A couple of weeks ago, I decided to put my laptop on a massive watermelon floatie and work. That was the worst and best decision I’ve made all summer.
Working in the pool meant I got to cool off, get some Vitamin D and get my work done all at once. In theory, it should have been a dream come true. But my keyboard started to get hot about a minute in, so I took the laptop to the shade and ended up working by the pool instead. My grand idea didn’t exactly work out, but still, in a true “work from anywhere” world, there’s no rule written in Protocol policy saying I can’t work from a watermelon flotation device.
But according to HR experts, “work from anywhere” requires some common sense, too.
Whether or not to allow remote work has dominated the back-to-office conversation over the past year. But as more companies let employees work permanently from home, TikToks and tweets have cropped up showing where, exactly, tech workers are getting projects done — at the beach, in a coffee shop, by the pool. And for those who still keep to their home, there are horror stories of people forgetting their cameras were on as they did anything but work (I once witnessed someone complete the full “Rasputin” Just Dance without realizing they had their camera on).
Some employees have faced criticism for working from anywhere but their at-home workspace, but HR experts said taking work to a non-traditional location is generally OK as long as employees are meeting their goals and able to be fully present during meetings. As this TikToker said, “home is where the Wi-Fi is.” HR leaders said they don't have rules dictating where people can get their jobs done, but it’s generally expected that employees communicate with their managers about it and ensure they can perform just as well as they would in their at-home office.
“As long as the leadership is clear about the expectations, clear about what success looks like and any parameters they do have about [a] certain time that you need to be available — to be camera on or synchronously able to collaborate — then you can create a ton more flexibility,” Zoë Harte, Upwork’s chief people officer, told Protocol.
Harte said she asks members of her team whether they’re traveling or working from a different location, because she can schedule meetings around different time zones or schedules. “Is there a chance your Wi-Fi is not as reliable as it is in your home office? Or do you need to take a two-hour lunch break because surf's up? We want to encourage workers to have flexibility,” she said.
But even while HR leaders agreed employees should be able to work from anywhere, they said everyone should be cool about it. Yury Molodtsov, the COO of MA Family, said an employee once decided to visit family in Asia for two weeks and needed to work in a different time zone. She agreed to work within the company’s preferred time zone during those couple weeks, but it ended up being much harder than she thought because she needed to break her sleep cycle.
Do you need to take a two-hour lunch break because surf's up? We want to encourage workers to have flexibility.
Time zones and Wi-Fi aside, Molodtsov said it shouldn’t matter where someone is getting work done, even if it’s in the bathtub. It would be a “bit weird” to have the camera on in such a situation, Molodtsov said, but it would be fine to call in with audio only. As for kids and pets, he recommended employees find a quiet place to work away from them when they need to be on call, but he’s never been bothered when kids or pets join someone’s workspace.
So-called unprofessional conduct for those working outside the office has become a growing issue. Remember the woman who walked in on a Zoom call naked? Or the employee who only dressed professionally from the waist up and stood up to grab something with the camera still on? Remember the kid who interrupted a live BBC interview?
Nadia Vatalidis, the VP of people at Remote, said no matter how employees choose to get work done, they need to “show up in the same way” as their colleagues. “There's a whole team here that needs to contribute, and if we all don't show up in the same way, it also becomes inequitable and a little bit unfair for this one person to always be kind of unavailable,” she said.
Companies could also tell their employees to keep their office door locked during calls or tell workers to make sure they’re fully dressed for video meetings, UC Today pointed out.
Tech workers said finding a reliable place to work remotely is a matter of trial and error. Some only leave for a park or pool if they know the Wi-Fi will be strong, while some are nervous to leave their at-home office at all.
Ryan Rea, the director of growth for Miami Tech Life and a marketing director for Chicago-based Sontiq, said he told his company before he was even hired that he wanted to work remotely. “I said, ‘I'm here in Miami, I love it. I'm more than happy to work for your company, it seemed pretty cool. But don't ever ask me to come into an office or to move to Chicago. I just won't do it,’” Rea said.
Rea prefers remote work because it allows him to take trips and work at once. He takes cruises about once a month and usually doesn’t even tell his boss when he’s left for a trip unless someone asks. “I can use the virtual background so as to not make my co-workers too jealous,” Rea joked.
On the other hand, Samir Soriano, a performance marketer at Pocket Gems, keeps to his living room even though he could leave for a coffee shop or park. “I'm scared that my performance will wane if I get too casual with my work setting,” Soriano told Protocol.
Soriano said he misses the casual conversations he had with co-workers in the office, but he still prefers remote work because he can work “more efficiently.” He takes a walk after lunch, starts his days earlier and is able to pick up and drop off his kid at daycare.
Some employees said they’re more concerned about losing strong Wi-Fi than losing focus. Christina Casillo, a vendor program manager at Casper, said she feels some anxiety about whether the Wi-Fi will be reliable in a different location, or whether her new location will be too loud. She’ll head to a nearby coffee shop if she wants to get out of the house, but working from home is always her safest bet. “It's still nice to have the certainty of working from home,” Casillo told Protocol.
I tend to agree. During my brief stint on the watermelon floatie, the heat caused my phone to glitch as I was trying to check Slack messages. The Wi-Fi also didn’t carry as well from the house to the pool. I might work by the pool again this summer, but there aren’t going to be any flotation devices involved. I’ll be under a tree, in the shade, prepared to head back inside when my co-worker asks me to hop on Zoom.