No, really, I’m asking. I’m on the fence on this one.
I understand there are many jobs that can’t be done from home. One of them being civil engineer. I used to be a microscopist. I can’t imagine even asking for “work from home day”’ in that job. But there are definite aspects of being an engineer that can be done from home. And I would strongly argue that they can be done better that way. Having a day at home once a week, without interruption, to get some planning done, catch up on paperwork, write reports, or design in peace would certainly be useful. On the flip side, what about all the potential interruptions?
I have definitely been a source of those interruptions. Like when I was a graduate engineer and required constant attention because I didn’t know how anything really worked. Being a train-ee, or for that matter, a train-er, doesn’t really lend itself to remote work. There’s too much important personal interaction required. But what about all the small stuff, like figuring out the meaning of a scribbled note someone left on a file, or giving a CAD technician the two-second answer to a question that would otherwise stall the project? Those are definitely problems that can be resolved with a phone call (or Zoom, or Teams, or Slack, or whatever), and it’s not like people have never left the office for a site visit or personal reasons before. So dealing with remote workers isn’t even all that new a challenge. But the scale at which people are starting to do so is providing a very new opportunity.
An opportunity for the golden, lesser spotted “work/life balance.”
Having been working from home for the last … forever and now seeing people dribble back into the office, we are seeing workers ask for remote work anywhere between one and five days a week. I’m really torn. I know I would, and do, love working at least two days a week from home. I’m really productive at home, and knowing that my time in the office is limited, I find myself more productive when I’m there too. But I have also been that person who started a new job and spent the first four to five weeks with no one in the office to support them, or even put them on a project. Where is the use in that?
One great reason I’ve heard in support of remote work is how much commute time it’s been saving people. I have had some horrific commutes in my time. Truly terrible. I’ve had to leave the house at 4:30 a.m. in pitch black darkness, with freezing cold rain pouring down, only to start a 2-plus hour commute that included a bus, a train, walking, and sprinting (between stations). I’ve had 2.5-hour commutes crammed on trains, with six changes in 90o heat and 90% humidity. The worst of all was the commute that started at 4 a.m. with my father coming into my bedroom shouting “Come on, I’m going in five minutes. Do you still want a lift?”
But I didn’t have any issues with those commutes and I never asked to work from home. Why? Because every one of those came with an end date. I knew how long it was before I could stop doing that horrible commute (whichever one it was at the time), and having that end in sight kept me going. Now, if any of those situations had been indefinite, I don’t know how I would have coped. I’d bet that for some people, having a few days off from commuting is as good as a vacation. I mean, what could beat a break from the stress of delayed or canceled ferries, the rush hour traffic that does anything but rush, or that school bus that you know recognizes your car and waits to cut you off every day.
So should engineers work from home more? Can we balance training needs with the flexibility working from home can afford? Discuss. But don’t just tell me you need to keep an eye on them. This isn’t a lack of trust question. It’s an increased productivity question.
About the Author:
Rae Taylor is an Engineer with extensive experience in advanced techniques for materials characterization. She received an award-winning Ph.D. in Materials Science, which focused on the analysis of microstructures using electron microscopy. Prior to her research in Materials Science, she worked in the clean and wastewater industry. Over her career, Rae has gained extensive experience in project management and lab management, including team building, process engineering, construction oversight, safety management, and quality assurance. She has over ten years of experience designing, developing, and testing experimental procedures. Rae is team-oriented and has extensive experience teaching and tutoring, both in the work environment and in the classroom. She has presented her work to a wide variety of audiences, ranging from academics and industrial specialists to the general public and holds a particular interest in the development of resilient whether it is in materials or infrastructure as a whole.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s post by guest author Rae Taylor. If you’re interested in your firm possibly joining the Civil Engineering Collective, please contact us here or call us at 800-920-4007.
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Anthony Fasano, P.E.
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success