Hi, I'm Dave Mulder. This is my website, where I write about user experience and product design.

Originally Published: February 20, 2011

Should everyone work from home?

Though I don’t completely agree with everything Jason Fried preaches, the brash and insightful 37 Signals co-founder strikes the bullseye when talking about distractions in the workplace.

Proximity is an invitation to interrupt somebody. And interruption is the biggest enemy of productivity that there is. When everyone is sitting together, everyone’s at the same desk or nearby. It’s really easy to shout something over to somebody or tap someone on the shoulder or whatever. That can be useful at times, no doubt. But for the most part, it’s interruption.

Folks working in the digital and creative fields know that productivity is not constant between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Rather, we make progress in sustained bursts—something like the proverbial zone. Interruptions are toxic to the sustained focus necessary to do our jobs.

A few weeks ago, in the face of a blizzard, my employer told all of its non-essential workers to stay home the following day and try getting things done from home. Though I have always believed that I can work full-time from my residence, or any location with a reliable internet connection, I had never tried completing a full day from my home office. As it turned out, distractions were as deep as the snow outside. After a few hours, I gave up.

One colleague of mine, Andy Keller, offered some helpful tips:

No pajamas. No house work. Have a transition, leave/return

When Andy heads into his home office, it’s like he is commuting to work. By mentally moving to another space, he avoids the distractions that plagued my one-day attempt to telecommute. My problem is that I was at home, both physically and mentally.

Dan Klyn, an information architecture consultant, suggests solving the home office problem by picking up a real office.

Best advice: get an office space or find a co-working facility. Working at home is hard, I found it ultimately un-doable in my biz

Co-working space is redundant if you have a space at your employer’s office, but it is ideal for freelancers and consultants. I have heard that coffee shops can also be suitable work environments provided you tip your barista fairly well.

At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter where you are working—if distractions and interruptions are abundant, productivity will be scarce.