A Working Mom's Journey to a Results-Only Work Environment
I want to share a story from my friend, Rebecca. She's a successful lawyer and mom, and she's been on the hunt for a better work environment. I hope you enjoy her story.
In June 2012, I wrote a blog post called “Having It All”. I shared my journey through law school, the entry into private practice, having a baby, and my plan to claw and scratch my way into a work environment that allowed me to have it all.
I wrote that blog post shortly after meeting Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, the creators of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). They were on site at my employer’s offices to discuss what a ROWE would mean to our organization. Tensions were high and you could cut the air in that building with a knife that week. Everyone ran around and whispered and conjectured. Grocery shop at 10 am on a Tuesday? Gah! How would that be possible? Not ask seven people for approval to work at home for the afternoon? Seriously? Some of us were giddy. Some of us were scared. Some of us were intrigued. But, bottom line, we were all something.
My organization was one cog of a much, much bigger wheel. In fact, it was an organization of thousands with departments and missions and personnel around the world. “They” just couldn’t see how letting one operating unit of a much bigger machine go ROWE would be fair. (I still don’t know exactly who the “they” are…some things in life are better a mystery). And the answer from “they” was not to go ROWE. So I turned in my office key. No joke. I’d finally found all of the things I believed about the work place to be true in the ROWE movement. And I couldn’t sit in my office from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday, knowing that the ROWE movement existed and I wasn’t a part of it. I just couldn’t. So I didn’t.
Now to be fair, I specialize in a focused area of law and public policy, so leaving isn’t perhaps as radical as it reads. I quickly landed an offer from Company X that promised I could WORK FROM HOME. And the angels sang, because that had been my sole goal and focus. I accepted the offer before it fully came out of the recruiter’s mouth. I started on a bright sunny summer day in the new office I made out of our dining room. I did some work and then I took my kids to the pool for a few hours. I was an office of me, myself, and I. I was IN LOVE. Oh, the honeymoon was sweet.
Sweet for a few weeks. Because you knew it couldn’t be that easy, right? You can’t leave a job because you believe in ROWE and then fall right into the perfect ROWE job, because let’s be honest, that wouldn’t be a story worth telling if that would have happened. And so….the proverbial other shoe dropped. In fact, it flew through the air and smacked me in my dining room office.
In week three with Company X, I was informed that yes, while all employees work from home, Company X has a stringent “COMMUNICATOR” policy. It was every bit as oppressive and menacing as it sounds. In short, each Company X employee was required to be logged into Communicator/Instant Messaging from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. If your computer detected no movement for ten minutes, it showed your status as “AWAY” and your immediate supervisor was notified.
Friends, I had merely jumped from the frying pan in to the fire.
Now a prisoner in my home, I had to alert my boss if I were going to be away from my workstation for longer than ten minutes. No pool dates with my kids, no afternoon grocery shopping, no long lunch one day and a short lunch the next day. When I took the dog out, I actually yelled for him to “HURRY UP!” Wait, how did I become a 36 year old woman with a spouse, children, dog, mortgage, and $70,000 in law school debt and need to ask permission to go to the bathroom?!
I don’t know. It was demoralizing and embarrassing and I quickly began to hate Company X with more vehemence than I had previously known possible. I wanted to go back to my old job. I wanted to throw my computer out of the window. I wanted to sell my house and downsize so that we could live on my husband’s salary. I wished I were crafty so that I could sell stuff on Etsy to make money. I tried to convince my husband we should open a cupcake bakery (and all I know about cupcakes is how to EAT them). In short, my misery made me lose my mind.
Fourteen VERY LONG months (and about 400 cupcake testings) later, my entire department was laid off from Company X. Company X was “going in a new direction” and my department wasn’t invited. I cried because I’d never been laid off before. I cried because I was so relieved to be free, but felt guilty. I cried because I didn’t know what else to do.
I was hired by another company two days later; a company that has the kind of culture I've been looking for. There is no COMMUNICATOR POLICY. I go weeks without talking to my boss. I do my work and I turn it in. No one cares if I work in my living room in yoga pants or from the coffee shop down the road. In fact, no one asks. I do my work and turn it in.
So what now? Now, I know how good life is in a work environment that treats me like an adult. There are imposter work programs that let you work from home, but monitor you like a second grade classroom. There is Communicator, Instant Messaging, Excel spreadsheets tracking accomplished tasks…all sorts of ways to track when I worked, how I worked, work, work, work. In a true work environment that focuses on results, I can be trusted to complete my work. Now that’s a novel idea.
So, did I think in June 2010 when I first discovered ROWE that my journey would lead me here? No. I didn’t think it would be such a winding and curvy path. I thought work at home meant the same thing for everyone. And it didn’t. And Company X taught me that (that, and trained my dog to go out and potty in ten minutes or less, but that is a story for another day).
Now my boss and I speak “work-from-home” in the same language. And it is DIVINE. Divine, I tell you. I work. I volunteer at my kids’ school. I take them to school and pick them up. I’m training for a half-marathon. I do laundry. I grocery shop at random times. I don’t cry when the weather threatens snow because it will make someone mad if I have to call in and take a vacation day since schools will be closed. And I get results. And I decide when all of those things happen.
ROWE made me believe it. My journey has been worth it, even on the very darkest days. I’ll never believe less or accept less.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Rebecca! You can read the first half of her story here on www.gorowe.com.