By Brad Beckstrom
I was sitting in a cab stuck in DC traffic yesterday. This particular stretch of road was so bad that we actually sat in one place for what felt like 5 minutes. Off to my left there was a large modern glass office building, sweaty folks in suits and ties scurrying in and out in 92° weather. It appeared to be a large law firm. I looked up at the second floor and I could see a man speaking to two other employees next to a very large pile of boxes. He was waving his arms, wildly gesticulating at two co-workers whose heads were down. One of them put her hand up to her mouth like she was about to cry or throw up, not sure.
I knew that street well. It was an often used shortcut to get to the 3rd Street Tunnel, the bane of my existence when I worked in DC. This tunnel connects with many of the major federal office buildings, Union Station, Capitol Hill, hundreds of large office buildings for media outlets, law firms, lobbyists, real estate developers. It’s always rush hour in this tunnel and on the strip of 395 that connects Washington, DC and Virginia. As you come out of the tunnel, just over the bridge, you see the Pentagon, one of the world’s largest office buildings. This little strip of road is a big part of the reason that DC ranks as the second worst traffic city in the country behind LA.
I walked away from this commute years ago. It’s 7:05am and I’m at my desk, plugging away and I love it. Why? Because I work from home. The people I work with also work from home in places as far away as Hobart, Tasmania and as close as Alexandria, Virginia.
When I first started contemplating working from home, the first thing I did was start adding up the time I would save. The numbers really surprised me. I’ve rounded these off and included vacations/travel etc.
- Commuting – minimum 1 hour per day, round-trip. About 240 hours or 6 weeks a year.
- Useless unscheduled or prescheduled meetings plus prep – 6 hours per week about 288 hours per year, or 7.2 weeks. I’m not including important meetings in this number.
- One hour per day of interruptions – work related and chitchat (very conservative estimate). I had a private office so I’d imagine these would be a lot worse in an open floor plan. 240 hours or about 6 weeks a year.
I couldn’t believe the total – 19.2 weeks per year of wasted time.
I didn’t believe it so I ran the numbers a few times. Each time they were higher. I stuck with the lowest estimate. This is a good starting point when considering working from home. Your commute may be longer or your interruptions may be shorter, but regardless you’ll be surprised.
What could you do with nearly 20 weeks of extra time?!
This is where the fun started. I wasn’t just saving time, I was saving money. Think about the costuming we do for work environments. Light starch on our casual dress shirts and khakis. Appropriately matching belts and shoes. Lunches out, coffee shops, automobile maintenance, gas, tires and oil for that commute.
Then I moved on to things that I wouldn’t be able to do commuting to an office. I’ve kept this list current and added to it over time because anytime I question my decision, when things get slow, or I miss having co-workers around, I can go back to this and feel good about my decision. In my case, I felt really good about it.
Things I can only do working from home.
Most people could probably come up with about 10 right away but I have found that the list keeps growing with all of the time I freed up. Here are a few:
- It’s going to be 92° today, I am wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
- I’ll go for a one-hour hike at lunch and I’ll already be dressed for it.
- I can take the dog along with me. If I get sweaty, I can spray off.
- If I need to run an errand or grab some lunch, I’ll ride my bike.
- Make my own kick ass cup of pressed coffee.
- I’m here when my kids leave for school and when they get home. I found that with teenagers the most important thing is to simply be present, listen, then ask a lot of questions.
- I have a completely private office and a sound proof headset for important calls.
- I play music all the time, sometimes loud.
- I fart loudly and get up to pee whenever I feel like it.
- I use my laptop and home iMac to create it two monitor system, for creative work.
- I am eating a lot healthier, creating my own salads with lots of ingredients.
- Take an hour each day to write 500 words for this blog.
- Field trips to museums, parks and galleries for creative inspiration.
- Make it home in time for dinner every night.
- On-demand 20 minute power naps. I found that I needed these more when I was in an office.
- Make it to that 1:05 PM baseball game.
- Think out loud and use dictation software. This would be hilarious if I worked in an open office floor plan. People would think I was absolutely insane.
- On demand long bike rides on those really nice days.
- Watch the cat play with printer cables and fight with the our dog Otis.
- Daily 20 minute high intensity Tabata training session with a heavy bag. I need to walk all the way to the basement to do this.
- Start early, end early, and get more done.
- Open e-mail only 3 times per day, and bang through them without interruption.
- I run errands at oddball times, like 2PM on a Tuesday. Places tend to be empty versus weekends and evenings. I also can batch them together and save more time.
- Grab lunch with Kelly, the boys or friends without having to plan it in advance.
- Make unlimited international phone calls hatching secret plans for adventure and world domination.
I could keep going but you’ll most likely think of quite a few of your own. You won’t really know until you try it. If you currently work in an office, you could hatch a plan to try working from home two days per week to get a feel for it.
Many are surprised to find that their companies are open to it. In fact, companies like Automattic, the makers of WordPress the largest blogging platform in the world, call themselves a distributed company. Employees choose the location to get their work done, anywhere in the world. This is intense, highly technical and creative work and it gets done in most cases with far better results than work an office. In their book Remote- Office Not Required. Entrepreneur / Authors Fried and Hansen explain the new paradigm of “.moving work to the workers, rather than workers to the workplace” Recommended reading if you want to pitch your boss on this idea or head out on your own.
Once you begin to free yourself from the world of offices, commutes and interruptions, an entire new way of working will open up to you. You may even become a digital nomad or plan a big audacious quest. Who knows, anything is possible and you’ll have 20 extra weeks a year to figure it all out.