how productive should you be on a day you’re working from home?

A reader writes:

With the northeast getting more snow this week and working my third Monday from home, I am curious to know your expectation of an employee who says she will “work from home.”

This is what I think: I am a salaried employee in a client service role. Anything I can do in the office I can do from home. The same goes for most of colleagues. When I tell/ask my manager for a “work from home” day, that means (to me) I am at my home computer for the same amount of time as if I were in the office. I am doing everything I would do in the office. I step away from my desk to switch laundry from washer to dryer or grab lunch in the kitchen but otherwise I am at my desk. If I work from home on a day that I have a doctor’s appointment, I would do the exact same thing except that I would put on the company calendar “Jane / work from home / unavailable 10-11:30 a.m.”

I am surprised when I hear/have heard ”Let’s meet up for a long walk with the kids tomorrow, I am working from home” or “I got a ton of errands done yesterday, I worked from home.” Last week a coworker said after a snow storm work from home day, “There wasn’t much going on at work, so I watched TV for a while.” Huh?

My belief is that telecommuting is not a replacement for childcare (unless you have a newborn who sleeps most of the day). If I plan to work from home and then one of my kids is sick and stays home from school, I tell my boss that I had planned a work from home day but now have a sick child at home and I might have to zip out for a doctor appointment or to the pharmacy.

As a manager, what is YOUR interpretation of “work from home”? In general, it shouldn’t and doesn’t make a difference to me what others do as long I am confident with what I produce on a work from home day. I just wonder if my indignation is misplaced. All of you in the northeast today, what does your work from home day look like?

Yep, I agree with you entirely. Working from home means that you’re doing the same amount of work that you’d do if you were in the office, just from a different location. It doesn’t mean “watch daytime TV and occasionally check work email.”

That said, there’s nothing wrong with doing laundry or running a quick errand on a day when you’re working from home. An entire afternoon of errands would be a problem, of course, but hitting the dry cleaners or the pharmacy isn’t a big deal, assuming you’re exempt and have some degree of control over your own time and assuming you’re a generally productive employee who gets a lot done overall.

In some companies, snow days can be a little different from other work-from-home days. Often the understanding there is that things will slow way down company-wide, but that people will keep the most important or time-sensitive work moving forward. In other companies, snow days have the same bar for productivity as any other day. It just depends on the office.

But yeah, if I found out that I had an employee who accomplished far less on days she worked from home than on days she was in the office, I’d (a) stop letting her work from home and (b) consider it a flag about work ethic in general.

{ 186 comments… read them below }

  1. SJP*

    I’m glad OP and Alison all feel the same as me, cause OP I hear that too and i’m literally shocked cause I do the same amount of work at home as I do in the office. Like you say, the odd small chore of putting washing on, hanging washing out, making something to eat etc is fine but to just go for walks, watch tv and other stuff. Holy Moley If I were a manager and found out they were basically not working, i’d be seriously annoyed and wouldn’t let that person work from home

    Good for you OP

    1. tesyaa*

      The time spent putting in the laundry is roughly equal to the time spent chatting with co-workers about non-work stuff, so it’s a wash to me.

      1. SJP*

        Right! Exactly so it’s acceptable but to just disappear for a walk when a co-worker could be trying to contact you with time sensitive info doesn’t sit right with me

        1. SJP*

          Thing is my brother in law works from home regularly and goes off and does a run or a walk or whatever but the exception is that he works with a lot of US clients and he is based in the UK and has to work very late into the evening to have calls and such with them due to the time difference, so his boss is ok with him taking the dog for a walk or a run for an hour if he knows he’s going to be working a lot later in the evening.
          That is fair enough but to just shrug off work to do some social activity or look after your kids is not the definition of working from home

          1. Connie-Lynne*

            Yep, I WFH when I’m going to be having meetings with Bulgaria or Dublin, definitely. It means I can get up early and have a 6am meeting with them, then take a nap later in the day, or just knock off early.

            In fact, I try to schedule my Europe and Australia meetings on the same day, so that I do Europe in the morning, nap, work, and finish out the night with Australia!

        2. Sunshine DC*

          I love to work from home especially on a day that primarily involves a lot of phone calls with constituents or conference calls, or drafting papers for something. I bring my necessary files and mobile wi-fi enabled laptop with me to the beautiful park in my area and set up shop at a picnic table with a beautiful view. There’s rarely anyone there and can be much quieter than home, as the trees, etc., help muffle the city sounds beyond. I find these to be very productive days – AND I enjoy fresh air and the walks in the park. A smartphone insures there are no gaps in anyone’s accessibility to me and I have every possible document, email server, etc. at my immediate disposal.

      2. INTP*

        Agree. You might even be able to run some errands in a reasonable amount of time, especially if you are working while you’d normally be commuting so your day is longer. The important thing is to match your usual productivity which you may be able to do while also taking advantage of access to errands and laundry rooms at less crowded times, depending on your job of course.

      3. Anonsie*

        Yeah, when I work from home I budget the same amount of time to breaks there as I would when I was at work.

        Just when you’re at home, what you can do on a break can seem a lot more indulgent. I’ve taken my dog for a walk on my lunch break, for example, but it’s the same amount of time as if I had gone to the kitchen to eat lunch in my office building. At the same time, I think “what if someone saw me walking my dog and assumed I was not working at all today?” which makes me nervous about the running errands/lunch with friends/whatever outside the house activity you could fit into that break time.

    2. Sascha*

      I have a coworker right now who works on site full time, and he spends his days taking walks, watching TV, and generally not working. :) (It’s been addressed, but my workplace is such that he’ll never get fired.)

  2. Marzipan*

    My employer’s homeworking policy specifically states that you shouldn’t be solely responsible for a child or other dependent while working from home.

    1. tesyaa*

      I think this is true for any regular WFH arrangement, but on a day such as a snow day there is slightly more slack. Even so, if the snow is bad enough that the kids are home but the roads are not so bad that I can’t pick up the babysitter, I’ll pick up the babysitter every time.

      1. Marzipan*

        Yeah, it basically never snows here so that’s rarely a problem! Although I just looked, and we do have a policy for that, too…

    2. BRR*

      I hear people say, “I want to work from home so I can see my kids more.” I have a wonderful colleague who means it in she has a long commute and this would give her more time. I have another colleague who thinks it means she can skip any additional child care for her toddler. There’s obviously a difference.

      I’m mostly surprised that the OP sits at their desk. I take the opportunity to work from the couch or in bed :).

      1. Chinook*

        “I’m mostly surprised that the OP sits at their desk. I take the opportunity to work from the couch or in bed :).”

        I find that I have to work at a table (I don’t have a desk) otherwise I am not as productive at home. Plus, the animals seem to figure out that they can’t get me to play if I am at a table (I also ignore them when I eat there) but the cat would be pawing at me if I was on the couch.

        That’s not to say I don’t have the tv on while I am working, but I was also the class valedictorian who did her homework in front of the tv, so I know that it doesn’t affect my concentration. And I do take the dog for walks when I WFH but I also have my phone on me and they are relatively short.

        1. BRR*

          I imagine we all have different work at home rituals based on our jobs, working styles, and home conditions. I would find it interesting to hear what everybody does but that would derail the thread (although last time I derailed it revealed Alison’s internet dating advice). The key thing is to remain connected and productive.

          1. Hermoine Granger*

            Internet dating advice that came about from a work from home discussion? I’m curious, do you happen to have a link to this blog post / comment?

            1. BRR*

              It was yesterday’s post about messaging a spouse’s coworker telling them to stay away. I had casually mentioned that I would enjoy a dating advice blog from Alison which she had actually previously done and she posted something from it.

        2. the gold digger*

          I work either at the kitchen table or in my bed. Either way, the cats find me and are super excited to have someone to hang out with during the day. They usually stay off my work computer keyboard. Usually.

            1. AvonLady Barksdale*

              OMG, yes. My dog was super annoying when I worked from home regularly. I’ve been home for three days this week and he will not stop whining. There are only so many bully sticks in the house.

            2. Hlyssande*

              I know my cat thinks that’s the BEST time to be in my lap on the nice big ergo keyboard I plug into the itty bitty spare laptop I bring home form the office.

          1. Anonathon*

            Heh. I’m actually convinced that the pets have mixed feelings about our WFH days. On the one hand (paw?), they want the extra attention. On the other, they enjoy having the run of the place and taking long naps in total silence.

        3. Office Girl*

          I actually find I work BETTER with the TV on. Is that weird? To be honest I think I have a mild attention problem, and so just sitting at work and only working is hard for me…but if I can have a TV show or radio program in the background, I can work for 3 or 4 straight hours without stopping once. It’s like if my brain has something else to work on in the background, it can focus better on the main activity. Just wish that this kind of stuff could be more mainstream…I swear I’d be more productive if I could watch TV on my work computer all day!

          1. Anonsie*

            I’m the same way. I often turn on nature documentaries with a really low volume because the nature sounds and low, soothing announcer voices make a really good background noise. I did this when studying as a student, I guess that’s what started the habit. Now I do it if I’m telecommuting too.

            I’m also one of those people who can’t sleep in the quiet and has to turn on a fan or a recording of rain or something, so I guess it’s a Thing.

          2. TrainerGirl*

            I’ve found that podcasts are great when I’m building courses. There are a lot of repetitive tasks involved, so having something to listen to for an hour or two helps me to zone in and be more productive.

          3. Three Thousand*

            I’m the same way to some extent. And listening to music doesn’t work; it has to be a TV show or podcast or something with people talking. I think it tells my brain that there are other people in the room going about some business that doesn’t involve me, so it’s time for me to do my own work. This works really well with repetitive, mind-numbing tasks, but for tasks that require active thought I prefer quiet.

        4. HR Pro*

          I have to sit at a desk or table when I work from home. If I sit on the couch (my preferred at-home location on the weekends), my back starts screaming at me after a few hours. It’s like I can handle 2 weekend days on the couch, but not 2 weekend days plus a weekday.

        5. BeenThere*

          I did all my homework (including my thesis) in front of the TV too!!!!!! You are the first person I met who does this! I also switch on the TV when I WFH and even in the office I put the headphones on and have various TV shows/movies playing in the background it works better than music sometimes.

          I actually throw on a pot of red beans or stock when I WFH as well nothing like leaving something to simmer at low temperature all day. Sometimes I wish I had a house so I could barbeque.

      2. Jane Elliot*

        Maybe it’s just me, but if I worked from home, I would go *crazy* watching a child and attempting to work.

        Children require time. Jobs require time.

        I also worked professionally as a nanny for quite awhile, and I can tell you that childcare is a full time job, if you’re doing it correctly.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      My boss is fine with me working from home while my child is home sick from school. However, my child is old enough to be left alone, so she can fix herself lunch, clean up after herself, do her own chores, and entertain herself. Most of the time she just has a low-grade fever, but the school policy is that she’s not allowed back until she’s been fever-free for 24 hours. If she were exploding out of both ends I would probably either take PTO or put in 4 hours intermittently, but that’s rarely happened since she was a toddler.

    4. kelsey*

      I feel like there should be a little flexibility – if you have a 13 year old kid, for example, who stays home for snow or a sick day, they don’t need a lot of supervision and you can effectively work from home. A mobile toddler, not so much.

  3. Lisa*

    I always felt that WFH days are a great way to accomplish things that are easy to do, and won’t suffer if you are not set up the same way as the office. I have dual monitors at work, but not at home. Reports are great WFH activities, research projects, studying for a work-related exam that is a requirement for us – but no one ever gets too studying at the office cause of actual work to do.

    I tend to pick monotonous tasks for WHF days that take a chunk of time that I never can devote to or get my mind around with being interrupted with meetings and calls constantly.

    1. Soharaz*

      I get a WAH day every week and I make sure to prioritise my schedule so that work that doesn’t require an office setup is scheduled for my WAH day. It’s so nice to brainstorm new ideas at home where I’m alone and uninterrupted (especially since that tends to involve lots of diagrams and people look askance at my colour coded diagrams like I’m doodling on company time).

      1. Not a rocket scientist*

        During my very very brief time working in aerospace, new employees were issued an eight-color highlighter set on our first day, along with company laptop, lab notebook, badge, etc. I can’t imagine doing any kind of work without color-coded everything!

    2. Connie-Lynne*

      Yep! Not gonna lie, I often have the TV on as company when I’m working from home, as long as I don’t have to do something numbers or code related. It helps boring, rote tasks go faster.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I do it because it’s much quieter at home and if I don’t have some background noise to ignore, I’m likely to fall asleep!

        Most of the work I do can be done from home, but there are certain tasks I prefer to do at the office. My internet is much slower and I like to be where customers can call me if they can’t get a document easily. I’ve had to call them on my cell before from home (weather-related WFH) and it was a pain.

        1. Connie-Lynne*

          Yes! In my office, we have a fairly noisy sales team and nobody wants to sit near them. I totally requested to sit in that zone because I prefer a hum of activity in the background. For WFH days, the Octonauts and Chuggington provide that background hum.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Unfortunately, sometimes the team around me (it’s not mine) gets pretty loud. I have noise-reduction headphones and I usually listen to music but it doesn’t drown out loud talking very well. Most of my team travels or is working from home themselves; they’re not in the office much. At least I can control the volume on the TV!

      2. NinaK*

        Hi Connie-Lynne,

        OP here …having the TV on in the background or nearby is one thing and I get it. But walking away from work entirely to plop in front of the TV is surprising! Everyone at my office has things they can do on work from home days. Cleaning up emails, brainstorming new ideas, getting to long-awaited projects etc. It really isn’t hard to keep busy, especially when we all need approximately 1-2 hours/day to shovel or snow blow (which in my book is a legit work diversion in the Boston area.)

        1. Anon for today*

          I’m in Boston, too, and I think I’ve been to the office ONCE since mid-January. I have the option of working from home or going in to the office, so I work from home a few days each week, but lately I haven’t been able to GET to the office. I’m getting less and less productive and less able to concentrate at home, and that is NOT my work ethic – I can hardly stand it. I had an awful commute to the doctor’s office yesterday (ended up walking from JP to Fenway, for those who know the area), which doesn’t make me want to try the two buses or two trains I’d need to get to the office. But I’m really getting cabin fever and need to be in the office. I’ve created a deadline for myself (of tomorrow) for a project I’ve been NOT doing. I know I’ll feel better once I get that done. I also decided to take all of my work stuff to the neighborhood coffee shop in the hopes that it will help me be more productive.

    3. Sascha*

      I actually save my more intensive tasks for working at home, because so many people drop by my office during the day to ask me questions! I get interrupted way more at the office, so I’ll save the boring, easy tasks for my on site days.

      1. JC*

        Me too! Working from home for me is prime writing and concentration time, and was even moreso when I worked in a noisy cubicle. Sometimes if I happen to be working from home when I have more mindless work to do (like coding) I will keep the TV on, but I definitely prefer doing deep-thinking tasks on telework days. If I bring work home to do on evenings/weekends, though, than I prefer to bring home the more mindless stuff that I can do in front of the TV.

        1. Vanishing Girl*

          I’ve been working at home all week due to ice, and am getting so much more done. I work in a very loud cubicle area that even headphones and loud music can’t block out. I am really enjoying the work day and find myself much more happy and productive.

          That said, my work can all be done online and it requires deep concentration. Does anyone know if there’s been a post here on how to ask for a regular couple-days-a-week work from home arrangement with your boss?

    4. Ama*

      I do a lot of writing in my job, so if I have a hunch that a WFH day might be coming, I prioritize non-writing tasks for a few days while I’m in the office so I can do as much writing as possible at home where I don’t have as many coworker interruptions.

    5. Anonsie*

      I tend to pick monotonous tasks for WHF days that take a chunk of time that I never can devote to or get my mind around with being interrupted with meetings and calls constantly.

      This EXACTLY. I request WFH days when I have a big task like this, I can get the same project done in a fraction of the time. I try to cut out all the distractions at work (closing email and sending phone straight to voicemail and all that) and I’ve even gone and hid in focus rooms away from my desk, but somehow people always manage to find me or come up with new and creative ways to demand my attention periodically.

  4. Helka*

    I think a good thing to keep in mind with WFH is that work may not be accomplished in more or less unbroken 8-hour block the way you would at the office. From your description, it sounds like that’s pretty much what you do when you’re working from home — but for example, when you say

    If I plan to work from home and then one of my kids is sick and stays home from school, I tell my boss that I had planned a work from home day but now have a sick child at home and I might have to zip out for a doctor appointment or to the pharmacy.

    I feel like that's still an entirely valid WFH day — okay, so you make a ~30-min pharmacy run, so work another 30 minutes at some other point in the day. Ditto the doctor's appointment. If your sick child is the kind who needs constant attention (a young child who is vomiting often, for example) then yeah, you're not working. But if it's a case where your kid is mostly going to be quiet in bed and might occasionally need food or drinks brought to them, that shouldn't interrupt the amount of work you get done.

    Same thing with childcare in general. Some children, due to whatever combination of age and temperament, need near-constant supervision — you can't get any good work done in that case. But other children will mostly entertain themselves and just need an adult in the house, not necessarily watching them every minute. In that case, no reason not to work.

    1. Labratnomore*

      This is true. When my wife works from home she gets usually gets some housework done, but her work day covers more hours that when she is at work. She gets up at her normal time, so she starts work an hour early since she has no commute. Then often she will work until her normal arrive at home time, adding an extra hour on at the end of the day too.

      1. Sparrow*

        Same here. Cutting out the commute helps me get an earlier start. I usually leave work around 5, but if I’m at home I’ll start dinner around that time. I keep my laptop nearby so I can keep an eye out for emails or IMs that need to be addressed urgently.

        1. jmkenrick*

          I agree. And saying “I got a ton of chores done yesterday” might be relative – without a commute (or, frankly, having to put on work clothes), I get more done than I would on a normal workday.

      2. LMW*

        I do that too…and I like it because I actually can take a break (even go for a long walk) because I’m actively working the same number of hours in a day, and often more. I just get to break it up more, which suits the way I work.

      3. Kathryn*

        This is how I WFH – I start earlier and end later, but the day is less dense with work. Same amount of productivity, but I usually actually remember to take lunch (which I forget at the office) and will take more breaks through the day to do things, including walks and short errands.

        I also WFH due to a chronic illness and those days are also spread out more so I can take care of myself. Again, same amount of productivity and reachability, but spread over 12 hours instead of 8 or 10.

        Though admittedly, my work has a culture of taking walks for meetings anyway. (Not large numbers of people kinds of meetings, but the “we should talk over X, want to take a little walk?” kinds of meetings.)

    2. Olive Hornby*

      Same here. Also, I’m not sure why this solution wouldn’t work for non-exempt employees, provided they’re not required to be immediately available and aren’t logging hours spent doing laundry/talking a walk/etc.

    3. Anonsie*

      Agreed about the flexing time. I mean, that’s how it would work if you were in the office that day, wouldn’t it? If you took a long lunch for an errand or something, you’d just stay later to cover it. Same for home. Of course, assuming you have a job where that’s ok overall. It doesn’t really work with my job since availability is a big part of it, unfortunately.

  5. Tenn*

    I think there do need to be some sort of company guidelines about this, though I’m not sure whether it’s worth putting in writing. Because it’s incredibly frustrating on snow days to see there are one or two people on the team who clearly basically just drop out and do not produce (I work in a field where it’s almost akin to being a reporter with a byline — it’s very noticeable what we as individuals on the team do and do not produce on a daily basis). It’s apparently a free day to them. And the kicker is it’s 99 percent a job that could be done anywhere — it’s not at all dependent on location.

    1. Judy*

      Are you in a position to know if they took a vacation day? On Monday, we had a pretty bad snow day, most of the daycares were closed. I exchanged texts with my manager that I would be taking a vacation day. Several people mentioned on Tuesday that I hadn’t responded to X email.

      If there is day where school is out, and the roads are so poor that the local universities are closed and the major manufacturers are closed, I’ll take a vacation day. The days school is out mostly due to the rural bus routes, I take the kids to a “snow day camp”.

      1. Sparrow*

        When taking a vacation day, it would be beneficial to set an out of office reply for email and/or voice mail. That way co-workers would know whether or not to expect a response. However, that is assuming you have access to do that from home.

  6. Sascha*

    I work from home 3 days a week (in Texas) and this is my interpretation of it. I will do a few quick things around the house, maybe chat with my husband for a few minutes, but the way I see it, this is no more than what I, and other coworkers, do in the office – you spend 5 minutes here and there chatting with coworkers, getting coffee, etc. I wouldn’t use telecommuting as a substitute for child care – in fact I’m about to have a baby and I’ve arranged for care for the entire week. If I had more flexibility in my schedule, as in not having to be online from 8am-5pm every day, I’d probably not need the child care…but I would still make sure I put in my 8 hours, however that worked out.

    On our rare Icepocalypse days, my director has told us we are not required to work an entire day like we normally would, since the rest of the university is closed, but I will check for emergencies.

  7. Ann O'Nemity*

    Honestly, I think that WFH means putting in at least the same number of hours. If I’m trying to squeeze in chores or errands, then I need to make up that time by working late.

    Or, I can work the same schedule and do zero chores or errands, which I actually prefer. My husband didn’t get that at first. He’d ask, “You were home all day. Why didn’t you load the dishwasher? Why didn’t you do a load of laundry? You could have picked up the dry cleaning.” I had to explain to him that the location didn’t matter; I was getting paid to work for my company, not to do housework.

    1. Sadsack*

      There are days when I have worked from home and been so busy that I didn’t take any such breaks. Then there are times when I have taken a few minutes to throw in a load of laundry. This takes the same amount of time as it does to run to the cafeteria to grab a cup of coffee or a snack. I wouldn’t plan on doing a week’s worth of laundry and other chores while I am working from home, but I would not count it against anyone if they did one or two things during the course of an 8-hour day.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Same here. I can’t obviously predict if something is going to break and require me to WFH to let in service personnel, for example, but I can continue working while they’re doing their thing.

      2. Windchime*

        I actually do a weeks’ worth of laundry on my work at home day. I sort it all out before hand, and then just start rotating it through. Every hour or so, it’s time to move clothes from one machine to another and throw in a new load. It takes literally 2 minutes to do, and all my laundry is clean at the end of the day.

    2. INTP*

      I don’t like doing house chores while I’m trying to work from home (I find that I’ll procrastinate things that are mentally challenging with easier tasks like washing dishes) but I do find that it’s helpful for getting in things that are difficult to do with rush hour crowds. From a work standpoint I’d rather just do my work in an 8 hour run but if it saves me a LOT of time to go to the grocery store, pharmacy, do laundry in the communal laundry room with 2 washers for the whole building, etc during the day when none of those things are crowded, I’ll deal and work a little later.

  8. B*

    I am the same way (hello fellow northeasterner – holy cold!!). If it is a work from home day I will try to be just as productive but that also means I rely on colleagues to be the same. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. However, I do love that I can be in my pj’s on my couch with my laptop while laundry is in, soup/chili is cooking on the stove, and instead of lunch I hit the gym. Official snow days does slow everything down and we are not expected to be working the same amount of time. That part, thought, is knowing your office culture.

      1. B*

        Not at all, layers and layers and layers, space heaters, and still…cold :(. Tomorrow is going to be even worse.

      2. Jeanne*

        I’ve figured out a sort of solution. I’ve been in the hospital for a week and I’m ignoring the cold and snow.

  9. Sadsack*

    Does OP know with certainty that the people who make comments about doing other things when they are working from home aren’t taking these long breaks in between longer hours than they would be in the office? Maybe after the long walk with the kids from 1-2pm, the person ended up working until 6pm when he would normally be finished working at 5pm.

    1. Cat*

      I think this is true but I also think it’s a legitimate thing for a company to say isn’t okay – there’s value in having people available at certain hours and, moreover, in knowing what those hours are in advance. We’ve had problems in the past when employees have worked at home at essentially random hours and they ended up undependable as a result (even though the arrangement was working great from their perspective because they didn’t see how they had become a limiting factor for people in the office).

      1. Sadsack*

        I agree – required availability to answer calls and crisis emails is something to take into consideration. Depends on the job, I guess. You have to do what is required of you. My only point was, OP might want to consider that people have different work requirements and arrangements.

        1. NinaK*

          OP here, I totally agree. There could be more going on I know about it. I just find it odd that a coworker would say …’there wasn’t much going on at work (meaning no urgent emails, things to do etc.) so I watched TV for a while.’ (Also, if she did watch TV, why tell me?)In general, it doesn’t matter to me what others do. The reason I broached the question with Alison and her amazing groupies is that I know other people do it differently than I do and I wondered if there is a standard definition.

      2. LBK*

        I think this depends a lot on your position. I can’t think of anything in my current role that would be such a time-sensitive emergency that it couldn’t wait for an hour.

        1. Cat*

          Most of the time, it’s not an emergency – it’s that our work is really collaborative and if someone is regularly working at home at unpredictable hours, it makes it difficult to figure out how to get that collaboration done. But yes, certainly this depends on the job. I think the work-at-home specific part, though, is that it’s often pretty invisible to the work-at-home person who doesn’t see how this is making life more difficult for people in the office, so it’s something that often needs to be explicitly addressed instead of left to be figured out by osmosis.

    2. soitgoes*

      I just commented with a similar thought. If I’m not chained to my desk all day, I wouldn’t see a problem completing my work in two-hour batches that were spread throughout the day.

      1. HarryV*

        That is actually a problem if your team does work set hours and they don’t find you available when they need you. I WFH full time and lead virtual teams. I have fired employees who did not respond to my emails and did not return my v/m.

  10. soitgoes*

    There are so many variables at play here. I agree with OP and Alison that working from home isn’t an excuse to save money on childcare or to hit up Target while it’s not crowded, but I think OP’s personal situation might be somewhat unique in that her job is 100% transferable to a home shift. For a lot of us, we can easily find 8 hours worth of work to do, but it’s not time sensitive. Unless I was explicitly told not to, I wouldn’t think much of taking as many breaks as I wanted and leaving my home as long as I spent a total of 8 hours answering emails and doing data entry (the things I would be doing from home). So while it’s absolutely imperative to make sure you’re actually getting the work done, I think there’s room for accepting that other people might be getting the work done even if it doesn’t look like they are.

    That said, I do think a lot of people take advantage of work-at-home days, so your mileage may vary with this.

    1. LBK*

      This is exactly my feeling. I compact my 8 hours when I’m working in the office so that I can leave at 5 instead of staying until 8 or 9, but if I’m at home already anyway, I don’t see the problem with taking an hour to watch a TV show during the day while you’re WFH as long as it doesn’t impact your productivity overall. On days I do WFH, I usually end up continuing to check emails and such until at least 7, so IMO it works out even if I spent an hour scrubbing the bathroom and watching the latest Broad City.

  11. Connie-Lynne*

    I’ve managed remote teams specifically for the last eight years, five of them working from home myself, and before that I had several one-shot employees WFH for quite a while. I absolutely believe that one should be just as productive working from home as working in the office.

    It’s painfully obvious when an employee regularly takes a slack approach to working from home. I know that we all have up and down days, so if someone is a full-time WFH employee, I don’t worry about the occasional here-and-there less productive day. After all, that would happen in a regular office, too. When I see a pattern, though, I do have a talk with the employee and find out what’s going on.

    I’ve only had to do this with two employees over the years. One was during training, and I had to put him on a very tight schedule of check-in and verification, which he failed, and I let him go (he was also insubordinate to me and another senior developer; such a prize!). The other turned out to be having personal problems, and I was able to offer him time off coupled with a reduction in workload.

    Part of this is setting expectations in the beginning — I do make it clear that “watching the kids” doesn’t count as “WFH.” I’d rather my staff just take a day off if that’s the case (we have no-limit vacation). If it’s more of “I need to get some personal things done in the daytime so I’ll be less available than usual, but still getting work stuff done,” then, no problem.

    As Alison says, if your workplace has a culture of expecting that WFH days, or snow days, will be less productive than standard workdays, then the comments the OP has overheard are not out of line. But if your workplace culture supports frequent WFH, that’s unlikely to be the case.

    1. Ed*

      I had a job like this where all of my 50+ co-workers were spread across the country either working from home or at a customer site. I worked there several years and never met my manager or co-workers the entire time. Working at the office was pretty much the same as at home because we had no manager onsite. It was surprisingly easy to tell who was slacking off. It was an intense job and required long hours and great communication skills. People who were never around or didn’t respond to tickets when on-call (so they repeatedly failed over to the backup) were let go very quickly.

      On the flipside, the job before that one wouldn’t let anyone work from home at all. Only managers were allowed to work from home and it was common knowledge that it basically meant check your phone often for emails. With that in mind, I guess it is understandable why the grunts couldn’t work from home:)

      I also worked at a company with a pretty liberal WFH policy and they were (often unknowingly) taken advantage of by some employees. I was shocked to find out a few of the people on my team were spending a good portion of their day flipping houses on the side! I think these people want to have their cake and eat it too. They have a steady job with benefits (where they likely give minimal time/effort) that allows them to chase their dreams of riches. IMHO, it is very difficult to have a second job of any kind when you have a demanding primary job.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        Ha, yeah, Ed — one place where I managed a remote team was based in a virtual world, so I never met my team face-to-face even during interviews!

        I finally met one team member at a coworker dinner, but didn’t realize it was him until he said something while I wasn’t facing his direction, at which point I recognized his voice and said “Oh, you’re _that_ Jehosephat! How nice to meet you in person!”

  12. Anon for this*

    My take is, if I work from home, I’m starting work an hour earlier than I would if I were in the office, and I can work for an hour later than the normal end of my day. Say on a normal day I leave my house at 7:55 and get to the office at 8:50, spend ten minutes getting coffee and booting up my computer. I leave work at 6, and never make plans for any earlier than 7:30 in the evening because the commute home can vary from anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. If I work from home, I start working at 8, and know my spouse won’t expect me to be free for dinner or going out until after 7. I feel like that gives me leave to take an extra hour at lunch to run some errands, or go to the gym, or visit with a friend who generally can’t make social plans outside my work hours. I get the same amount of work done, and the same number of butt in chair hours, but I might work from, say 8-11, then 1-4, then 6-8 instead of 9-12 and 1-6. I’m exempt and my office doesn’t use timesheets, and of course, I make sure I’m home for scheduled calls and meetings with my coworkers.

    1. Juni*

      Definitely the same here. If I don’t have to commute, I’m ready to start working at 7:30-8:00am or earlier, when I’d normally show up in the office at 9:00. I usually end up working longer hours when I’m working from home.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yep. I try to get as much done, hours and productivity, as when I’m in the office – but in general nothing depends on my high availability.

        I forward the office phone to my cell phone, and leave it that way on any breaks, so if there _is_ an emergency while I’m taking a long lunch break, I can be reached anyway. (I don’t think that’s ever been needed, though.)

  13. jhhj*

    Let’s say I work from home — I can get a pile of errands done on a slightly off-timed lunch hour, or I can start a bit earlier/end a bit later (no commute) and take a nice walk on another off-timed lunch hour.

    Sometimes there isn’t much going on at work — if you’re at work, you dick around online, if you’re at home, you watch tv.

    Nothing people described there necessitates they get less work done while working from home, even if the way they work at home is different from how you work from home.

    1. ali*

      exactly this. I do all those things on my WFH days (which are 3-4 days a week, all week this week due to weather) and I still manage to actually be more productive than when I’m physically in the office. And I do most of it from the couch with my laptop and my dog snuggled up next to me. I’m in no way a lazy worker or have poor work ethic. What I am is a happy, comfortable, extremely productive worker.

      Things that help: my boss is also remote, as is the only other person in my department. we’ve figured out a way to make our schedules mesh really well. With a larger team and office-based it might not work so well. Also, if I am going to be out and about during “regular business hours”, I’ll check my email on my phone and sign-in to Lync. While I can’t actually do my work from my phone, if I’m out and made aware of something super urgent, then I’m aware of it and can head home. But quite honestly, that has never happened. There is nothing in my job urgent enough to necessitate me being able to do something at exactly that minute.

  14. Scott*

    In my current job I get to work from home 2-3 days a week and I’ve been completely up-front with my boss about how I spend the time. I work from 7-noon or so, then go hiking or on a bike ride or to the gym (I live in a fantastic year-round climate) from noon-2 or sometimes even 3, then work again from 3-7. I win because I get to enjoy the good weather and dont’ feel “trapped” indoors working when it’s so nice out. My boss wins because I always get my assignments done on time and then some. Yes, I will take 5 minute breaks to go make a cup of coffee or let the dog out, but I take the same breaks at the office (except for the dog part).

  15. Aunt Vixen*

    When I work from home I commit to being available for the same amount of time as I would have been available in the office, but not necessarily all in a row. On snow days, this is no problem; I log on at my normal start time and work through until my normal quit time with the same sorts of breaks as I’d have had in the office (lunch, get up and stretch my legs, fetch some coffee – if I happen to turn over the laundry or sign for a package in such a five-minute span, great). I’m likely to have the TV on in the background in much the same way people often have the radio on in their offices; I concentrate better when there’s something I have to actively tune out than I do in tomblike silence.

    But I’m also fortunate (now) to be able to work from home if I’m sick enough that everyone would prefer I not be sharing with a crowd, but not so sick that I have to shut myself down for the whole day. In that case I can break my work into smaller chunks and have a short nap when I get worn out, and it may take me 10.5 hours to do 8 hours’ worth of work – which I will note on my time sheet as 8. Everyone wins.

  16. Labratnomore*

    It is those ones that have the poor work ethic that cause some managers to think alloeing employees to work from home is a bad idea.
    I had a friend who started to work from home. After a while she thought her workload had increased because she just couldn’t get everything done during the day anymore. She was taking a few minutes here and there to do personal tasks but didn’t think they were any more than the breaks she took at work. Then someone suggested she track how she was spending her work time for a week. It turned out that the little breaks she took to do household chores were not as little as she thought, and that she was actually spending hours on non-work stuff. She had to ban herself from doing most of those things on a regular basis and with the increased productivity she realized that her workload was the same as always. Some people have a hard time working from home because they have so much to do there as well, but others are great at ensuring they do a full day’s work from home. That is really the thing that managers have to watch when they let someone work from home. I think most people who work from home regularly know how to do it well, but the few slackers give many managers the impression that it’s a bad idea to allow it for their employees.

    1. Serin*

      Well, people who have a poor work ethic won’t be getting a whole lot done in the office, either. Conversations and Facebook and texting and a quick walk down the block to pick up some Starbucks …

    2. Bonnie*

      This is why I don’t like working from home unless it is a project that requires concentration over a long period of time. When I’m home I have trouble not doing the things that need done at home. It’s possible that if I worked from home every day I would get use to ignoring ignoring those during work hours but otherwise I’m not good at setting those work/home boundaries.

  17. Apollo Warbucks*

    When I work from home I tend have a bit more flexibility in my day I’ll start or finish at the different times of the day compared to when I am in the office or go and run some errands during a 2 hour lunch break and the last time I worked from home my boss called and woke me up from a nap I was taking on the sofa.

    But I’ll always work my hours for the day (or more often than not more than my hours for the day) normally when I’m working at home its to complete work that I’ve been putting of or need to be away from the distractions of the office to concentrate on. So I’d look stupid if I didn’t have much to show for a days work.

    Flexibility is great, but abusing the benefit of working form home to take an extra days unofficial PTO isn’t right.

  18. Cat*

    That particular treatment of work from home drives me as crazy as it does the OP, but I want to put in a plug for the reasons to treat snow days differently. In addition to kids being off school, there are other factors — power outages, people needing to shovel their sidewalk–that can interfere with productivity. And it also means that people who normally would never work from home because they’re not set up for it or know they are terrible at it are put in the position of working from home. And it means people whose projects are connected to the work of people in one of the first groups may be thrown off because they’re not getting fed the work they need from them. So I think it’s not necessarily reasonable to expect operations to seamlessly shift to home on a snow day even if it is technically possible. That’s really different than what you have the right to expect from someone with a regular or semi-regular work-at-home arrangement.

    1. Stephanie*

      Yup, this. I know I wouldn’t be great working from home–no dedicated work space, always lived with roommates or family–so I’d almost opt to take a vacation day. I wouldn’t really expect them to be at 100% productivity if they did WFH like once every two years.

    2. cuppa*

      I once was basically a one-person department, and a lot of my work was really office-dependent when the rest of the office wasn’t. It would be weird to have a WFH day when all I could do was basically answer e-mail when the rest of the staff was more or less doing all of their normal tasks (I think they sometimes forgot about me). I didn’t have much PTO, so I was always hesitant to take a vacation day if I didn’t have to. I never put my safety in jeopardy, but there were a few times when I would go in on a snow day a few hours late when the roads were better just so I could get things done.

    3. SnowDay*

      Yeah, I had this problem on our snow day a few weeks ago. I agree that a snow day is a very different situation from regularly WFH. I haven’t worked from home before and discovered why it would be a bad idea. I have to pull large reports that normally take anywhere from 10 minutes to 1.5 hours to run, depending on the report. And they take 7-8 times longer to run off-site. I spent the entire day trying to run reports and many of them timed out. So I did basically no work except respond to emails, do things I can do online (using several web interfaces/applications we have), and a few other things I normally don’t do in the office. That was not my choice. I’d much rather have gone to the office and done the usual amount of work.

      I did also have to shovel my driveway which took nearly 2 hours! And then our entire subdivision was covered in like 2 feet of snow, so there was no getting out of our driveway. We also pushed 2 or 3 people who got stuck near us. They finally plowed it at 7 PM.

    4. Elsajeni*

      I’d also add that snow days (and other weather closures) can happen without much warning, which also makes working from home tough — if I had a day’s warning, I could probably round up enough work to keep me busy at home for one day, but if bad weather hit unexpectedly or lasted for longer than expected, I’d be limited to working on whatever I happened to have in my email, and I’d run out of stuff that could be done at home pretty quickly.

  19. DrPepper Addict*

    I think if a full time employee works 8 hours, the law says that not only do they get an hour for lunch, they also get two, 15-minute breaks in addition to their lunch. At least that is the way it has been explained to me working in Tennessee.

    All that to say, don’t feel guilty for running a quick errand like she said. Just count it as one of your breaks.

    1. LBK*

      This varies by state and it’s generally not applied to exempt employees (although I’m not sure if that’s by law or just by convention, since part of the understanding of exemption is that you get to manage your own time).

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      My state doesn’t have any law requiring employers to offer breaks, paid or unpaid. To stay competitive, most employers will offer some sort of unpaid lunch break, but it’s not required.

    3. fposte*

      That doesn’t seem to be Tennessee law, either; I’m seeing 30 minutes for lunch (I don’t think any state requires a full hour for lunch) and no additional break requirement. And, of course, that’s only for non-exempt employees–and Tennessee allows employees to waive their lunch breaks.

    4. Chloe Silverado*

      This may not be state law, but I think these are pretty common lunch/break rules for employers. I know the two companies I’ve worked for (both in Florida, although one was headquartered in another state) both had that exact verbiage about getting an hour for lunch and two 15 minute breaks in their employee handbooks.

  20. Stephanie*

    I will say I was less productive on WFH days, but this was because I wasn’t really set up to WFH. I only worked from home a couple of times when there was bad weather (like Hurricane Sandy) and the company realized they were going to lose money if everyone took a holiday. It sort of worked, sort of didn’t–internet was slow since everyone was at home streaming Netflix, I was using my personal laptop (since we all had desktops), a lot of company resources I couldn’t get to since they were IP detected (no VPN or company laptop), and I had to deal with the monstrosity that is Web Outlook.

    OP this doesn’t sound like the case for your business, but companies should definitely make sure people are set up to WFH properly if they expect employees to do so during bad weather.

    1. cuppa*

      In the job I described in my above comment, there were a few times when the power would go out and everyone would leave to WFH. Our server was hosted in house, so I couldn’t even access my e-mail from home when the power was out. It was weird.

  21. Language Lover*

    Alison often advises tackling the “result” (lack of production, lack of work quality) over trying to control the “what” (checking the phone all the time, chatting with co-workers) which may be causing the poor result.

    If a worker needs to be available to answer phone calls or e-mails immediately, then all the activities mentioned aren’t a good idea. However, if a worker has a set amount of work to do and they do it, does it really matter whether or not they took an hour break during the day to take a walk with the kids? Or ran some errands? Or had the TV on if it’s only background noise? If it’s a snow day, perhaps it’s easier to do some of the work when the other parent (assuming they exist) gets home.

    I agree that WFH productivity expectations should be similar to working in an office. If an employee isn’t producing at a satisfactory level, then that needs to be addressed. But I would keep the focus on the poor productivity and not the fact that the employee took their dog for a walk.

  22. VintageLydia USA*

    I think it really depends on the nature of the job and why you’re WFH. My husband works in IT and he spends a lot of time waiting for software to do its thing or for his clients to make decisions or a billion other things. It’s not unusual for him to be actively working 30 hours or less completely legitimately. He can’t, say, leave for hours at a time but he can run a lot of errands so long as he comes home between each one and he’s watched more TV and movies in the last 3 years than ever before in his life just because he has those otherwise empty chunks of time.

    Also I think there is a real difference between, say, WFH every Friday where it’s part of your normal schedule vs. WFH because of snow or you or your kid is sick. I’d give a lot more slack to the latter than the former, partly because WFH productively is a tough thing to get used to if you don’t do it often and partly because the arrangement is already a stop gap to make sure SOMETHING gets done (because otherwise nothing would get done.) If it’s a regular thing, you should have your routine and have very little difference in productivity whether you’re at home or in the office.

    (I will add that there *may* be fewer distractions in general at home. I’ll use my husband as an example again, but despite the fact that my toddler and me are at home, we aren’t nearly as distracting as some of his coworkers were with random conversations and pop-ins that weren’t work related. He’s able to get a lot more done at home than at the office even though he was working fewer hours. His work is client/project base so it’s not like he was missing out on those random assignments given to whoever was there at the office, either, because that work just didn’t exist in his job. It helps that here he has his own office vs. there he was hotelling. Now he’s at a new employer doing the same work and they don’t even have hotelling–you’re either at a client site or at home.)

  23. Karowen*

    For the most part, I’ve stopped letting myself work from home because I know I’m less productive. I just get distracted easily in a way that I don’t while I’m at work, partially because I don’t have a dedicated workspace, but partially because I suck. I would never, in my wildest dreams, leave my home for hours while I’m working – that’s just accepting that I suck, which I don’t like doing.

    That said, I wonder if the “let’s take a walk” thing was more along the lines of “because I’m home, not at work, it only takes me 5 minutes to get to you instead of the usual 30, so we can go for a walk/meet for a long(er than usual) lunch/whatever”

  24. the gold digger*

    I usually get more done at home than at the office because when I am at the office, I am, by definition, “At work.”

    But when I am working from home, I do not want to betray the trust my boss has in me so I am super conscientious about working hard. Sure, I work chores in, but I would never watch TV! I might go to lunch with a friend, but probably not because 1. I hate going out to lunch and 2. I want to work out at lunch and 3. going out to lunch takes too much time, even when I am in the office.

    1. fposte*

      I have a regular work from home day, and I recently realized that there are some tasks so associated with working at home that I feel guilty doing them in the office.

  25. LQ*

    Ok I don’t get to WFH a lot in my current job but I could in my last position and I always felt like I got MORE done at home. I didn’t have constant interruptions and people asking me 10000 questions and stopping my flow of thought. No one is productive 8 hours a day at work either, between breaks, and just simple task switching. But when I was at home I could step away to change the laundry when I was getting particularly frustrated rather than having someone ask me a question when I was at a very good spot and then getting totally derailed and having to work my way back into the good spot. I could get work that would take me 4-5 days in the office done at home in 1 day.

  26. Iro*

    I’m more productive at home almost all the time because I am not interrepted nearly as much. I don’t worry about “time spent online” as much, just like I don’t really worry about leaving at 5pm vs 4:45 vs 5:30 in my normal day. I stop when it’s a natural place to conclude work for the day. If it’s 4:30 and the next project will take 30 – 40 minutes just to get my head into it enough to make progress, might as well quite for the day.

    I also want to note that back when I had a LONG commute, I could definitely do nice things that I normally couldn’t. If you subtract 1.5 hours both ways, that’s 3 hours of extra time I usually don’t get. So it’s completely feasible I would say something like. WFH was so nice yesterday, I got to take a nice long 2 hour walk before it got dark and it doens’t mean I didn’t produce my normal amount.

  27. Iro*

    Hey Alison! I noticed that the cancel comment button is gone? I’m on I.E. if that helps. Anyone else have that issue?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      To make sure I know what you’re talking about, you’re talking about the “cancel reply to comment” option that appears only after you’ve clicked to leave a comment and are in the commenting box, right? (Otherwise it doesn’t show up.)

  28. C Average*

    I think there are two ways to think about productivity in a WFH setting: output, and availability.

    When I’m project-focused, my job is measured in output, and I can often be way more productive from home, where it’s quiet and interruptions are minimal. I can put in a focused five-hour burst that yields more actual deliverables than an entire 8+ hour workday. And sometimes part of this creative process might involve writing a draft, going for a walk, and then coming home and reviewing my work. I compare this work to being a features writer for a newspaper. It’s not about how long I’m actually working; it’s about managing my work so that I hit my deadlines and achieve my goals.

    When I’m not project-focused, my job is measured more in ass-in-seat availability to do whatever lands in my queue. Sometimes it’s slow enough that I can turn on a dumb crime show in the background and sort of half-watch it while I’m doing busywork–cleaning up html, editing images for publication, auditing syntax, etc. I compare this work to being on the news desk. It doesn’t matter that there’s no news coming in. It’s my job to be there, waiting for it, and being as useful as possible during the wait.

    I think it’s good to have a very clear understanding of whether your manager measures your WFH output in terms of production or availability, and structure your days accordingly.

    1. cuppa*

      This is a really good distinction on my current job. I can’t WFH a lot because a lot of my job is based on ass-in-seat availability. Once a year I have a major project where I can work from home for a day and a half. I really look forward to it because it is a change of pace for me, and I really do end up getting a lot done because I don’t have my regular daily interruptions.
      I don’t think that I could WFH on a full-time basis, as I would get way too lonely, but I think one day a week would be nice sometimes so I could be more focused on some of my projects.

    2. LBK*

      I really, really like this. I’m usually done with the output portion of my job after about 5 hours, so that leaves 3 hours of availability time. If no one needs me for anything during that time, I’m not going to just sit there blithely staring at my empty inbox – I don’t see a problem with turning the TV on.

    3. Judy*

      At my last job, I called the project-based planning need-focus time “going to my cave”. If I had particular project work that required quite a bit of focus and limited interruptions, I would go to my cave (work from home).

  29. GiantPanda*

    When I work from home (about once or twice a month), I have to self-report my hours.
    One a typical WFH-day I spend about 10 hours in the vicinity of the desk, but report only 6 or so according to the amount of work that actually got done. The rest was videos, cooking, laundry, … .
    No complaints from my boss, but I can’t do it too often because the time account (is that a word?) should not go below 0.

  30. Cupcake*

    I worked from home entirely for several years, and my other WFH co-worker and I were the most productive on the team. We both cherished the option to look out the window at the accumulating snow and just smile, so we always made sure that there could be no complaint about our productivity. Plus, there were no distractions. Yes, laundry got tossed in on breaks, lunch may have been spent outside hanging said laundry or preparing dinner (to be tossed in the oven on my PM break), but work hours were dedicated to work.
    However, I do think things like snow days are a little different. People aren’t necessarily as prepared. Important pieces of the puzzle may be behind at the office. Kids may be home from school when they commonly aren’t. I don’t necessarily recommend a session on the local sledding hill, but being distracted that day and less productive than normal would not be unexpected.

  31. LizNYC*

    I used to work from home 2-3 days a week and I found that those were my most productive workdays by far. Fewer interruptions, blocks of time to get larger projects done, and I could get all of my laundry done and empty the dishwasher since I would do that on my way to/from the bathroom. Plus, I didn’t have my 3-hour-total commute to do, so I was much more personable!

  32. Elysian*

    I would generally agree – if you work from home you should do the same amount of work. It shouldn’t be childcare and it shouldn’t be daytime TV. However, if you’re working from home in lieu of (or because you are using) a sick day, I think that’s a little different. If I work from home because I’m contagious, but still need to get stuff done, I think there’s a slightly lower bar for that. If my kid is sick and needs attention, and my options are to take a sick day or work from home, I might work from home instead. Otherwise, I’ll take a sick day and end up working half of it, but burning a whole sick day, and that’s not fair. It shouldn’t be a regular thing, though. I think this balances out with working every weekend for the past month and half.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I agree with you on the sick days. We have unlimited sick days, but stuff still needs to get done. I have a bad virus right now but was able to take an internal phone call; I would have hated to miss it or reschedule everyone just because I needed to stay in bed. If I had had a day full of tasks, then I probably would have made arrangements, but being able to work from home means things continue to run smoothly (even my poor nose).

  33. Allison*

    Glad I’m not the only one who does laundry when they work from home! And I’ll admit, the TV is on, but it’s a familiar show and it’s really just there for background noise. If I’m working from home due to post-snowstorm conditions, I may take a couple breaks to shovel, but it’s reflected on my personal timesheet as well as the timecard I send to HR each week (I’d never bill for 8 hours if I only worked, say, 6 or 7).

    I make an effort to not only be productive, but to have something to show for it so no one questions how I’m spending that time.

    I sometimes have a tough time getting out of bed early on WFH days. It’s to tempting to sleep until 8, rather than get up at my usual time and get down to business at 7 or so. The commute does mean a little extra sleep, but getting up early when there’s no traffic to beat if tough habit to maintain.

    1. Rita*

      I have the TV on too when I work from home, but it’s usually just news or something else I don’t need to pay attention to. The background noise helps me to concentrate, and when I’m at the office I usually listen to news radio or sports talk radio all day.

  34. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I’ve had an unusual week, and working from home has been a godsend. We got stuck in snow traveling home from New York, so I took a call from the car on Tuesday morning, then I had a ton of work to do all day Tuesday, but I could do it without worrying about looking presentable or wasting time commuting into the office. I also managed to come down with a bad cold and was able to work from home yesterday with no repercussions, and today that cold has escalated into something fiercely nasty, so I took one phone meeting and am spending the rest of the day recovering.

    My work is also project-based, so that makes a big difference. If things are very slow and I don’t feel like going into the office, I don’t. I can take care of everything from here if I have to, and if I’m waiting for a client to get back to me with feedback on something, I can do laundry or walk my dog or bake while I’m waiting. I do prefer to be in the office when I’m super busy, since I have two monitors there and no doggy/boyfriend distractions, but this flexibility is very nice to have.

    When we first moved from NYC, I worked from home. It was great on one hand, crappy on the other. That job was so boring, and there was very little to do, yet I was essentially tethered to my desk. No opportunity to take a long walk or run an errand; if I was gone for more than 20 minutes, I would get a note asking where I was, even if I had no work to do. My current arrangement is much, much more sane.

  35. Wilton Businessman*

    I work in the IT field, so my experience may be different than most.

    I usually work in the office. In the office I have a lot of specialized equipment and tools at my disposal. I don’t have all that equipment or tools at my house (although I have some). It would not be practical, nor prudent, for my company to equip me at home the same way they do in the office for the two or three days a year I can’t get to the office. Therefore, my ability to get work done is in degraded mode while I am working from home.

    My wife (also in IT, a different role) is just about the complete opposite. Everything she needs to do her job is on her company issued laptop. All she needs is a network connection and she’s ready to roll. In fact, she has two docking stations, one at work and one in our home office. I think she’s opened her laptop up a total of three times since she’s had it. She splits her time half in the office/half at home.

    We both take different attitudes when working at home on a snow day. To her, it’s just another day. To me, my responsibility is to make sure the systems are up and servicing our business. If there is something that needs my attention, then I will work on it. If there is nothing I can do, I don’t sit at my computer hitting “refresh” in hopes a new email comes in. I am available, but I’m not glued to the computer.

    1. LillianMcGee*

      Sameish. Most of my work is office managery stuff which typically requires me to be… in the office. So when we are snowed in, I check and respond to emails but there’s not a whole lot else I can do.

  36. Katie*

    My work is project-based, and I find that working in the office comes with many distractions (phone calls, walk-ins, chatting with coworkers) that don’t exist at home. That means I can accomplish 8 office-hours of work in 4-5 home-hours. I personally see nothing wrong with using those 3-4 hours I save for errands, house work, etc – the caveat being that I am able to return to my computer if anything urgent comes up.

  37. TT*

    I like having the balance of both WAH and going into the office. It makes for more flexibility and helps me get more work done. My job is considerable distance from my home, and if I have an appointment it’s much easier (and more productive) for me to finish off the day at home rather than drive all the way back to the office and then have to drive all the way back home after only an hour or so. Going straight home easily gets me an additional 2 hours of quiet, productive work time.

  38. Scott M*

    Well, on a snow day I start work an hour earlier, and work an hour later, because I’m not taking my regular hour long commute. So if take an extra long lunch, or go play in the snow with my kid, I don’t feel I’m shorting my company.

  39. Case of the Mondays*

    I think it depends. Regular work from home, yes, you have to be more productive. Occasional snow day work from home, I think it is fine to slack off some and take advantage just a bit so long as your slacking off doesn’t hold up someone else’s work.

    1. The IT Manager*

      I think that is a company culture opinion. My office is the opposite in that we’re told that if you have any WFH capability, you need to work from home on snow days.

  40. oldfashionedlovesong*

    Is there anyone for whom a “snow day”– not a “work from home” or “telecommute” day, but explicitly a day when the office is closed due to inclement weather– actually means you don’t do any work that day?

    I recently had an odd experience in which it was a snow day for me and a few others, but not everyone in my office (different contracts is the vague explanation for this). However, due to a lack of communication between various supervisors, I wasn’t made aware of this and ended up making my way into the office. Only to be told shortly after arriving, that I should go back home! We are not the kind of place where anyone telecommutes on a regular basis, and I have no set up for working from home besides being able to check my email via webportal.

    Given that I a) was sent home after showing up and b) don’t really have work from home capability, what would you kind commenters say my responsibility is? In the end, I checked email periodically, responded to a few things as best I could from home, and just caught up the next day. But going forward, especially reading Alison’s answer and the other comments, I’m not sure whether this is the way to go.

    1. fposte*

      I’d check with your manager to see if she has an opinion. If the answer is “Email’s enough,” then consider yourself home free.

    2. The IT Manager*

      If I did not have a WFH capability, I would assume a snow day is a non-work day. I woldn’t even really keep up on the email unless told to. But you should ask your manager so you don’t have to guess.

      * I do have WFH capabilility my my organzation explicetly documents that we should WFH on snow days even if it was not a normally scheduled snow day.

  41. Jules*

    I work from home effectively when the company I work for is setup for remote work.

    So far when I work from home, instead of starting at 8 am, I start as early as I am ready late 6 am or latest by 7 am. Since I have access to kitchen and food, I eat as I go. If I am going to work, I would spend the time packing breakfast, lunch and snacks. We don’t have anywhere to have food at work unless I go out and in winter, heck no. Means I don’t take a break for lunch either. I can be done earlier and if I had to go to an appointment, I know I can pick it up afterwards.

    What I can’t do is have my daughter with me. She is distracting. If she is at home, I work early and pick up after she has gone to bed. So while I am effective working from home, I do miss the human interraction though so I probably can’t WFH more then a day or two a week. As far as how effective I should be, I believe in minimum of 40 hours a week unless I don’t have assignments. Then I catch up with industry news and learning modules.

  42. illini02*

    I’m torn on this. While I don’t think its a free day, depending on your role, I think expecting the same level of output from home isn’t necessarily realistic. I’m in sales. I have 2 monitors and a headset at my desk. While I have no problem making calls at home, doing it on my cell phone with one monitor can definitely impact the time required for various tasks. If I get through on average 20 calls a day in the office, I don’t think the fact that I only do 12-15 a day makes me a slacker. With a different setup it just doesn’t lend itself to it. I’ll also argue that taking a 2 hour break in the middle of the day isn’t necessarily wrong. If I typically take an hour lunch, then spend random time chit chatting throughout the day with co-workers, it can really end up being the same amount of work time.

  43. Lanya*

    At my Old Job, there was a policy that we were all required to “work from home”, even if the office was closed due to weather. I was always of the opinion that if the office is closed, it’s an unplanned day off, but our owner thought otherwise. For those days, my supervisor told us that as long as we were checking email regularly, that was enough. That was the only job where “working from home” sometimes meant “watching Netflix and checking email.”

    1. jag*

      If you’re being paid, do what work you can, even if the office is closed.

      We’ve had our office closed by severe weather that compromised our IT system. But even then I made some effort to do work-related stuff like some reading (in print) I’d been meaning to catch up on. And also the weather problem was predicted, so I brought some digital stuff home to do at home.

  44. HR Manager*

    Yep all the companies I’ve worked for required that parents have childcare arrangements if they needed a remote work policy, even if part of the time. While emergencies can happen and so sometimes kids have to be around, it was a made explicit that work from home was never to be a replacement for child care.

    I’m also in the buried under snow situation, and worked from home all last week. I was easily working just as long if not more. With my laptop plugged in, it was too tempting not to answer the stray emails that came in after hours (6pm or later) and to get that over with. This coupled with earlier start times meant I was actually online more than my days in the office. When I count the trips to the lobby candy jar, the catch up at the coffee stations, and the general pleasantries exchanged with coworkers, that easily equals my taking a break to make some coffee, turning on the washer, or cleaning up a cat hairball from my floor. While sneaking in errands are convenient, I would expect to work the additional time to make up for it when I get back. I did that quite a bit last week with shoveling, since I prefer to shovel during daylight hours. But I just hop back online and work until later into the evening.

  45. Maureen P.*

    At my work there are two kinds of snow days – one is the kind where the business is closed for the day, and a mass e-mail goes out saying “we’re closed as of noon, get home safe and call the weather hotline tomorrow to find out if we’re open.” Working from home on this kind of day (and any subsequent closure days) is not required. Feel free to get out your sled.

    The other kind is the one where you make the personal choice not to come in to work due to safety reasons that are substantial in your home neighborhood, but negligible at the workplace (i.e., the business remains open). Working from home on this kind of day is required, or you can take a vacation day.

  46. Revanche*

    I’m more productive working from home even with taking breaks to walk the dog or eat lunch. Though that’s a lesson to me – I should be taking at least a lunch and bathroom break daily but didn’t in at least two of my previous jobs where I couldn’t get away!
    I take advantage of the flexibility to get other stuff done if I’m exempt and still end up doing a lot more work throughout any given 24 hour period because I’m not wasting time dressing, commuting, or getting stuck in useless conversations with random people. Boo unavoidable, unproductive socializing ;)

    One of my dogs hated me being home though. It cut into his quiet sleep time and he’d give me the Scoldy SideEye if I typed too loudly.

  47. Van Wilder*

    I’m one of those people who is more productive in the office than at home. It doesn’t mean that I never work from home. Just when I do, I try to know exactly what I’m going to get done and try to focus on whatever’s easiest for me to do at home. And if I’m less productive one day, you know what? That happens some days in the office too. I don’t beat myself up over it as long as I stay on top of my work.

  48. katamia*

    Depending on the work that needs to be done, OP, are you sure the work isn’t getting done just at a different time? I’ve worked from home for a year and a half now (of the “Here’s some work and have a deadline while you’re at it and just get it back before the deadline” variety, no answering phones or anything), and as a fairly extreme night owl who does like to take breaks, yeah, there are some days when I’ll go for a long walk during business hours or watch some Netflix or something (less now because I’m in an unfortunate work drought, so when I get something I jump on it ASAP). I always make my deadlines, but if you only looked at what I did from, say, 8-6, I’m sure you’d think I never worked at all.

  49. Tasha*

    This post raises the question (it does not “beg the question,” please!) about how much work from home you should do when your office is closed due to bad weather and exempt employees aren’t required to burn a PTO day. My approach in those cases is to read and respond to critical emails from other parts of the country that aren’t affected by our bad weather, but otherwise I admit I do not give my full effort on snow days.

    1. Connie-Lynne*

      God bless ya for saying “raises” instead of “begs.”

      This is one of the reasons why a no-limit/no-accrual vacation policy is awesome (there are drawbacks). As a manager, I had the discretion to tell even my hourly staff that they could take PTO for weather-based closures.

  50. Katie the Fed*

    I’m really jealous of people who can work from home! It’s not even close to being an option for me :(

    1. H*

      Me neither! And on the one hand it does stop me from “taking my work home” in a negative way, but I’d rather take a “work from home” day than lose another vacation day to snow. Alas, it’s not feasible with my work.

  51. Anonymous127*

    What about shoveling? I live in the Northeast, and we’ve been hit by a few big storms recently. The last few times that I’ve needed to work from home, I didn’t have all that much work to do—it was slow. I still shoveled before I started, at lunch, and after work. I actually didn’t have much work to do, but I felt guilt in relation to using work time to shovel. The thing is, I needed to get shoveled out in order to try to get to work the following day. I would have much rather shoveled once in the afternoon after the storm settled down, before dark rather than only after work because that could take hours!

    I know that other co-workers, one specifically, uses company time to shovel. This person will shovel until 10:30 or 11:00am, and come in (sometimes). Sometimes they’ll do that while working from home too. I doubt that this person stays 2 hours late. What do you all think? Is it ok to use some time out of the day to shovel?

    1. H*

      Maybe I’m biased from ALSO being in the Northeast, but I can’t possibly imagine an employer complaining that you lost some work time to shovel, especially an employer ALSO based in the Northeast.

  52. Mina*

    I recently started working from home on Fridays, and I have to admit I have mixed feelings about it! I’m wondering if anyone else feels the same? On the one hand, I love not having to worry about commuting that morning, packing a lunch, etc. It’s nice to be able to make a cup of tea easily when I want to, have the cat nearby, and run a load of laundry to save a few minutes of precious weekend time. I’m in research so it does really help to have the uninterrupted time to think and work alone.

    However, on the other hand, I’ve found that it can also end up leaving me feel a bit grumpy by the end of the day. I’m not sure why that is – maybe a combination of loneliness/isolation, lack of exercise, feeling trapped indoors to my computer in case anyone emails/calls. Perhaps I just haven’t mastered the art of WFH yet…

    1. fposte*

      It might not be for you. Or it might be that another day of the week would be better, or that a half day would be better. I’d rather not have my WFH day be next to the weekend, for instance; I like it to vary the pace of the workweek and let me recompose myself for the rest of the week. So consider if maybe you can redeploy working from home more effectively for you.

      1. Mina*

        Good point, I’ve also been wondering if making it Friday is the issue…being in the office on Fridays can actually be nice because it’s a little more relaxed (usually).

    2. Cheesecake*

      You are not alone! I have the same mixed feelings. I am an extrovert and i have a job where i deal with numbers/systems, meaning not 100% human interaction. Being around people really balances it. So if you take the usual office noise and chats, at the end of a quiet day at home i feel more drained and grumpy.

      fposte is spot on. Try taking another day for WFH. I actually like Fridays in the office because it is quieter and more relaxed. And then evening commute is a sort of “closing the week” ritual, while if you stay at home on friday and move to sturday it is strange, routine-wise.

      1. Mina*

        Thanks for the validation, I thought I was the only one who felt this way! Maybe it’s about having a quiet job – that’s why they agreed to let me WFH in the first place. But it is hard not to have that balance. So true about the evening commute on Fridays!

  53. AmyNYC*

    There’s no way to work from home for me (several times a day I need to review things with my boss and/or co-workers, not to mention needing software and a viable computer to run it, plus remote access to the office server…) but I’m chiming in to say be grateful for the option!

  54. HappySnail*

    I’m curious Alison, what about someone who does the same amount of work but does it a lot faster because of fewer distractions and interruptions. But the work is still done and is still of the same quality (assuming it was good quality in the office). What would be the response then?

  55. Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee.*

    I’ve been working from home full-time for the same company since late 2006 – so far it’s been going well :)

    For various reasons I won’t go into, the ‘work ethic’ necessary to be a productive and participatory member of my group has come pretty easily to me (I’m not looking for a pat on the back – I’m just saying I’m lucky in this). I could watch television all day long if I wanted to – but I never do, and in fact sometimes I kick myself that I typically don’t even listen to music while I work.

    I’ve found that the majority of temptations to blow off work tend to come from other people who don’t work from home. For instance, early on my wife asked me “I’m going to paint the bathroom tomorrow. Since you’re working from home, can you help me?” I told her that I’d help her after I was done with work – but that I really did real work when I was working from home. It wasn’t a Big Deal like we had an argument about it. But I’m using her as an example: it seems like many people – who don’t work from home – don’t really ‘grok’ “working from home”.

    I am arguably biased, but all in all I think the company gets more from me working at home: I’ll wake up at 6am and I’m typically “on” by 6:10am, and I’ll tend to work (with occasional breaks) until 5pm or even later – I’m on CST and most of my co-workers are on EST, so it works out fairly well. My boss and my co-workers all know my cell-phone # and they know they can call me pretty much anytime if they need me, even late nights and weekends. There have been critical projects where I told someone “look, I don’t care if it’s 4am, if you need me, call me” – I figure that if someone is pulling an all-nighter to get something important finished by morning, it’s really not that big a deal to handle a call at a ghastly morning hour. This kind of thing would probably get old if it happened frequently – but as it is, it only happens occasionally, and that’s okay.

    1. Jules*

      I totally feel you about the people who don’t work from home. I was working from home last month while my parents were visiting and they wanted to have a meaningful conversation in the middle of me working on something. I said, “Guys, I know you see me here at home, but I am working. Let’s catch up when I am at break or lunch.” And it happens again… I finally holed up in my room to get things done. It doesn’t help that we live in a small apartment.

  56. Cheesecake*

    I have an option to work from home (only occasionally), but i just don’t like working from home. For me home is a place for relaxation so i just can’t tune myself for work there. Maybe it is also because i don’t have a good “office” zone in the apartment. Most of the time i am less productive at home than in the office and take WFT only when i have multiple appointments scheduled where i live (because i spend an hour commuting).

  57. NinaK*

    Hi Everyone,
    This is the OP. Not sure if anyone is still reading/commenting from yesterday but I want to chime in with a big thanks to Alison for posting and everyone who commented.
    Your comments brought up something I had not considered, given I have never been in such a role — employees who are independent contributors CAN take longer mid day breaks or work off hours and produce the same amount and it really doesn’t matter. The work ethic is still there, to produce more or less the same as ‘in office’ day , but it can be done in batches. Because my coworkers and I are dependent on each other throughout the day it is easier to feel that someone is slacking on a WFH day.
    Also, I totally agree with the comments that a snow day WFH is much different from a regular WFH because kids are home from school/day care and there is that never ending shoveling of the roof, cars, front walk, rinse, repeat …
    So, thanks. Have a great day and fingers crossed for no more snow days in the northeast.

  58. Jackie*

    My husband and I both work from home on a regular basis. He does so 1 day a week, and I do so most of the time (my current job is based 1.5h away – so I only go into the office if there is a reason.

    My husband finds that he is far more productive on his WFH day than he is any other day in the office. No one stops to chat with him, no one wants him to help them find a document they should be able to find on their own, and he can just work. He figures that he probably does the equivalent of 1 1/2 days of work on that day. However, his job is far too collaborative for him to WFH more days.

    I’m the kind of person who is at the dog park for 2 hours in the middle of my work day. Why? Because that’s the way my brain work. I need to split my day into 2 or 3. I start work when my husband normally leaves for work at 7am. By 11, i am done. I clean for a bit, eat some lunch and then go do errands or meet up with a friend. Then I do another 2 or 3 hours in the afternoon but I make sure to stop at 4 when the kids get home. I spend the next 3 hours with them, and once they are in bed at 7, I do another hour or two. Sometimes I don’t work at all in the afternoon, and then I do all my work in the evening.

    The thing is that I am productive. I finish things before the deadlines and create good products. The company I work for is happy enough with what I do that they keep giving me good raises even in this economic climate. I am a MUCH better worker now that I am free to do my own thing than I ever was when I was expected to be in the office from 8 to 5. I cannot tell you how many afternoons I spent staring at my computer screen unable to do anything at my old job. (And then doing that work at night without compensation anyway so that I didn’t get fired.)

  59. MissDisplaced*

    I work from home sometimes due to weather or just because it saves a Friday on a long commute. When I work from home I make a point to START work at my regular time and also end at my regular time. I do admit though that snow days are a little bit different as I take the time to dig out. But otherwise, I treat it as a regular day at the office.

    Although I appreciate the opportunity to work at home, I don’t do it all that often. For me, I can tend to get distracted more easily at home.

  60. Not telling*

    OP shouldn’t assume that THEIR work arrangement is the same as anyone else’s. No one should.

    Not everyone’s work week is 40 hours–some people have arrangements for part or 3/4-time work, so even if they are working from home, they have time to go for a walk or meet for coffee.

    Also, just because OP’s job allows them to work from anywhere does not mean everyone can do that. For some people, their work requires them to be at work. So if the office is closed (for weather or any other reason) they can’t do any work. And other people may or may not get paid if they are unable to work from home.

    No offense was intended to OP when their friends or acquaintances extended the invitation, so why manufacture something?

  61. Vicki*

    OP, I hope you push back on those friends of yours. They are the ones who spoil the prospect of regularly working at home for many of us.

    Too many people couch telecommuting as “working” from home. They’r so certain that we’re not really working.. and they envy s for that. When managers and other employees feel that way, it lends support to the “butts in chairs” syndrome that is rampant in so many companies.

    I can get away with doing 4 hours of real work (or less) if I commute to an office and sit in the chair, but if I work from home, management assumes I’m not working.

  62. Greg*

    I agree with the OP (and Allison) on everything except this point: “… unless you have a newborn who sleeps most of the day.”

    If I had an employee with a newborn who asked to WFH but didn’t have childcare lined up, I would absolutely refuse the request. Not to be heartless, but because doing so is unfair to both the company AND the baby. I don’t care if you say your baby sleeps most of the day; newborns sleeping schedules change constantly, and if your baby wakes up at the same time as an important meeting, you will be forced to choose, and one (or more likely, both) will suffer.

    When my son was a few months’ old, he was running a fever. Since my wife had just gone back to work, I agreed to stay home with him. I called it in as a sick day, but I figured since he was still napping a lot, I would still get a few things done for work during those times. I ended up getting nothing productive done at all. When he was napping, I was calling the doctor’s office, looking stuff up online, calling in prescriptions, etc.

    If it’s a one-time thing, take a sick/vacation day. If it’s a longer-term issue, then you need to find childcare. Period. It’s no more acceptable than bringing your newborn into the office with you to work every day.

    I should add that I have absolutely no problem with, for example, a woman who works from home, has a full-time caregiver, and occasionally takes feeding breaks, since those are no different from pumping breaks in an office. But there has to be another caregiver.

    1. NickelandDime*

      I’m a mother and I agree, Greg. You just can’t do full-time childcare and do a full day’s work, not regularly. Especially with very little babies, toddlers and younger kids.

  63. Mackenzie*

    Everybody’s seen this XKCD, right?

    When I work from the office, I sew or knit while the code’s compiling. My coworkers mostly watch YouTube while their code compiles. If I’m at home, though, I can mix up some bread dough in the morning, let it rise for 4-6 hours while I’m working, and pop it in the oven or peel and slice apples while code compiles to make a pie. I can be non-work productive any working day, but whether it’s errands or crafts depends on if I’m home or stuck in front of my desk. The knitting can come to work. The baking and gardening can’t.

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