The Great Work from Home Experiment

A few months ago, at a meeting of women business owners, one of them said something that changed my perspective on work, and my office, and my job. This woman, who is incredibly wise and has gone through many career transitions, is the CEO of a multi-office staffing agency – and those multiple offices are in multiple states. It’s a large enterprise and she has big responsibilities. We were discussing how, throughout all our days, we are interrupted regularly, and it is hard for us to focus and get the big work done – strategy, creative work, deep dives into thinking about the future. And then this executive, in her wise way, explained to us her perspective on working in the office.

“I don’t go to the office to work,” she said. “I go to the office to interact with people – to giggle with the receptionist, to talk with people about their vacations, to hear what people have to say about the work, and themselves. When I want to work, I go somewhere else, quiet, so I can focus.”

Mind. Blown.

Every day I’m at Legion, my office might as well have a revolving door on it. People flow in and out all day long, and there are times when I look up and I have five people in my tiny office, and sometimes, they aren’t even talking to me. They are having their own meeting, it just happens to be in my office. People come in to talk about problems they are having, their weekend plans, issues that need resolving at the office (and sometimes at home), and to ask about my latest trip, since I’m traveling a lot lately. The joke is that the minute my lunch arrives, my sales manager has a light on his desk that goes off and he comes in to talk to me about something, while I try to gracefully eat a salad or a bowl of soup without getting half of it on my shirt. (I’m rarely successful.)

And when I’m not hosting a party in my office, I’m probably coming from or heading to meetings, either internally or externally. One of my employees the other day said the only time he sees me (he sits next to the door) is when I’m running out, throwing on a coat and muttering to myself about how bad traffic is on the way into Cincinnati.

There are certainly some days where I get things done in the office – days when people don’t need me as much and I can concentrate on auditing financials, or catching up on HR paperwork. But there’s very little time for me to have quiet, and peace, to write all the blogs I want to for Legion, or to do strategic planning, or to just sit with a sheet of blank paper and think about what I want for the company.

And, if I’m being honest, I don’t love those days. My favorite days in the office are when I am needed by a lot of people – when I’m busy all day helping with issues, or people are talking to me about the concert they went to the night before, or I spend the whole day emceeing our Office Olympics, and I go home feeling connected and joyful, because I genuinely love the people who work for me, and I want them to know they can come to me at any time and talk about anything, and I’ll dial in. I don’t want to shut my door and close out the people who depend on me for leadership, but I do need time to do the big things, and to scratch the itch of creating.

So, this week, I’m trying something new. Today, and every Thursday for the foreseeable future, I’m working from home. Right now, I’m typing this on my laptop in my home office, where it is silent, and peaceful, and I don’t have any distractions – no ringing phones, no knocking on the door. I set a goal for myself of how many words I want to write, and which of the big projects (our annual strategic planning retreat, for example) I want to work on. I’m still available by email and phone and text and carrier pigeon, and some of my employees threatened to drive to my house and stand in my home office, but this arrangement is supposed to allow me to be physically present in the office four days a week and spend one day working intensely on the stuff that feeds my soul and makes the work of Legion as rewarding as the people.

I was nervous to tell everyone at the office that I was doing this, because I didn’t want them to think two things – first, that I was just taking today as a blow-off day to drink coffee and watch Netflix, and second, that I didn’t want to be around them. But everyone totally gets it. They see what my days look like, and I think they understand that sometimes, you just need some peace and quiet. Plus, I allow my folks to have ultimate flexibility in their schedules, so I’m not doing something that I wouldn’t allow employees to do. (My IT manager works from home two days a week because it’s the only time he can program in peace.)

Working from home is an experiment. It’s an experiment in time management and discipline for me, and an experiment to see how much more of the “big stuff” I can get done in a week when I’m focused and uninterrupted. I’m excited to see how it goes, and I’m determined to make it work, so that I can have the perspective that I don’t go to work to “work” – I go there to be present for all the people who count on me.

 

By Lacy Starling, President and Fearless Leader