Roach: The switch to remote Fridays

A few weeks ago, we made a modest change in our business
person sitting with an animal looking at a graph on a computer

A few weeks ago, we made a modest change in the way our little creative shop does business. We implemented Remote Fridays.

For those unfamiliar with the practice, our group, usually 8 to 12 strong, no longer traipses into the office on the last day of the traditional workweek. Instead, we stay in our sweats and work from the comfort of our respective homes on Fridays.

There were multiple reasons for doing this: Technology allows for it. Everyone in our merry group of producers, writers and editors are diligent and trustworthy folks regardless of location. And I witnessed my daughter Maggie, who worked in Chicago for one of the largest privately held companies in the world, do it with ease. If a multinational company can be down with such a practice, surely our small Madison business can.

At the beginning of my working career, almost everyone shuffled from bed, brewed their coffee, stumbled into the shower, threw on formal work clothing and dashed madly to work. But the digital revolution now allows us to work from anywhere, thus creating a hint of a four-day workweek.

A little reflection also reveals the fact that our shop always had a component of working remotely. Most of our clients and video productions were staged outside Madison — most often in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. In fact, our Madison location was so novel that when our young family started the business here the most common question I had to answer over the phone was, “Where the hell is 608?”

I realize that there was a lot of dumb luck associated with our startup. I realize, too, that the following observations about new technology will sound bewildering to those who never knew a world without them. Yet one timely innovation that helped us become successful was fax machines. They came into the scene in the 1980s allowing us to send scripts lightning fast, or so it seemed to us.

The first cellphones were for cars only, not pockets. But mine was a godsend on the 850-some Madison-Chicago roundtrips I made, even if it meant I was one of those jerks with a car phone. And then there was the miracle called FedEx. Suddenly Madison was only an overnight delivery from the epicenters of commerce and film production.

Then, in short order, cameras and editing gear underwent a rebirth at the hands of geniuses like Steve Jobs, allowing small operations like ours to own the tools we once had to rent from big-city studios at a hefty cost. Then came email and the web, connecting the whole world. What once took eons now happened in a blink of an eye.

Remote Fridays have resulted from evolving perspectives on the nature of work. Being home too long can make you yearn for the buzz of the office. Humans are social creatures, especially when working. Creative ideas are amplified by the presence and input of others. There are also tales of folks who work remotely every day — who wake up, get dressed for work and then walk five paces into their home office. They need some business formality to get their game face affixed.

I do get eye rolls when I try to explain Remote Friday to those who travel for their jobs; where every day is remote for them.

The most significant contributing factor in the decision to do Remote Fridays was simple: It made our business a better place to work for everyone. When you reach a certain age (i.e. when you are not only older than the rest of the staff but also older than your staff’s parents), you have to let folks know that you welcome change. Sometimes big change.

There is one other consideration. Solitude elevates work performance. It is much easier to focus when there isn’t conversation echoing down the halls, phones ringing or heads popping into the office doorway. Working alone allows you to do something you can’t always achieve in a formal office setting: Think.
So now everyone at our place goes to bed on Thursday night happy in the knowledge that there will be no dash to work on Friday morning.

Now even the beloved founder of the business — who already had tremendous latitude on his comings and goings — opens an eye on Friday morning, looks at the bedside clock and sighs, “Aah. It’s Remote Friday. Now I can get some work done.”

John Roach, a Madison-based television producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com.

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