the only way to prove that is to be allowed to try it and show that it works by maintaining your work load. Some people have a knee jerk reaction against wfh – and the two most prevalent reasons are they don’t trust the wfh employee not to take advantage, or they fear other employees who must be in the office (wfh doesn’t work for all positions) getting up in arms about things being “unfair.”

      I don’t think there is much you can do until your boss wins the way with HR – and then you can just prove it was the right call by being as productive as you were in the office.

      1. Sarah*

        I’m just not sure what “Risk Management” is worried about with working from home- my boss thought it was that if someone is hurt while working from home there might be a problem.

        Yeah, I mean, my boss has full faith in my ability to work from home, and I am not too worried about productivity levels dropping at home versus in the office for the reasons I stated in my first post.

        Also, no other employees actually know I’m there or see me on a day to day basis, so I don’t think they’d notice if I work from home! I have my own office down a hallway away from any other offices in the building.

        1. Jamie*

          I would love if someone who knows chimes in on this. It’s never occurred to me that work would be liable for any injuries incurred with remote workers while at home.

          If that’s the case I can see why people don’t allow it, it sucks to assume liability for an environment you can’t control. I wouldn’t’ do it.

          1. Leslie Yep*

            According to my org’s work from home policy, OSHA regulations apply–staff working from home are eligible for worker’s compensation if their injury occurred while performing their jobs. So, staff working from home are obligated to provide a safe, OSHA-compliant, designated work space and we get guidance on how to do that.

            I imagine that a claim of, say, repetitive stress injury from a work from home employee wouldn’t be as compelling because the employee chose their equipment, but generally if you are injured while working from home you are just as eligible to make a comp claim as someone working from a business office.

            1. Jamie*

              Thanks – that’s really interesting.

              So if a remote worker tripped over a towel on the floor walking to his printer for work his employer would be on the hook for that? I’d hate to see someone put in a claim for that.

              1. Leslie Yep*

                Technically, yes–but the employee is responsible for keeping their workplace safe and compliant so I would imagine such a claim wouldn’t be paid out. However, if, say, your printer cord shorts out and starts a fire, yes–the workplace would be on the hook for that. It’s a pretty fine and difficult line!

                I am not a lawyer, etc.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  A company-provided printer, I would assume. If it were your own printer, it would go back to that employee safety thing.

        2. Mike C.*

          I think your first step is to get a concrete explanation of what the “risks” actually are, then you have a list of things to shoot down.

          1. Sarah*

            Great idea, I will see if we can get some information on that.

            They asked for a list of things I do at work that could be done from home…it was rather extensive since everything but printing a few pieces of paper every two weeks or so can be done from home.

            1. Sarah*

              Yeah, and the person in my position before me was a much, much older person who is now retired. Depending on age range (previous person was 70-80) working from home can be a much more problematic thing for an employer.

      2. CEMgr*

        What case law there is tends to indicate that injuries while directly working at home typically are covered. Of course, state WC laws vary widely and the exact facts make all the difference in the world.
        “In June 2011, the Court of Appeals of Oregon ruled in favor of an employee who was injured when she tripped over her dog while working from home (Mary S. Sandberg vs. J. C. Penney Co. Inc. No. 0702441, A140276). The Court disagreed with the Oregon Workers’ Compensation Board, which determined the injury did not arise from her employment. The Appellate Court said the employee worked from home as a condition of her employment, which benefited her employer, and workers’ compensation benefits were to be paid.”
        From – also cases from Tennessee, California and New Jersey upholding WC for those injured while WFH.

          1. KellyK*

            So, this case is worker’s comp’s version of the infamous “sue McDonald’s because you spilled coffee on yourself” case? (That is one that’s famous for being so ridiculous and gets people talking about our horrid overly litigious society, but that actually has a lot more merit when you read it.)

        1. KellyK*

          I’m not a lawyer or an HR person, but if anyone’s employer is concerned because of this specific case, having something in writing that working from home is a convenience to the employee rather than a requirement of their job would probably be helpful. This seems based largely on the fact that the designer was *required* to work from home, and that by requiring her to work in an environment they did not control, her company was accepting those risks.

      3. Windchime*

        OK, so I actualy do my laundry on my work at home day. I sort it before the workday starts and I spend roughly 1 minute per hour moving clothes in and out of the washer/dryer. I am guessing that I spend less time doing my 4 loads of laundry than one “breaktime” trip to Starbucks that I take when I am in the office. And I definitely get way more work done on my work at home day, because I’m not distracted by people blabbling away all around me, ringing phones, or meetings.

        So people shouldn’t necesscarily assume that people who work-from-home aren’t working just because they’re also doing the laundry!

        Having said that, Work-From-Home priveledges were permanently revoked for everyone at a previous place of employment because there was one person who was NEVER available when she “worked from home”. Because that person abused the system, nobody could do it.

    2. Mike*

      At my last job I lead my group’s push our proposal for telecommuting. I created a proposal that outlined everything we could think of. I did my research on employment law (as best as I could) to make sure we weren’t proposing anything against the law. The proposal covered work times, how we’d (legally) avoid overtime (the group were non-exempt programmers), reporting, meetings, etc. I had all the other programmers review the proposal to ensure it was coming from the group. One key thing we put in was a trial period which a defined beginning and end date. This allowed them an easy out if they felt it wasn’t working.

      We then setup a meeting with the decision makers. We did have to play a little bit of politics and made sure to include the head of the organization as she was more likely to allow it than our manager’s boss.

      After the meeting we took their requirements and ran with it. We worked our butt offs to ensure the trial worked. We had a couple of rough spots and our trial got extended but after that it just fell into use.

      Our timing worked well for the organization as they were facing a need for more people but were running out of room for them. So our telecommute became the basis for a wider telecommuting policy.

      1. Sarah*

        That sounds like it would really work with a larger group or someone who saw more of the work that I do other than my boss. My boss is already completely behind my working from home, but he doesn’t want to do something that HR would not want us to do. There aren’t really any requirements in place, my boss really thinks that working from home 1-2 days a week would be a great idea for me. We agreed that if HR lets us, we’ll try it for two months and see how we like the set up.

        Sounds like you did a really great job with the telecommuting policy though! Congratulations on setting that up so well.

    3. some1*

      I don’t manage people, but I would suggest that you be super-available and have a reputation for being extra into your work.

      I’ve had co-workers who, even while being physically *in* the office, take forever to respond to emails, spend all day on FB or texting when I was waiting for work from them, or chatting with people about non-work stuff. When they get WFH the stigma seems to be that they will be that much more distracted if they already do that stuff in the office.

      1. Sarah*

        Well, HR does not see me at all ever. The only person who sees me is my boss, who already thinks very highly of my work ethic and productivity. I don’t have any co-workers.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Even the federal government — the most risk-adverse employer there is — allows working from home. If they can find a way to minimize risks to an acceptable level, so can your employer. I’d take a look at the work-from-home policies of a few government agencies and see what they have in them.

  6. Anne*

    Very timely. I have my first day working from home tomorrow. It’s not going to be an ongoing thing – it’s a concession granted by my very understanding employer while I deal with mental health issues. I feel like that makes it even more important to be obviously productive, though.

  7. AnonForThis*

    I work at a remote site AND part of my job involves being various places at seemingly random times. The way my manager and I handle this is by having a fairly transparent shared calender in outlook. Even if it’s a last-minute event out of the office, I try to add it to my calendar, so she’ll know what I’m up to if she checks it.

  8. Pat*

    I’ve worked from home a couple of times as a contractor. One thing I would suggest if it’s possible is to have a very clear list, agreed between yourself and whoever’s supervising you, of verifiable tasks you’re going to get done during your time away from the office. Mine was along the lines of ‘write code to do XYZ this week and document it’. Then when I was next in the office we’d go through it, I made any changes they wanted, and we’d set out a new list for the next week before I left (or via email the next day). Weeks when I finished the list over a day early I let them know, and if they had nothing else they wanted done now I just took a long weekend and didn’t bill them for that time. Other weeks, when it clearly wasn’t going to be possible to finish the work set out, I similarly let them know well ahead of schedule and we prioritised what they wanted done the most.

    We got into the swing of finding the correct amount of stuff to assign each week pretty quickly, and I had an almost itemized list of weekly work for the whole period.

  9. Rebecca*

    I’m an hourly worker, and I’d like to be able to work from home at least a few days per week. As it is now, I commute over 45 miles round trip each day to an office to log onto a remote computer in yet another location. I also deal with customers/coworkers in the Far East, and the time difference means sometimes issues go on for days, instead of minutes or hours.

    I laid the issues out to my manager and asked permission to work at home. I have my own computer equipment, printer, scanner, etc. and high speed internet, so this wouldn’t cost my company anything. Her answer? No. And she added it will never happen because she wants to see people in their seats. Plus, she said she can’t trust everyone to work off site, so it wouldn’t be fair to everyone if she allowed just certain people to do this.

    I’m going to keep trying. Articles like these will be valuable in trying to make the case for WFH.

    1. Jamie*

      TBH it’s a lot harder when you’re hourly. It’s why I won’t give non-exempt people remote access to email…you have to pay for all time worked and it’s really hard to track that when working remotely.

      Also, you mention the equipment is yours. But if you have issues with it, or even if you don’t…who is setting up the VPN for example. As an IT I happily support remote work – on company equipment that I spec out and control and that have my security protocols in place.

      I’ve never had a remote worker yet that didn’t, from time to time, have issues connecting. It’s not often, but it happens. Asking IT to troubleshoot your equipment to get you connected isn’t fair to IT.

      1. BCW*

        I was going to say that. Being hourly really does change everything. If I’m hourly, the time I spend checking email on my phone is time I should be paid. Plus, if you are hourly, it is more important that your exact hours be tracked. Clearly there are computer systems that do that, but I do think it does cause an extra layer as opposed to an hourly person.

        And some managers really are “butts in seats” people. I personally hate that. I mean, I can slack off just as easily in the office as I can at home. However I also think it depends on the staff you are managing and the particular job. My job is also basically all email/phone based, so being in the office isn’t that important. Other jobs I’ve had were much more collaborative, and something is lost when trying to do everything via email, IM or phone.

        1. Leslie Yep*

          I worked from home for about a year in an hourly/non-exempt position, and it actually worked quite well. My boss was remote from me regardless, so that may be an important difference from Rebecca’s case.

          However, I just had multiple touchpoints all day with my manager (just like I would have if she were stopping by my desk) and she grilled me regularly about my hours to ensure everything was getting recorded appropriately. With transparency and trust, it can work out fine; though I certainly acknowledge the pitfalls BCW and Jamie have identified.

        2. Rebecca*

          I understand those issue, but – we have payroll software that I log into and out of when I’m in the office (I log in when I arrive, log out for lunches/breaks, and out for the day). This keeps track of my hours. As far as IT support, I’ve already set up the the remote access I need on my laptop, and have used it when I worked from my parent’s house when they had health issues last year. I didn’t ask IT to help with anything, and was easily able to keep up with my work. There are times we have connectivity here in the office because the ISP isn’t working, and I could have had a productive day at home if I had simply stayed there.

          95% of my job is done remotely with IM, email, or very seldom, a phone call. The rest can be handled with online meeting software.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            *raises hand* This is how my job is. I prefer going in, because I sat on the sofa for a year unemployed, and I don’t particularly want to stare at those walls all day again. But I’m set up with everything I need if I want to work remotely.

            What I do is try to log in well before my shift starts, then I can call our help desk if I have any problems. And then I can actually clock in when it’s time to begin.

    2. Mike C.*

      I hate managers like this. If she can’t trust you, then why did she hire you in the first place or why aren’t you fired now?

      “How will I know that you’re working???” Because the work gets done? Is it really that difficult?

  10. Mike*

    I find it kinda ironic that this came up on a day that I decided to work from home.

    One thing that helps is if your organization already uses technology to communicate. Most of our communication is done via chat rooms, even when we are all in the same office area. So working from home isn’t much different.

    As our shop tries to follow the Agile model a person who is going to be working from home will send their standup notes to the group. So the work they’ll be doing is known.

    1. Windchime*

      We do similar kinds of work. Many people on our team had a work from home day, and what we did was all switch over to Monday, and then we just don’t have standup on Monday. The rest of the week, we are all in the office and standup occurs as normal. It works really well for us.

  11. Ed*

    I’ve worked at several places where WFH was code for “I’ll be checking email occasionally” and probably won’t even be at home. A couple of guys even ran a side business at the same time. You would email them with an emergency and they would respond 3 hours later. And these were IT managers making six figures. The key to success is having a super strong staff that basically manages themselves.

    On a side note, I’m sure there are exceptions but I would be very leery of any of my direct reports running another business. Whether you’re consulting on the side or flipping real estate, it is almost impossible for it not to impact your performance. The business you’re consulting with probably operates the same hours we do and when they have an emergency involving you at 2 PM, we all know you’re going to respond. I’m not sure what makes someone with a 50-hour/week job think they can run another business at the same time. When one of them needs to suffer, I have a pretty good which one it will be.

  12. Ally*

    I find myself working more diligently from home because 1. I need to SHOW that I am actually working, and 2. the number of distractions are significantly reduced. A cat on my lap is much easier to work with than constant non work related office chatter.
    I also end up finishing my work by about 3pm.
    I second what everyone else has said. Respond to emails and phone calls RIGHT AWAY. Send your boss an email if you are going to be away from your computer/phone for a while – “Just to let you know, I’m stepping out to grab lunch, be back in 45 minutes”
    When I work from home and logged into my email, it shows everyone else that I’m on, so that helps too.

    1. Jamie*

      If you’re at home due to a child care issue you need to fully communicate the level of your availability and what you will and won’t be able to accomplish.

      If your kids are small enough to need constant supervision at home then you cannot possibly be as productive as you would be if you weren’t simultaneously providing child care. So just be honest about what you can and can’t do.

      1. Curious*

        I’m looking at it from a manager’s point of view actually. I struggle with this because I know some people use it so they don’t have to pay for child care. Generally I leave it up to employees to decide if they can handle taking care of their little ones and working, but then its a pain to have to go back when they are abusing it and aren’t responsive or aren’t meeting normal deadlines.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If you’re talking about small kids who need supervision, you should not allow people to use working from home as a substitute for child care (except in rare emergencies; not as an ongoing thing). They’re not going to be nearly as productive, and it’s going to cause major resentment among coworkers who pay for child care because they care about performing at a high level.

          Every telecommuting policy I’ve seen requires that separate child care arrangements be in place — I would seriously consider doing that.

        2. Jamie*

          If you leave it up to your employees some will opt to combine the two and save money and productivity will always suffer.

          Caring for children is something that takes time and attention – as does work. You can do both, but at least one of them will suffer.

          That’s why offices never try to increase productivity by handing people babies, or (God help them) toddlers. They won’t ever help you get more done.

          For regular work at home as a part of your job thing, parents need separate child care for their kids. Sure, for the random day where your sitter is sick, or even allowing to work p/t from home during maternity leave, fine…but you’re never going to get a full days work from anyone who are also charged with properly supervising tiny little people who need attention.

          1. KellyK*

            While it wouldn’t be great for productivity, my office could definitely increase my *morale* by handing me a baby. Or a dog.

          2. KellyK*

            I pretty much agree, although I think it can work if you have:

            1) Exempt employees who know that it will probably take them longer to produce the same quantity and quality of work, and who are willing to do that.


            2) Very clear performance expectations so it’s easy to tell if people are slipping, as well as the will and ability to discipline and fire people if they don’t perform.

            If someone’s willing to spend 12 hours to get 8 hours’ worth of work done so they can be home with their kids, and their work quality stays the same, I say let them do it. *But* I think the number of people who actually *can* do this is much smaller than the number of people who *think they can.*

          3. Rachel in Minneapolis*

            I actually brought my baby with me to work from birth to about eight months. I was a salaried halftime employee, so I have flexibility to come and go throughout the day as was helpful to my baby. I followed many of the recommendations on this website:

            Well I agree that in the short-term my hour by hour productivity was less, in the long-term the company definitely benefited from allowing me to work with my baby. I had already worked there for 10 years, was at the director level and continue to work there three years after baby. If I didn’t have that flexibility I would have quit. That said, it wouldn’t work for every person and every baby.

        3. KellyK*

          I think that would be a conversation you would want to have with them before the arrangement starts.

          Make clear what kind of response times you need from them and what you need them to accomplish. (Ideally, you would’ve communicated this already, but I would re-emphasize it.) If you’re not actually taking anything off their plate as far as responsibilities or deadlines, make sure that’s clear too.

          If what they really want is to have some responsibilities taken away so they can focus on parenting, then that becomes a whole ‘nother conversation about whether they’re part-time now and possibly changes in pay or benefits to go along with the reduced responsibilities.

          I would ask them if they have a plan for attending meetings or doing other functions that can’t be scheduled around their child’s needs. I’d also ask if they have a plan for getting done the same amount of work on days when the kiddo needs more attention than usual.

          Personally, I think working from home as a substitute for childcare means you’re unlikely to put in a full day’s work unless you’re also working in the evenings or on weekends while your spouse/partner watches the child. (So if it’s a job that *already* requires more than 40 hours a week, it may not work because there just aren’t enough hours in a day.)

          I also think that for most jobs, there would still be times you would have to pay for childcare, even if it’s just getting a baby-sitter during meetings or major crunches. But, there are some jobs where you need such a short response time or such high concentration and attention to detail that it’s just not feasible to do the job while watching a baby.

          I like the idea of letting them decide whether it’s something they can make work or not, but I think you need to start by detailing very clearly what you need from them, so they have all the info to make that decision with.

          1. Curious*

            While I completely agree, our policy does not explicitly state that child care needs to be arranged prior to working at home. No one is taking care of newborns, but they are young children in that you wouldn’t leave them home alone. In the past I’ve left it up to their judgement on how young is too young, but I don’t have a hard fast rule of XX age and older. To some extent, I feel that its an employees responsibility to know what they can tackle while working from home. As for knowing what’s expected of them, honestly I expect no less than what is expected if you were working in the office. If its work from home then its work, not PTO.

            This is where the follow up is a bit more of a pain. If I’m having an issue with staff, I address it right away, but if I can’t connect with them virtually it seems to be a bigger deal when they are back in the office. While it is my perspective, that work is work and if you can’t do your work from home then you need to be in the office (or take PTO), senior managers are open about the fact that they have to stay at home sometimes to watch their kids which is a whole different ball of wax.

            1. KellyK*

              To some extent, I feel that its an employees responsibility to know what they can tackle while working from home.

              I very much agree with this. It seems to me like treating employees like children when you make too many assumptions about what they can or can’t handle. Some people can’t work from home at all, because of the distractions, but that doesn’t mean *no one* should work from home—just that those specific people shouldn’t.

              As for knowing what’s expected of them, honestly I expect no less than what is expected if you were working in the office. If its work from home then its work, not PTO.

              That’s perfectly reasonable. I probably wasn’t 100% clear—what I meant was, are they clear on what’s expected *overall* whether they’re at home or at work?

              senior managers are open about the fact that they have to stay at home sometimes to watch their kids which is a whole different ball of wax.

              So, is the issue there that people who really *can’t* get their job done feel like they should be allowed to because senior managers are doing it?

              1. Curious*

                Its been coming up more and more lately, but historically it was a smaller issue. I usually like to address things one on one or with whomever the issue is with, but since its becoming broader, I think you are right, I should be spelling out more expectations for work at home.

                There are individuals who truly can’t work from home just because simply their duties are paper based with things that can’t leave the office. When that comes up we have to have the conversation of why they can’t work from home, but I’ve gotten pretty good with that. There are a number of people who see the senior team and feel like they should be able to follow their lead. Though, back you to your earlier point, if I spell out more of what’s expected while you’re working at home, then its less of “so & so gets to work from home” and instead focusing on if the individual can get done what needs to be from them to work from home.

            2. Rachel in Minneapolis*

              I’ve actually found newborn and very young children under a year to be easier to care for than any other age. They simply sleep a lot more, even if it is in short intervals.

              There is no way I could work from home now with my three and five-year-old. I can barely make it through a three sentence email without “Mom!”

  13. Greg*

    If you have kids who will be home while you are working, make sure they aren’t within earshot when you’re on a conference call. It’s not fair, but people will just assume that you’re watching them at the same time you’re supposed to be working. I had a boss once make that assumption even after I told him I knew for a fact that the employee had full-time childcare.

    1. KellyK*

      Good point. In the same vein, if your dog tends to snore, then avoid having conference calls in the same room as her. People will think you fell asleep during the meeting.

      1. Jamie*

        Yes on the dog thing. Also, if you walk into the bathroom to toss some tissue into the toilet DON’T FLUSH it until your call is over.

        Almost did this during a phone interview once. I pulled back from the silver handle of doom at the last possible second.

        1. CathVWXYNot?*

          And don’t let your cat purr loudly into the mic. Especially if (due to time zones) everyone else on the call is in their office, and you’re the only one sitting on your sofa in your PJs at 6 am.

          (Everyone started asking if everyone else was getting some kind of weird inteference on the line. I said “no” while shooing The Cat Whose Purr Was Heard Around The World away from the phone).

    2. Windchime*

      Yep. We used to have a project manager who would work at home, and you could hear her kids screaming in the background (she would occasionally break away from the phone to yell at them). She was eventually told that she could no longer work at home on a regular basis.

        1. Gjest*

          Yes, why don’t people use it more often? It is really annoying when on a conference call and you have all sorts of noise coming from someone’s location. Use the mute, people, sheesh. And also just make sure you are in a relatively quiet place, so that when you have to talk, I don’t have to hear your family discussing what you’re going to have for dinner.

  14. Pandora Amora*

    I worked from home for over 4 years. Now I manage 5 teams with ~5 people on each. One of the larger teams has 8 people; half of them are remote.

    In addition to being responsive to chats, not falling behind on email, you should consider having a permanent physical presence in the office. Each of my remote staff have an iPad in their home offices. I have an iPad and a MacBook; I can easily video call any of them, and we can use Google Hangouts to have a team meeting. When I just had 2 remote staff on that team I just had 2 iPads on my desk, with FaceTime on with them all the time. They could hear people asking me questions and jump in to help; they could hear each other talking to me, and jump in.

    Find what desktop sharing software is available for your operating system and investigate setting it up. Make it easy for your manager to “walk by” your desk and see you, or “peek over your shoulder” to see what you’re working on.

    Consider changing your lingo a little bit; you’re not “working from home”, you’re “working from your home office”. The former implies pajamas and streaming films; the latter implies you have a professional setup and demeanor.

    Consider purchasing an audio mixer on Amazon; these devices allow you to take the headphone outputs from several machines and combine them into one stream, which you can listen to over a single pair of headphones. This lets you listen to background music or podcasts from your phone while still hearing notifications from your computer. An audio mixer will run you about $100.

  15. Cassie*

    There’s been a little talk about letting staffers telecommute one day a week. No firm or semi-firm ideas yet, but it’s floating around. My suggestion would be for remote workers to use some sort of IM or chat. That way, people can essentially “drop by” to ask a question without having to pick up the phone and call.

    The only major issue is figuring out what technology to use. I use Gmail and so do a lot of my students/faculty, but most of the staff do not. Skype is also popular w/ students and faculty (I use it to talk to my boss when he’s traveling internationally), but again, staff don’t use it at all.

    There’s also this weird idea floating around my office that all the staff need to vote on whether to allow telecommuting or not. This is so bizarre to me – if Susie down the hall doesn’t want to telecommute (or would not be an ideal candidate to telecommute), why should that prevent superstar Alice from telecommuting? A general discussion with staff about piloting a program, yes. A vote? No…

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