After retiring from the U.S. Navy in 2013, I was offered a dream job of working with Lowe Campbell Ewald, an advertising and marketing communications agency headquartered in Detroit. Moving was not an option for my family who had lived in nine different places during a 22-year military career. Fortunately, along with the job offer came the opportunity to work from my home in Atoka, Tennessee (north of Memphis). I talked to others who worked from home and learned that there were advantages and challenges of the intra-house commute. After working from home for a year, I wanted to share my own thoughts along with some recommendations for those who may be thinking about trading in their work boots for bunny slippers.
Advantages: Focus & Flexibility
According to Bassex (2009), employees spend 28% of their workday dealing with interruptions, and the average manager is interrupted every eight minutes. Interruptions are not really an issue for me, so I can focus on the tasks at hand for as long as needed. With two grown daughters and a wife who works outside the home, I spend most of my workday alone (unless you count my dog, who prefers to sleep most of the day curled up on the floor of my home office). This laser-like focus means I can work more efficiently and creatively because I have time to think about the work that needs to be done, mostly interruption free.
The second benefit of working from home, flexibility, also helps with creativity. Rather than spending time dealing with and recovering from interruptions, I have the luxury of time that I use to explore ways to help our clients better meet their mission. When I worked aboard a ship or in a standard office ashore, I rarely, if ever, allowed myself the time to creatively look at ways to get the job done. Most days were spent trying to complete a list of tasks in between a constant set of interruptions and competing priorities.
Tip #1: Make the most of the focus time by creating a work-friendly space with minimal distractions. We converted a guest room into an office, which required clearing everything out except for a desk, a small TV (for monitoring news required for my job), and a treadmill. If I get distracted during the day, I only have myself to blame.
Tip #2: Be smart about flexibility with a routine that works best for you and your organization. I still get up at 4:45 every morning to start my day with the same routine I enjoyed in the military (prayer, bible study, physical training). This puts me at my desk before 6 a.m., which means I can get an early start on my morning tasks before many of my coworkers get to their offices (after their much longer commute). This works well for my early-morning nature, but more importantly it means my coworkers have information available to them when they start their workday.
Tip #3: Be careful about working nonstop. Just because your office is a short walk away, doesn’t mean you should spend all day (or night) working. I love my job, so it’s easy for me to spend hours doing what I enjoy, even if that means working past a normal eight-hour workday. According to a Stanford University study, I’m not alone. Employees who worked from home worked 9.5% longer and were 13% more productive than their commuting colleagues (Bloom, Liang, Roberts & Ying, 2013).
Challenges: Communication and Connectedness
Just like most work arrangements, bunny-slipper employment benefits also come with some challenges. Communication and connectedness are two of those I’ve identified during my first year working from home. The interruptions that distract from work also help connect us. There’s some important communication within a lot of conversations that pull us away from the task at hand.
Tip #4: Proactively seek out opportunities to communicate and connect remotely or in-person.
Fortunately, I serve with a great team of folks who invite me to meetings and share other opportunities to communicate about items of mutual interest. I’m also thankful that we live in a time of multiple technological options to stay connected through e-mail, telephone, video conference, social media, and online collaboration tools.
My boss and many coworkers visit the Memphis area frequently because our client (U.S. Navy Recruiting Command) is located here. I also visit our headquarters in Detroit and travel with the team when we meet with Sailors or brief senior Navy leaders about the work we do supporting the recruiting mission.
Working from home isn’t for everyone (or every organization). It works well for me because I’m blessed with a boss and coworkers who allow me to contribute to our important mission remotely. I believe my organization benefits from the advantages, and I’m grateful for their help in mitigating the challenges of my bunny slipper work-life balance.
Do you work from home? I’d love to hear your thoughts about what works for you.
Are you thinking about hopping off the daily commute trail? Feel free to share your questions here. Please consider this an open thread for ongoing discussion.
Note: I have to give title credit for this article to my boss who used to tease me about working in “bunny slippers.” I shared this with my wife, who decided to join in on the joke and get me a set for Christmas. I’m modeling the slippers in the photo for this article.