When we moved to Austin after Ash also got a job here, I expected to work more often in the office. However, I realized that even my boss had no such expectations. He said, you’re free to come every day but even I wouldn’t be here every day. That made me think about how the nature of work, even in our field that changes slowly, has evolved. We Indians, as my dad instilled in me, have this intrinsic need to work hard and long hours to consider having put a honest day’s work in. But for educated folks like us, that has never been true. We never had to actually work all eight hours of the day. We worked in short bursts; some days were longer than others but you never had a typical day. So why did we even pretend to be at one place in order to do work?
My previous workplace needed us to be in office although some of my colleagues routinely went off to coffee shops. But it was always frowned upon so I never dared. But in this new workplace, it was encouraged. Partly, because they do not have the space if all staff showed up to work. But if that may have been the primary reason, I think eventually they realized that work still got done. And that’s all that mattered. Even though now we live in Austin, I still go to office only twice a week. I have realized that I only need the office space if I need to print or scan or need to collaborate with my teammates or we have that ‘lets catch up on what we’re up to’ staff meeting. Others in my team do the same except for the office manager who needs to be in every day for routine paperwork, travel bookings, etc.
When I first joined this job, my boss leaned in and said, let me offer you one bit of advice when you work from home. I thought, he’s going to tell me not to slack off. Instead he said, you’ve to be very careful not to overwork yourself. Having rarely ‘worked from home’, I thought that would never be a problem but as time passed, I saw what he meant. You never really had an off time i.e. if you worked from home and had your phone connected to the office email, you could ‘never go home from work’. You had to set limits on your work hours. You had to tear away yourself from working too long especially if you were on a roll.
The best part of working from home is the flexibility it gives you in prioritizing your tasks. You start off by checking your emails in the morning and replying to the most important ones. You get work done in the order of importance. You don’t have to remain glued to your desk. You can even work from a coffee shop, which I often do. If you need to take a break, you can simply head out and do some errands/shopping and get back with a renewed vigor. You can play music, listen to podcasts, adjust the temperature, and be dressed as comfortably as you can when you’re working from home. You can brew your own special brand of coffee, if you like. I find myself achieving much more and being more efficient in getting things done. I’m not only more productive at work but also in terms of household chores. Doing the latter is effectively a break from work . I have a 20 MBps Internet connection at home. I can connect to the university VPN when I want access to restricted resources. Not being physically at work has never impeded my work. If I have to actually do something that needs office resources, I either plan it for the two days I’m at the office or simply drive down to the office and get out as soon as I’m done. You don’t have to lounge around wasting time just because your boss is making the rounds to check if everyone’s at their desk (it happened in my previous workplace!)
I’m sure this is nothing new for those of you who work in the technology sector. You must have gotten there long before we did. But for a public university in social sciences , this is pretty revolutionary. But there is a gradual acceptance of the fact that this style of working can in fact be more efficient. I still submit timesheets that say I have worked 40 hours a week. Some weeks I don’t and on some weeks, it’s more. I wonder how long before all the (white collar) workplace rules evolve to not how many hours or even where you work but rather to what have you achieved. You do it quicker than others but you’ll be eventually judged on the outcomes, not the effort you put in.