Spaghetti Junction, Atlanta, GA

Work from home has changed my life

Photo by Samuel Agbetusin on Unsplash

A looming decision

It’s hard to turn a corner without seeing an article about workers being concerned about the return to work or companies trying to figure out their stance.

  • Apple’s Tim Cook, in a letter to employees, announced their return-to-work plans, which would have all employees able to work from home two days per week, up from none. Apple’s employees responded by publishing an open letter to the company this week asking the company to reconsider, given their performance during the full-time WFH arrangement they had during the pandemic.
  • Blind did a survey where, out of ~3000 employees surveyed, 64% chose work from home over a $30,000 raise.
  • USA Today published Conference Board survey results of 231 HR directors that reflected a work from home trend for at least some workers. Only 22% of those surveyed showed that they expected less that 10% of workers working remotely.

There are many others, but the idea is consistent across them – the pandemic is ending and we need to figure this out. Some executives, like JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon, strongly favor returning to work, while other organizations, like Atlassian, have already pivoted to working from home forever. What is clear is that there is no correct answer. The situation has so many variables, like the company’s industry and if the job can be done from home or requires physical presence.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about this from a personal perspective. Living in the Atlanta, Georgia area, the commute is a big part of life for many people. Major population centers are north of the city. Over the course of my 20 plus years here, I’ve see the commute time continue to shift both earlier and longer over time. When I first moved here, starting work at 7:30am bought a decent, sub 30-minute commute over a 45+ minute affair leaving half an hour later. Now, I-85 is a sea of brake lights at 6am.

This is driven by a few things. Affordable homes have shifted farther out into the suburbs, with the “outer edge” of the metro area now including places 5-10 miles farther out. The corporate jobs have remained heavily in the city, where companies have focused on mass transit availability while moving to places farther in, like Sandy Springs. Unfortunately, that mass transit does not really stretch beyond I-285 outside of Fulton County. My county of Gwinnett has failed to pass mass transit referendums multiple times, with the most recent being last summer. This continues to stretch the commute for people who either for preference or practicality have chosen to live there, but work in the city.


My daily difference

Personally, work from home has been amazing. My company is one of those that moved to Sandy Springs from the Norcross, which is in Gwinnett County and closer to home. We still maintain an office close to the original home office campus, which is where I worked (and still work?) pre-pandemic. The difference is staggering. To be a little more scientific, by using Google Maps estimates for Monday, we can get a general sense of this.

Commute by time leavingNorcrossSandy Springs
Morning
6am45m55m
7am45m60m
8am60m75m
Evening
4pm55m60m
5pm55m65m
6pm50m55m

So, optimistically, a commute to my house from Norcross is approximately 100 minutes a day, while Sandy Springs is about 125 minutes per day. If we factor in the 15 minutes it takes to get out of the parking deck at our building in Sandy Springs, it is about 140 minutes per day. On an average day, I get between 1h 40m and 2h 20m back. So what does that change in practical terms?

Pre-pandemic, I had my alarm set for 6:20am. After getting ready, I would head off on my commute to Norcross, which normally had me in the office at 7:30am. After getting upstairs to the 5th floor, making coffee, setting up my laptop, and getting settled, I would normally be ready to work by 7:45am. Most days, I would close my office door and get on conference calls for the majority, occasionally having in-person meetings with my people who were in the office, while dialing into a bridge to talk to the people who were working from home that day. I would almost always have a lunch meeting with a vendor or someone from my team that I needed to meet with. The afternoon was usually more of the same, with meetings wrapping up by 5pm most days. I would pack up, head out, and start my commute by calling my wife to see what the plan was for the evening. I normally got home by 6pm. The total time elapsed for this was a little over 11 hours on an average day.

Let’s replay that day during the pandemic. My alarm goes off at 6:55am. I get ready, make my coffee, and log in to my laptop and am ready to work by 7:30am. I join meetings in Microsoft Teams for the majority of the morning, many of which are on video. I usually go to lunch at 11:30am. On days where my family is home, we have lunch together. After lunch, I go back to conference calls. When my meetings wrap up, which is usually between 5-5:30pm, I wrap up and log off. I “commute” downstairs, with a total elapsed time of about 9.5 hours.


Where to from here?

For some roles, the decision is simple. The employee must be present to complete many jobs, like retail, manufacturing floor, and front-line workers like police, fire, and healthcare. For Information workers, this is much more nuanced. I think there are a lot of people who have a similar experience to mine.

Working from home gives me another two hours to invest in more productive activities like sleep, going for daily walks, and family time. I casually bump into my kids during the day, which is fun. I still sit on conference calls all day, but it’s a level playing field for everyone on the call. I feel more productive.

I do miss casually bumping into people in the hallway, so I’ve had to be more intentional about reaching out to people via text or phone calls. Lunches are starting to come back, so that’s a nice return to normalcy. We’re having a two day in-person off-site, which I’m looking forward to because it will be a chance to see people again and work on big problems in a focused way. Those things make sense to me.

Some people want to be remote full time. Some people are happy to come in for things where it make sense to do so. Some people prefer to be in the office full time and want to do so. A sensible approach, in my view, would be to allow the person to work with their manager to find an arrangement that works for both. We can do that by focusing on outcomes and what it takes to achieve those. Going to the office is not free and it is no longer a given. The benefits have to outweigh the costs and the reasons need to make sense. It we all approach this fairly and with an open mind, we can reach a solution that is mutually beneficial. I’m hopeful that, with a year of data behind us, we can do just that.

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