Ramit Sethi at the blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich is running a series about how to save $1000 in 30 days. Many of his tips are good and sound, but this one is impractical for many people, including me. The tip can be found here:
Cutting commute expenses is an admirable goal. Ramit gives two tips, one is to carpool one day a week, and the other is to work from home. No doubt, both of these would save money. However, unlike his previous tip Go Cash Only for 15 to 30 days, this one is like saying “If you want to be a good stand up comedian, you have to be born with a talent for humor.” At the very least, that’s how advice like this sounds to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have somebody to ride to work with (there’s that darn $4 a day bridge toll in addition to gas), and I’d give quite a bit for the ability to work from home once in a while, but I hate to read advice that is impractical for most people mixed in with advice that is practical. Ramit includes an excerpt from Tim Ferris’ book, “The 4 Hour Work Week” that includes a conversation about how to ask your boss to work from home. (NOTE: I have not read the book, but have included a link below if you’re interested in buying it). Obviously, this dialogue results in success. Here’s how it happens in my case:
Me: Do you have a minute?
Boss: Sure, what can I do for you?
Me: I’d like to be able to work from home.
Me: Why not?
Boss: Because we need you here.
Me: I would happily come in for meetings. A lot of my work can easily be done on my work issued laptop with my work issued BlackBerry over our work implemented webmail.
Me: Why not? I would be a heck of a lot more productive at home. Here I’m in the corner cubicle next to the conference room. I can’t concentrate because people are walking past my cubicle and looking in at me all day long because it’s a high traffic area. It’s unnerving. Because I’m near the door, people are constantly stopping to to talk as loud as they possibly can outside my cubicle. For some reason, everybody but me seems to get a good cell phone signal outside my cubicle, because that’s where they like to talk on their phones. I spend more time fuming and wishing they would realize that they’re being inconsiderate buttplugs than I do concentrating on any actual work. I could get so much more done if I could lock myself into my study at home.
My: Why the heck not?
Boss: We have to be able to keep an eye on you.
Me: I’m a military veteran with a Bachelor’s degree and 16 year of professional experience. You’re also familiar with the quality of my work that I manage to produce in spite of this horribly located cubicle and a building full of people that I can’t describe without using words that I won’t use in front of my children. Why can’t you trust me to get my work done if you’re not walking past my cubicle, stopping and looking back at me all day long?
Boss: We just can’t.
And so it goes. I would like to note that “Boss” is not my direct supervisor, but a composition of my organization’s attitude toward concepts like working from home as well as a variety of conversations I’ve had with people about working from home. Obviously, I will admit that Ramit’s advice is sound. You can save a buttload of money on commuting costs by carpooling, even one day a week, and by working from home. However, all his advice today did was frustrate me by reminding me of the fact that I work in a cubicle for an organization that is still stuck in another time as far as a philosophy of employee productivity. The philosophy says that employees, even college degreed professionals, work best when crammed into cubicles and constantly scrutinized and constantly interrupted all day long by other employees with no concept that other people exist outside of their notice. Productivity and compensation are measured by hours present, not results produced.
I should also add that one short blog post cannot capture my entire perspective. There are obviously a lot of things about my job that I do like and there are people that I enjoy working with. This post is merely picking on the attitude about cubicles and whether or not experienced professionals with college degrees can be trusted to work without constant supervision in a fishbowl environment. And yes, the location of my cubicle is not something I enjoy, and I can’t move. I’ve asked. It’s called a “move of convenience” and is not allowed. I also have a workstation that is directly tied to my network jack and to my name, and moving that would apparently be too much work for somebody else even if I did the physical move and they just processed a piece of paper and changed a network setting on the domain.