Here’s what my day looked like when I worked in advertising:
I’d wake up somewhere around 6 AM, do the whole shower/outfit/hair/makeup thing, be out the door no later than 7:15, fight my way through traffic so that I could pay $220/mo for the privilege of leasing a parking space downtown, walk through rain/crowds/etc. and get to my desk by 8 AM.
Then I would work until lunch, eat, return for the rest of the work day, and when 5 PM mercifully came I would again fight my way through traffic so that I could get home by 6 PM (or 7:30, if I needed groceries and gas).
All told, I was working 12-hour days and only being paid for 8. Plus, I was wasting all kinds of resources on the commute itself.
In reality, I rarely NEEDED to be in the office. But it was part of the job, so I did it. Five days a week, 50 weeks a year. Everyone else did, too – and most of the people there were miserable.
When I left advertising to become a freelance writer, I got a taste of what working from home (or wherever there’s WIFI) is like. Let me tell you, the only way I’ll ever give up this lifestyle is when it’s pried from my cold, dead hands. I’m ruined for office work forever, and I’d like to ruin my employees too.
The Time Advantage of Working From Home
You know what takes way too much time and energy? Getting “ready for work” in the morning – especially if you’re a woman. And extra super especially if you’re a woman with unruly hair.
Not pictured: yoga pants
Daily commutes to and from downtown are hell on the environment and the soul. But if you work in the right industry, you can circumvent that entirely and become much more efficient as a result.
Getting ready for work and commuting to/from the office takes time – let’s say an average of two hours per day, five days per week. Figure two weeks for vacation, and that’s 50 workweeks at 10 hours of wasted time per.
YOU DON’T NEED TO RUN THAT MATH, BECAUSE I HAVE. IT WORKS OUT TO 500 HOURS OF WASTED TIME EACH YEAR AND THE ALL CAPS ARE TOTALLY WARRANTED RIGHT NOW.
For some people it’s more and for others it’s less, but women tend to take longer than men for cultural reasons that I’ll save for a different blog post. As a woman, I take offense to this on such a level that I created a company largely to give myself that time back. In the process, I’ve given my employees that time back, too.
500 hours of wasted time works out to 20.83 days of lost productivity – what could you do if you had that kind of extra time every year? What could your employees do, with almost a month of extra “vacation” time per year?
Is it acceptable to waste 104.16 days every five years, just on commuting and “getting ready” for a job that you’re already ready to do? For me, the answer is no.
The Content Factory is a weird place, mostly because it doesn’t really exist – and I set things up that way on purpose. I have a dozen employees spread out over seven states, but we all work from home (or wherever).
We genuinely like each other, because we’re never around one another enough to become annoying in the “who put fish in the microwave, AGAIN?!” kind of way. Which brings me to…
The Cultural Advantage of Working From Home
Here’s the where the + in “500+” from the title of this post comes into play: at TCF, nobody steals lunches from the refrigerator. When somebody wears too much perfume or a politically incorrect t-shirt, it’s like a tree falling in the woods with nobody around to hear it. Does it make a sound to annoy coworkers? I can’t tell you, because I don’t know unless I see it on Instagram.
TCF has a truly phenomenal company culture, largely because the only issues that arise between coworkers are 100% work-related. Did somebody fail to meet clearly outlined expectations? If so, we’ve got a problem. Until then, though, we don’t.
There’s a level of management that I don’t have to deal with, which I’m grateful for. I have yet to have a conversation about workplace romances, bad smells or inappropriate attire. This is difficult to achieve in a “traditional” office environment, given a long enough time frame.
It’s easier to have a meritocracy when all you have to go off of is the quality of the person’s work, as translated by Google Analytics and other KPIs. Are the arrows green and pointing up? Cool. No? Then we’ve got a problem, but it’s usually easy to trace that problem back to the source.
When you work from home, the paper trail is stronger as long as you’ve got the right systems and processes in place. We do at TCF, but it took a few years to fully develop them and it’s always a work in progress.
All conference calls are recorded. Our checklists would make flight crews jealous. Meetings are recapped in notes that are emailed to all participants. Directions are mapped out ahead of time, and approved by the client. Every step in the process gets approved, and in writing.
When properly developed, the processes make it impossible to take wrong turns. In a traditional office environment, it’s easier to never develop these types of procedural systems. Or, at least, that’s been my experience as a manager and somebody who has been managed.
In TCF’s world, we’re slaves to the analytics that tell the unbiased truth about our performance as a team and as individuals. This promotes meritocracy, because it’s literally the only thing that exists.
Employee morale is pretty high around here, and I’m not sure if it’s one of these areas or all of them combined that keep people happy. I can tell you that TCF’s turnover rate is extraordinarily low, both on the employee and client fronts.
The Talent (and Cost!) Advantage of Working From Home
Driving to and from the office, plus consistently parking your car somewhere legal, is expensive. But so is the office you drive to, and all of the utilities and furniture that go along with it. If you can get rid of those costs, you can save yourself A TON of money as an employer (and pass that savings onto your clients, too – this makes you more competitive and enables faster growth).
If you take this a step further, you’ll also realize the savings that you can find in labor. Hiring a marketing professional in New York City tends to cost more than hiring their counterpart in Omaha, and all things being the same why wouldn’t you hire the Midwesterner?
Even if the two employees have the same salaries, for tax purposes it’s probably cheaper to hire the candidate in Omaha. Side note: my accountant has threatened to quit if I ever hire somebody who lives in New York, because the state and city taxes/regulations/reporting is apparently a nightmare.
Last year, I had to change my company’s vacation policy because one of our employees lives in Portland, Oregon. That city requires a certain amount of unused vacation time to roll over each year, and my “use it or lose it” policy suddenly became illegal and had to be changed. Things like this pop up all the time when you have staff spread out over several states, and although it’s annoying to stay on top of all of the rules it still feels like a small price to pay for what I get in return.
All of TCF’s employees are based in the US, except when we travel abroad, but you can save even more on labor if you’re willing to hire people living in other countries. I haven’t outsourced to India, but I do outsource to Indiana – and from what I’ve seen those people know a thing or two about work ethic.
Aside from the cost advantage of being able to hire anyone anywhere, the talent pool becomes exponentially greater as well. If I were limited to hiring people who could commute to and from an office in, say, Pittsburgh, I wouldn’t be able to hire somebody in Colorado who has more experience and better ideas. In this fictitious scenario, I want the person in Colorado on my team – so do my employees and clients.
I don’t care where the talent lives, only that when I find it I can hire it. This flexibility improves the quality of TCF as an agency and our work as individuals.
The Lifestyle Advantage of Working From Home
Beyond all of that, if you can work from home you can probably work from anywhere – and I do. In the last year, I’ve worked from 10 different countries and dozens of states…just because I want to and I can. TCF’s employees can too (and they do, which I love).
Team workations are a thing, which helps us bond and then un-bond back to our individual spaces. You know those cool people you see on social media, who’re really funny and take killer pics of the amazing places they go? Those people work at TCF, and are getting paid along the way – we call it workationing, and we do it so much we own the URL and have written guides teaching people how they can untether their lives and work from anywhere.
When I think of what I’m most proud of, it’s enabling that kind of lifestyle – not just for myself, but also for my employees. If you’re an employer and you’re reading this, ask yourself whether this kind of flexibility could benefit your company, too. I think it probably can.
There’s a lot to be said for untethering yourself and others from an artificial box that steals 500+ hours per year. When my grandfather got sick, I was able to move in with him and my grandmother to help out. When he died, I was there with my family and holding his hand. There isn’t a price tag I can put on that, and I’m grateful that my work enables me to live my life in a way that I find significant, fulfilling and gratifying.
Here’s what my day looks like now: I still wake up around 6 AM, and I’m at my desk and working – with coffee! – no more than 15 minutes later. When I put in a 12-hour day, it’s a full 12 hours of work. There’s no outfit choice (yoga pants 24/7 until I have to put on “real clothes” for a conference or client meeting), and bad hair days aren’t something I even consider any more.
I don’t have blisters on my feet from uncomfortable shoes that look great with an outfit that pinches me in places I didn’t know existed. In most cases I wear some version of sweatpants and a tee shirt, and I get A LOT of stuff done without ever wondering what I look like as I’m making things happen.
Sure, I still have to put on dresses for conferences and I don’t mind “suiting up” when I need to – but the point is, I only do so when I actually need to. And I only ask my employees to suit up when the situation requires it.
When I have to drive somewhere, I get to strategically time things around rush hour traffic. I imagine this is what Steve Jobs lived like – I know for certain he spent exactly zero time each morning working the mascara wand just right to avoid spidery eyelashes.
I’ve become more efficient, and I fill up my gas take less often. There’s more time for the gym and catching up with friends. My headspace is rarely occupied by things that aren’t work or life related. I’ve cut out a lot of BS, and I don’t miss it.
When important stuff happens I get to show up and be present, because I have 500+ hours. I’ve given my employees those 500+ hours as well.
I recognize that creating a work-from-home-or-anywhere kind of environment is not possible for all entrepreneurs and employees. However, if it is possible, it’s entirely worth considering. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Do you let your employees work from home? Why or why not? Spark off some discussion in the comments section, and let me know if you think I’m making a mistake with this whole “work from home” thing.