Working From Home Is Like Saying No To Drugs

Whenever the topic of working from home comes up, I always find myself defending my productivity. A colleague will say: "Well, it's nice, but you're just not as productive as if you were in the office." Something about the argument never sat well with me, and I've finally nailed down what it is: it treats productivity as if it's the only thing that matters.

Frankly, I don't really care if I am less productive working from home than in the office. Productivity is only one variable in a complex equation. Another very important variable is personal happiness. I want to be productive, but I also want to be happy, and sometimes those goals conflict and I have to sacrifice one for the other. Working from home is where I am potentially sacrificing productivity for happiness. Now, to be clear, I'm not conceding that working from home makes me less productive, but instead I'm saying that I really don't care. It's a moot point in the argument.

Many university students abuse Adderall as a performance-enhancing drug to study harder and longer. It stands to reason that many knowledge workers would benefit from a productivity increase by taking Adderall. Ignoring for the moment that Adderall is Schedule II substance that will land you in jail, what if your employer started handing out Adderall every morning? You might say "I don't want to take it." The reply would be: "Well, that's nice, but you're just not as productive as if you were on Adderall." To me, that's the same argument as asking everyone to come into the office to maximise productivity.

If maximising productivity for the company is all that matters, then you should never drink alcohol, always get a good night's sleep but not too much, take an even measure of Adderall and caffeine every day, never have children and take all sick relatives off life support. Ridiculous, right? That's because workplace productivity is not the be-all-end-all of our lives. And, for me, working from home provides the right balance of productivity and happiness.

Update: There's some good discussion on Hacker News, but, as I expected, most of the debate is around whether or not you're more productive at home. Instead of asking Am I more productive?, look at the other side and askAm I happier? If the answer is no, then working from home probably isn't for you. If the answer is yes, then think hard about how valuable productivity is versus your own happiness.

Working from home is like saying no to drugs [Micah's Musings]

Micah is a web developer from Atlanta, Georgia. In 2012, he co-founded The Agile League, a web development consultancy. In addition to working with The Agile League, Micah also runs Obsidian Portal, a website for managing your tabletop roleplaying game campaign. Micah frequently blogs about his experiences with entrepreneurship and running a company.


Comments

    Fair enough. People who are willing to sacrifice their productivity (fancy word for doing their job and getting it done) for happiness should not be surprised when their paycheck reflects their overall contribution.

      That is a fair point, but the type of job you are doing is also a factor. Someone who remotes into clients servers across the country can be just as, if not more, productive than someone in an office. I'd hate to be someone who would loose pay just because of a 'perception', not actual results.

      Definitely, but the point here is that we should be prioritizing out happiness over our productivity, and in turn, our paycheck.

        I don't think there was any discussion of a paycheck in the article.

      Since working from home I'm now working less and earning over 5x more.

      You couldn't get me back in an crappy 9 -5 office job if you tried.

        I'm working from home, working shorter hours, and getting more down due to less distractions. Same pay cheque, but now I'm not going out to buy lunch each day :)

    Interesting thoughts, and I don't wish to pooh-pooh your opinions overly, but I think it's clear that you're clarifying your view as an individual, and as an employee. And of course, you're perfectly entitled to your opinion, to your take on things, and your preferences in terms of how you perform as an employee.

    The aspect of the discussion that I feel that you're not paying attention to, and I suppose you're not obliged to, but in order to have a balanced discussion or view of things it would make sense to address, is of the opinion and viewpoint of the employer.

    Yes the employer wants the employee to be happy. An unhappy employee is less likely to remain with the employer, and thereby more likely to become an ex-employee. An unhappy employee is arguably more likely to be less productive, and perhaps more prone to produce a lower quality of work. To be clear, I have no statistics to back this viewpoint, i'm merely expressing my common-sense based opinion.

    But what we do know is that in the vast majority of cases, (again I have no stats to back this viewpoint), the employer would have a natural tendency to value productivity as more of a priority over the happiness of an employee. Let me use an absurd analogy to make my point clear. If it makes you happy to take 5 hour long lunches everyday, which incorporates a nice long walk, cooking a healthy meal and stacking the dishwasher, perhaps even taking in some form of entertainment or communicating with loved ones, then I'm sure that would contribute greatly to your personal happiness, and at the same time it will not contribute particularly well in terms of productivity.

    Perhaps there are some, creative oriented jobs, in which such a lack of productivity has little impact on the quality and overall value of the work produced, but I would say that for most positions most employers would rightfully be more interested in the survival and prospering of their company so that they can continue to provide employment to as many productive employees as is feasible.

    Productivity is hugely important. There's not much point in trying to devalue that.

    To be fair, they're not paying you to be happy. They're paying you to be productive. On the other hand, I also believe that happy workers are more productive. The few times I have had the opportunity to work from home, I got LOTS more work done - by not being distracted by all the time by idiotic colleagues organising parties, afternoon teas, sendoffs and farewells, pointless meetings, etc. The problem is that the boss assumes you're slacking off the second you're out of sight, so perhaps best thing to do is prove otherwise by negotiating reasonable targets to be achieved by the end of the day, and achieving them.

    Oh, and the 20min nap at 3pm does wonders for concentration and overall output for the rest of the afternoon. I've often thought how a big business could implement a 20min nap in the afternoon for workers. No solution yet. But it would help with that 2-5 ennui we all know and love.

      Now it's cooled down a little I can nip out for a 20 minute nap in my car in the afternoon. It makes an enourmous difference to my alertness.

      Happiness is a function of longer term productivity.

      Personally I am much more productive working at home and happier, but if I did it all the time it would impact the productivity of others. So i vary what I do based on the needs of my current projects.

        No, job satisfaction of which happiness is a factor is a function of long term productivity.. It's not about giving you what you want, it's about making you happy with what you're given.

    Great point and nice article. Life should be about more than just work productivity. This is certainly the case when you have kids anyway...its easy to forget hat each moment happens only once and then they move out...but at least you were productive and your specific job made the world a better place in some quantifiable way. Fit that on a gravestone.

      Prioritizing your happiness as an individual is an important and beneficial thing for YOU, as an individual, but it is not an important (or certainly not the most important thing) for the employer - as @shanby says, you're not being paid to be happy.

      This discussion reminds me of those employees, that are found particularly within the IT sector, that change jobs frequently (every 1 to 2 years), in order to learn new skills and to take on new training. Now working for a new company to be trained in a new technology is clearly beneficial to the employee, but it's no good at all for the employers. Any of them. Do you think that it makes sense for the employer to spend $10,000s in training someone just so that they up and leave and secure themselves a superior position?

      Sure, as an individual YOU should be your priority. There's nothing wrong with acting selfishly and putting your own interests first, arguably we should all do that. But don't be surprised when employers choose not to work with you on that basis.

      If you want to be happy, go play in the fields all day. If you want to be employed, focus on doing your job.

        In the words of the Old El Paso girl - "why not both?"

        These a strong correlation between satisfaction and productivity. Companies haven't arbitrarily begun to focus on the happiness of their workers - they've made the shift because unhappy workers do the bare minimum.

    I work from home and I tell ya, somedays, when I'm not in the mood, I don't get ANYthing done.

    That was always a problem in the office too, but you can't watch james bond marathons in your PJs at the office, hence you always end up being somewhat productive.

      At last - someone telling the truth. Whenever the "work from home" topic comes up you get the usual people who defend their position by telling us they are MORE productive and work LONGER hours. It's crap. Having the laptop powered up and logged in is not longer hours while you are playing xbox in the loungeroom. For a standard white collar job, working from home in the long term increases employee happiness but hurts productivity. It also hurts collaboration and work culture.

        I'd love to disagree with this, because working from home is cool, but I think it's the basic truth. When you're at the office, there's not a lot in the way of distractions. At home there's thousands of them, and sure, 5% of the population can probably ignore the distractions and be super productive. But that still leaves the other 95% who will be less productive, and no employer is going to be happy with those kind of statistics.

        Doesn't that vary with the individual? I work better at home because I don't get distracted by people wanting a chat (to avoid their own work!) and I can concrentrate long enough to get a job finished instead of stopping and starting all day. Cut out travelling time and there is extra time in my day so I can be more productive.
        I have NEVER played xbox (or watched movies or other such activities) during a working day.
        Workign from home, however, does give me some flexibility about my hours - if I want to take 3 hours off in teh morning to watch my child run a race at school, I do so and then work 3 hours in teh evening isntead. I'm happier and my productivity remains high and the job gets done. ANd my boss has always known when I've done that and has no issue with it - she knows I get teh job done.
        Compared to others I've seen in workplaces who may sit in teh office all day but produce way less than me even on their good days. It isn't at home/at the office that makes some people slack off, it's a work ethic and a loyalty to their employer that is important IMO.

    Accepting that happy workers are often more productive workers is all very fine, but it is just a way of trying to say that the be all and end all of our lives is how much we produce. Which, of course, it isn't.

    Let's step back a little on this issue.

    For a business, not taking into account the human inputs who work within it as humans, what matters is productivity - the amount produced per input. Obviously, from a purely objective economic perspective, the more you can produce per input, the better for the business.

    But we don't live for business. Businesses are created by humans, not the other way around.

    Humans provide inputs for businesses, but we should always remember that we are more than an economic input. As soon as we stop being human and start being just an economic input, we start to go horribly astray.

    Well done Micah, for elucidating this reality. I'll work hard for my employer, and I'll also make sure I look after the things that are important to me as a human. And I'll always endeavour to strike a balance. I'll also make sure that when I look at the wider society we look in, I'll be making sure that it isn't forcing me to drop my humanity in order to be a more perfect economic input. That means sometimes remembering that bankers and economists are not usually good people to run countries. They're only good to run banks and economies.

      "But we don't live for business.."

      Correct. We don't live for businesses. I don't think anyone forgot that we're all human.

      We work for business. in order to earn a wage or salary. Employers pay us to be productive.

      If we're not productive, we shouldn't be employed - regardless as to how happy we are.

    As someone who gets a good night sleep, consumes lots of coffee, doesnt drink and takes certain drugs to keep me awake during work.. I find it funny Im still not productive enough to not be typing this during my work hours

    Last edited 20/03/13 3:49 pm

    Most people are fairly unproductive at work too. And you know it.

    Coming up to two years working at home almost 100% of the time. Happiness at an all time high, productivity about the same, slightly better than being in the office.

    Having said that, working from home isn't for everyone. You need a good work ethic and self discipline.

    In my view, my working arrangements are a win-win.

    I've worked from home and (currently) work from an office. You can be as productive and non productive in both situations. Some jobs, it doesn't matter where you work (especially if your colleagues are interstate or overseas), others its better to be in the office.
    So, if you have a choice, do what is best for your situation and what makes you happy. Which I think was the point of the article.

    "Frankly, I don’t really care if I am less productive working from home than in the office."

    Yes you do, or you wouldn't have bothered writing this.

    "Happiness is a function of longer term productivity."

    Possibly, but there's hardly a close correlation.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now