For the last 20 years, I've struggled with the work-from-home policy. In theory, I love the idea of working from home; I just think it’s a bad idea for startups. While I don't doubt that many people can -- and have -- made it work, let me explain my skepticism:
Personal dynamics drive startups. The crux of my argument against working at home for startup companies has to do with the importance of interpersonal dynamics. A rapidly changing environment with few resources breeds tons of issues. When those issues arise -- like anything else in life -- you must rely heavily on relationships to solve them.
This is where being in the same room and looking face to face at other human beings makes a huge difference. And every challenge you encounter thereafter helps to further build relationships so that you can go on to collectively solve more problems together.
Conversely, working online can damage relationships. Email isn’t the most natural form of communication, and can never replace genuine human interaction.
Same distractions, different desk. I don't think for a minute that all distractions end when we go to work in the morning or come home at night. Living in a digital world means that we all watch silly YouTube videos all day long -- no matter where we are.
But while digital distraction is all-pervasive, changing physical environments actually has the ability to alter your mentality. It's like going to the gym versus working out at home -- you become instantly more focused on the task at hand.
You can't party online. Certain experiences are amplified when everybody is physically present. For instance, you could throw a party where everybody is on instant messenger at home talking to one another non-stop with drinks in hand -- but that party would suck.
While I do believe that team dynamics can be supported remotely -- in the same way that Facebook can serve to maintain relationships in the long term -- I don't believe they can be created virtually.
It’s not just about you. I tend to find that when I’m working without in-office distractions, I get more done. It’s why we all went to the library to study in college; peace and quiet are essential.
The problem with that line of thinking to justify working from home is that it can be a bit myopic. It assumes that the only person whose work matters is your own. And it assumes that building relationships with the rest of your team is inconsequential.
Rather, it’s a tradeoff: You trade some productivity in exchange for better relationships with your team -- a worthy investment that looks at the bigger picture.
Your home is not your office. I'm not sure how your home is set up, but mine includes a living room, a bedroom and a playroom for my daughter. It doesn't have a conference table, white boards or a reception desk. And there's a reason for that.
My home is designed to be the focus of my non-work life -- a fact which permeates my conscious whenever I'm there. As such, there is a strong distinction between what I do at home (laundry, sleep, playtime with the kids) versus what I do at work (work).
Related: New Options in Home Office Furniture
I do, however, maintain a home office, and try to keep work relegated to just that room. It's the same reason our family doesn't watch movies in the kitchen.
Your home is your sanctuary. I've made it a general rule that when I leave the office, I stop working (although my wife might argue that vehemently!) I believe that going home should be a journey to sanctuary. I'm spending enough mental cycles in the office that if I can't recharge at home and enjoy the rest of life, I'm on my way to burnout mode.
One of the biggest benefits of working in an office is being able to go home and leave it at that. Many people who work from home have told me that they never feel like they can escape their work -- so much so that they often want to rent a desk somewhere else just to create the separation.