In my tenure at McCaw Cellular Communications, later known as AT&T Wireless Services, I was placed on a task force in 2000 to study all aspects of working from home as a part of the company’s objective of shuttering numerous office buildings around the USA. We planned on identifying thousands of corporate workers who would work in their residences full-time, and developed a detailed plan on how to properly execute this vision from every conceivable perspective.
In this task force, we studied all aspects of WFH and had representatives from IT, Legal, HR, enterprise risk management (me), and others. The areas we explored deeply included:
- Being a WFH employee – we identified the characteristics of a WFH employee, what it would take, what the employee needed where they live (a quiet and ideally-dedicated space), whether they would be distracted, and whether they had the discipline to work an 8 hour day when many things begged for attention at home.
- Managing WFH employees – we explored how managers would manage WFH employees, since there would be apparent differences, particularly if they lived so far from an office that they rarely came in for anything. We identified the need to manage employees by measuring work products and milestones, versus just showing up.
- Being a WFH manager – we explored the concept of managers being WFH themselves, and how they would manage from their remote perspective.
- Information Technology – we developed an architecture for communications – what equipment would need to be at home and how it would be remotely managed. This was in the era before cable modems and DSL. The web was still quite new, and many business applications were still client-server and now designed for large numbers of dial-up users. We also considered voice telephony in this architecture.
- Security and Privacy – our planning considered both physical security (theft prevention, confidentiality of printed matter) and cybersecurity.
- Workplace Safety – we explored employment law, company personnel policies, and other legal aspects of employees whose workplaces were also their residences.
- Insurance – we considered company and personal homeowners’/renters’ insurance and attempted to discern the boundaries and the rules.
This project, interleaved with many others, took more than a year to complete. It proved to be valuable for me in the future.
We did this in the era before videoconferencing, or should I say “affordable” videoconferencing. Our organization had numerous room systems that were ridiculously expensive, and did not scale down to the individual worker economically.
I joined a B2B SAAS company in 2005 as the global thought leader in cybersecurity and physical security, and was 20% WFH. There were few WFH employees in this company, and my background in WFH helped me navigate it successfully.
Fast-forward four years, when the SARS and MERS outbreaks threatened to become global pandemics, our larger customers asked us what our pandemic contingency plan was and whether we were prepared to execute it if a pandemic occurred. I responded by leading the effort to build a pandemic contingency plan. Not surprisingly, it mirrored guidance developed later by the CDC and WHO. This, too, would be valuable for me later.
In 2015, I changed employers and was 100% WFH. I thrived in this environment and was fortunate to have a separate, dedicated space for both my day job and my writing career.
In late 2019, having been immersed in pandemic planning, I recognized the early signs of what would later be known as the COVID-19 pandemic. In four days, I wrote a book summarizing all I had learned in the prior two decades and prepared to publish it on March 18, 2020. It was to be called WFH: Succeeding With Remote Work Through a Focus on Technology and Culture.
My employer said no. My book would have cut into the company’s revenue, as the company was also advising firms’ preparation and response for the highly-anticipated pandemic. So, this book sits on an SSD on my laptop, unknown to the world. It’s no longer relevant today, as anyone could publish an all-perspectives WFH playbook by just looking around to see how everyone else has already done it.
This was not an entirely wasted effort. I’ve used material in the book to help my current employer (where I am a WFH director, managing WFH managers who manage WFH employees) and to ensure we all succeed. The effort also gave me the experience I would need in 2022 when I published The Art of Writing Technical Books: The Tools, Techniques, and Lifestyle of a Published Author.