Work-At-Home Conspiracy Theory

September 3rd, 2008 · No Comments

Can you work from anywhere?

Can you work from anywhere?
When did working from home become a conspiracy?

The more I think about starting an internet business or sticking my neck out there as a freelance consultant, the more apparent it has become that working from home–or working for oneself–is perceived by many as a scheme. People are taken aback that an ethical person like myself would consider working from home, as though it’s common knowledge that virtual employees are doing as little work for the most pay as possible and clearly fleecing their employers. There’s a sense of “unfairness” about the opportunity to work remotely.

It’s unfortunate that some folks have taken advantage of the work-at-home opportunity, building actual schemes and heading up pyramid scams. But that stereotype needs to be disproven as working from home becomes more common, and, frankly, more pragmatic.

I’d like to share with you a couple of specific experiences I’ve had recently with this quandry. It at least puts a couple of theories out there that can then be useful in re-inventing how folks perceive the virtual office trend.

The Office Party Line

“Working from home is an exception to the rule,” says the CFO of the small, 30-employee, Manhattan-based company for which I currently work. “Employees should only work from home with the express permission of their supervisor, and if it’s absolutely necessary to do so.”

This, I do not understand. Most of these employees commute at least an hour every day from New Jersey, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. Many of them actually work several days a week in the field, meaning they’re required to commute to the office, then to the field, back to the office, and, finally, home. The office pays for IT support to enable remote working arrangements, which everyone is required to use when in the field. This would, you’d think, be the ideal set-up for a remote workplan environment. But working from home is frowned upon and discouraged. When asked why, the answer is often a mumbled response about being “face-to-face” and “because this is the way we choose to work in this office.”

In only one senior management meeting has the opportunity to set up a virtual office been addressed. This discussion included the potential cost savings on expensive Manhattan office rent, office and equipment depreciation costs, savings on employee commute reimbursements, overall savings on amount of hours worked by employees fighting public transportation systems every day, etc.–the list of pros for the company is long and accurate. However, the suggestion was quickly tamped down, with the only apparent reason being that it’s simply “not how we do things.”

I wonder how many companies are striving to cover unnecessary costs because of an unfamiliarity with virtual offices and virtual employees. And I wonder if this inability to move from office-based to virtual workspaces is due to ignorance, fear, or real and accurate best practice theory.

The Generation Gap

I was recently discussing with my mother the pros and cons of quitting my job and doing full-time freelance work. This would allow me to travel whenever I wanted–as long as I had internet available–and pick and choose my own work hours. It would also allow me the time to meet and explore opportunities with other entrepreneurs and collaborators.

She was appalled in the way only a mother could be. She mentioned steady paychecks, a bad economy, and several other what-ifs–all of them valid. But what was truly disturbing was an undercurrent of anxiety about my not going into an office every day. She clearly had the sense that working from home–or from anywhere else–meant that I’d be “pulling the wool over the eyes” of whoever was paying me. As though it was clearly unfair that I didn’t have to work a 9-5 job and everyone else did.

I couldn’t help but see this as a generational issue. I’m used to the idea of virtual workspaces, virtual work opportunities, conference calls, internet desktops, etc. These are new and untested topics for much of the business community–especially those members who have had to get used to the information technology era gradually.

Is it possible to prove your worth–and your ethics–as a virtual employee? Will it always be a struggle to show value and fight your way back from being considered someone who takes advantage of the system? And who exactly is the author of the system–I’d be glad to go to his office to meet with him.

Categories: Main blog narrative · Theory

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