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Work from home forever, or never work from home again?

Richard Huffaker

Clubhouse is a remote first company. You may already know that, considering it says “Clubhouse is a remote company” at the top of our website, in lots of our recent tweets, in many of our emails, and at the very beginning of our first podcast episode (more on that in a moment).

But being a remote first company does not make us a remote only company. Many of our employees do not normally work remotely, and instead quite happily work from our NYC headquarters. This means there’s been a bit of a split during the pandemic, with half of our employees continuing to work as normal (as least as normal as possible at this moment in time) and the other half scrambling to adapt to a remote work lifestyle that they’re not used to and would mostly prefer to avoid, while also dealing with the stresses of a pandemic that has, at this point, hit the NYC area harder than any other part of the United States.

For some, working from home is ideal, the best way possible to get things done and enjoy their life. For others, it’s considerably less than ideal, blurring the line between their work and home lives, and spreading added stress throughout all hours of the day.

To dig into this divide, I interviewed two Clubhouse colleagues who represent these two extremes:

  1. Jennifer Scroggins, a Software Developer on our Front End Engineering team
  2. Tiffany Go, a Product Marketer on our Marketing team

You can listen to that interview in the first episode of our newly launched Distributing Joy podcast or read the abbreviated write up of the interview below. Distributing Joy is available via iTunes, Stitcher, and most podcast apps.

Tiffany prefers to work from the office, even moving from San Francisco (where I work remotely) to New York so she’d be able to work from the office. I asked her what it’d take for a company to entice her to permanently work from home. 

Penthouse apartment in New York City with natural light.

After laughing about the impossibility of that happening, she added:

I don't know that there is really anything that a company could do to ever entice me to just work from home forever. I will say that one of the silver linings of this experience, it's just a shift in mindset around the way that I live my life.

Super philosophical. I'm not really even answering your question, because I think there might not be an answer. I don't see myself ever wanting to do that, even if I think I can probably make it work if I have to adapt long term.

Jennifer strongly prefers to work from her home in Michigan. I asked her what it’d take to get her to permanently work from an office.

I think I would have to be in a drastically different role. I don't think it's about incentives that an employer could offer me. I don't think a keg in the break room is really going to be a game-changer.

If I were to ever co-found a company or something like that where I had more responsibility that would be a huge game-changer and require me to give up my hermit-age. If it was something that was more hands-on. I think those are really the only reasons I would leave my current situation.

Why these strongly divergent views? What makes two professional people in tech, working at the same company, feel so differently about working from home? 

Tiffany: 

Talking about working from home during this time is pretty interesting because obviously it's not a choice, but it's a privilege. The way I'm looking at it in this context right now is obviously learning how to be at home during a pandemic and also working. When I think about working from home in its own little bucket, subtract it from what's going on right now, I think the thing that is difficult for me is that when I'm at home I really like to just be at home. I don't want to open my laptop and answer emails necessarily.

Obviously, if something happens I'm happy to do it, but I like that separation of going into work and hanging out with co-workers, focusing at a desk that's set up for me and being able to shut things down when the work is done and then hopping on home and chilling, watching Netflix, and not having to mix the two.

Jennifer: 

Well, first off, I am an introvert and I've always been a homebody. As soon as my parents got us a computer when I was a kid, it was like, "Oh, well, there goes my social life and I'm never going outside again."

And I think it's just having experienced working on-site for as long as I have. I don't want to age myself completely, but I've been working professionally for quite a while and I've worked in a lot of office situations. I just find them in general very stressful, very distracting. I've also worked in a number of not-great office environments and I find that the mental and emotional toll that can take is often just not worth the commute in the morning.

Interesting. Tiffany, would you describe yourself as an extrovert? 

Tiffany: 

I would. I definitely get energy from being around people and, Jennifer, you mentioned something that was interesting. When you're in the office, you find it distracting. I actually find it comforting to have other people around me and even noise like ambient noise, like people having conversations, that doesn't really bother me too much. It actually motivates me in a weird subconscious way.

Jennifer: 

Yes, it's really interesting how that works because now that I work alone, I find myself working with podcasts in the background and not really engaging with them. It's like that same coffee shop background noise, but I think because when there are humans around in the office, there's so many more variables about what's going to happen. Especially in open office situations where you can look up, as soon as you look up from your desk, you can see an entire floor of engineers and it's very hard to not be completely distracted all the time by whatever's going on around you. It's strange how the brain works like that.

As a side note, It's very interesting to think about how open offices became such a trend to that point that every office in tech, and offices in many other industries too, now are expected to be open. That has created a slowly growing backlash which will probably cause us to go back to having personal offices and larger cubicles again. Then fifteen years after that there’ll be another backlash and it’ll swing back to fully open offices. It's like high-waisted jeans versus low-rise jeans. It's like hairstyles. It's like all these different things that just circle around forever. 

Jennifer: 

Yes, but think of all the jobs that are created every time we have to renovate an office.

Is there anything you miss about being in an office? 

Jennifer:

I've worked many different jobs and some of them entail a car commute in the morning and I absolutely do not miss that. But I was working for a number of years in downtown Ann Arbor here and I was fortunate enough to be able to walk to work or take a short bus ride and then walk. I do miss that walking commute where I got a sense of what was going on in the community. I felt a lot more engaged in the local scene. I guess it's not even really in the office. It's more like adjacent to the office, but I do miss that chance to get out and be more involved or more aware of my community in general.

Tiffany: 

I also used to walk to work and I definitely miss the morning energizing feeling of just walking through the streets of New York. I think I also miss the people just getting the face time and being able to have a quick conversation with someone, pull them into a room and brainstorm. I miss the coffee and the snacks too, though I have them here, so I can't complain. I think it's really just the routine.

Tiffany, how have you adapted to working from home? 

The first few weeks, I don't even really quite remember what I was doing other than opening my laptop in the morning. I tried to identify the things that I missed most about my work from an office routine and replicate them. That was like working out in the evening, it was getting FaceTime with coworkers, just being able to write things down. I needed an office setup. Getting that checked off the list, which really just happened today because deliveries are slowed down, but having a space dedicated to work that is a little separated from everything else has been good.

What I realized in the morning was that because my routine had totally changed, I was often just waking up and opening my laptop. That was making me feel like my entire routine was just work. So what I started doing was doing morning workouts, shorter ones that didn't feel like I had to wake up, and immediately go into a high-intensity training situation. That was really helpful. I stuck to that and that's been really nice.

The third thing that I mentioned was FaceTime. We're really lucky to live in an age where technology exists while this is going on. I've been setting up a lot of Zoom calls with coworkers and friends. I will say a tip there is also don't overextend yourself. I did a thing where I booked myself in the evening, all through the week, and I ended up being more exhausted and energized by that. It's all about finding that balance, and picking and choosing the things from your old routine and making them work for you.

Jennifer, what would you recommend for someone who is new to working from home and would like to make it stick? 

There are a few things. They aren't necessarily specific online tools, but they're more techniques. I actually started adopting these into my workflow when I worked in an open office just as a way to stay focused.

The first one is pretty simple. You just get any program that blocks stuff on the internet at certain times. I use a program called RescueTime. There's a free subscription and then I believe there's payment for others. You can blacklist certain websites, so you can't access them. I have it set up to block a number of very distracting websites during certain hours of the day. That's one thing that I have had to do to myself. You have to be hard on yourself sometimes, especially if you have untold focus issues it’s helpful.

Then another one that you don't need any software for is the Pomodoro Technique. It's a really simple task accomplishing focusing technique where you read a list of tasks you want to accomplish, then you pick a task, commit to that task, and then you set a timer for 25 minutes or you can adjust the time frames if you like, but 25 minutes is what's recommended, and you focus for a straight 25 minutes on nothing else.

Then at the end of the 25 minutes, you set your task aside for a little bit. You take a five-minute break, clear your head, do some stretches. Then if your test is still not done, you set the timer again, do another 25 minutes. After you've done four of these increments, you take a longer break, say take a 25-minute break, take a 30-minute break, go for a walk outside, just stretch, whatever. I don't use this every day, but I do find on days when I'm having a hard time focusing on my work that this is one way to help myself stay on task.

We describe the Pomodoro technique (and other ways to stay focused) in our blog post, Dealing with distractions while working from home. Check it out. And then while you're at it, subscribe to our Distributing Joy Podcast (iTunes / Stitcher).

In our next episode and post, we'll be talking to comedians who host popular shows in LA and San Francisco about how they've adapted to running their events online and how this applies to businesses attempting to do the same.