I worked from home (WFH) long before work from home was cool–or even possible–in a lot of jobs.

In the mid-90-s, I worked for a big trade association handling their government affairs activities around my part of the country. They gave us a laptop, a budget for travel, and told us to go be productive.

But no office.  My office was my couch, my floor or wherever I could sit in my 600 sq. ft studio apartment that allowed my phone cord to connect with my computer for internet service (and with that, I’ve turned into a relic to 20-somethings who think I’m talking about the Prehistoric Age) and just hope that the bleating “internet is connecting” sound meant I’d be able to send an email.  It was liberating, as I knew that many of my other friends were sitting in offices chained to their desks all day. But it had its challenges.

I’d climb the walls, feel like it had been weeks since I had seen another human being (even if it had been hours), and I’d feel like I need a change of pace.

Fast forward 20 years and we’re now in an era of incredible technology, wireless everything, remote work being encouraged both out of capability and necessity, but I’m hearing some companies once again moving to a new era of chaining people to their workspaces.

Some are telling employees that they must–not may–work from home. And that the laptops they’ve had will be phased out and replaced with desktops.

If you’re in a company even thinking of this, take a deep breath and think of how this is rolled out.  It’s the point when work from home can go really well and feel like a benefit or it feels like solitary confinement.

Employees who loved the worktop and could switch from the backyard to the kitchen to a home office are now being told they need to pick where they’ll now be sitting ever day because…desktop.

Employers, I’m telling you, Don’t FORCE your employees to be tethered to once place in their homes to work if you can help it. I’m partly talking design of workspaces, but mainly culture, workplace retention, and quality of life issues.

WFH is great for its flexibility, but it’s also just as isolating if not addressed purposefully and thoughtfully by employers.

You get stir crazy.

Work-time and off hours become intermingled and tough to define.

Home doesn’t feel as homey.

And the one spot in the world that’s supposed to be your safe place no longer feels as welcoming.

I am typing this blog from my laptop in a big open area of a local church I attend, because the walls of my office close in on me on a regular basis.  Every so often, it doesn’t feel like a place I want to go work. It feels like a place that confines me.

And when that happens, it confines my ability to be creative, positive, and productive. As a result, I leave the house and find somewhere that doesn’t feel assigned to me.

I truly believe that one of the challenges of the newly work from home jobs is when employees feel like this arrangement is forced on them–and then micromanaged.  It’s at that point when your boss is running your home. And at some point, employees will push back, leave, or mentally check out.

The example I mentioned of desktops being imposed upon employees is a great way to speed the decline in job satisfaction.  I understand some security concerns may be addressed by having a fixed computer location, but that’s not the case in many jobs. If you can avoid the problem, do so.

If a company can do it, let people figure out how they want to work at home–and not force them into a room that becomes their only, permanent spot to work.

Because that feeling can start to feel a lot like house arrest. And that “prisoner” chained to the desktop may want to escape their job.

If you don’t give them the flexibility to work they want to, someone else will.  And that ball and chain? it’s what will slow your company’s success down for years to come.

Pete Havel is a speaker, trainer, and consultant on workplace culture and leadership. He speaks and consults for organizations ranging from law enforcement agencies to Fortune 500 companies.  He’s also the author of “The Arsonist in the Office: Fireproofing Your Life Against Toxic Coworkers, Bosses, Employees, and Cultures,” named as a #1 Hot New Release by Amazon. It’s available at www.arsonistintheoffice.com

Pete can be reached at pete@petehavel.com and 214-244-7906.


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