Home, Sweet Home

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As a progressive employer, Third Sector New England (TSNE) supports telecommuting. Allowing people to work from home on a regular or occasional basis—assuming it’s feasible for their particular job—is good for the organization and for the individual workers. Among other things, it sends a message that we trust people who work here to take care of their own business in a sensible, responsible way.

Several TSNE staff members take advantage of this policy to work from home on a regular, weekly basis. Others do so periodically depending on the nature of their workload. I used to belong to this latter group. If I had a project that required several hours of concentrated attention, I would try to do it at home, where I wouldn’t be interrupted by walk-ins, the telephone, or other distractions. However, our rapidly growing organization was demanding more and more of my personal presence in the office (or so I thought), and I rarely was able to find the time for the kind of reflective thinking that I’ve always considered essential to my job. And as a strong believer in work-family balance, I was determined not to “steal” the extra time I needed for reflection by encroaching on evenings and weekends any more than absolutely necessary. The irony of this situation was that the rapid growth and constant change responsible for this problem were precisely the conditions that demanded more time for quiet reflection and strategic thinking.

Then, a few months ago, I had an epiphany. I realized that not only could I make the time to work from home regularly if I really wanted to, but I had to. If I wanted to have any space at all for visionary and strategic thinking about our organization’s direction and future—in other words, if I wanted to think and act like a leader rather than just a manager—I had to have space for reflection on what was going on around me. The notion that my absence from the office for a few hours a week would somehow have a crucial impact on the organization was ridiculous and contrary to my deeply-held philosophy of distributed power and authority. In fact, I would be very concerned if my constant presence were required. So I decided to begin working at home half a day every week, on a regular schedule, and I resolved to protect that time from all incursions.

This doesn’t sound like a very radical move, but it’s had a dramatic effect on both my stress level and my perspective on my job. I’ve found that at home, even without any conscious effort, insights and connections occur to me much more frequently than at the office. Sometimes, these ideas are about small but frustrating issues and sometimes about larger, far-ranging ones. The quiet, uninterrupted space seems to release a certain amount of creative energy that never sees the light of day amid the noise and bustle and constant interruptions of a downtown, 30-person office. Not only that, but having that clear space in my week—and knowing that I will have it every week—helps keep me (relatively) sane and keeps my stress level under control (most of the time).

In fact, I’ve been thinking that I ought to expand this experiment to two half-days a week, or maybe one full day. But they can’t really get along without me for that long, can they?

Jonathan Spack is the executive director of Third Sector New England.