I've made the case the best time to work may be during a pandemic. With fewer things to do, you might as well spend more time making more money. Further, if you are able to work from home, you could actually figure out a way to work less and still get paid in full!
Since March 2020, I've talked to many tech friends about their work schedules. About 80 percent of them said they loved the flexibility of working from home because they had more freedom. They also said they were able to work fewer hours and get the same amount of work done. As a result, they could play more tennis during the day, catch a SF Giants matinee game, take long naps, and travel everywhere.
Hearing about their flexible work schedules made me really think about going back to work full-time. Our worlds were converging, therefore, I thought I might as well get paid. Besides, with two young children, having subsidized health care, paid time off, 401(k) matching, and a steady paycheck sounded good.
But my wife knocked some sense back into me by asking whether any of my tech friends had kids. None did. Therefore, the freedom my friends had working from home would be different from the freedom I was imagining.
I put my dreams of getting paid to do less aside until now.
In Search Of The 2-Hour Work Day For Full-Time Pay
My ideal number of hours to work a day is four; two hours in the morning before the kids wake up, one hour in the afternoon, and then one hour in the evening. Three to four hours is the ideal amount of productivity without going into the FML zone.
However, recently, I discovered there are some people who only work two hours a day and get paid full-time! Better.com, a digital mortgage company in the SF Bay Area, recently laid off 900 employees. Vishal Garg, the CEO, accused over 250 of those 900 laid off to be stealing from the company by only working two hours a day.
In a Blind post, Garg wrote, “You guys know that at least 250 of the people terminated were working an average of 2 hours a day while clocking in 8 hours+ a day in the payroll system? They were stealing from you and stealing from our customers who pay the bills that pay our bills. Get educated.”
On the one hand, getting laid off several weeks before the winter holidays is a real bummer. This used to happen all the time in banking so firms could save on paying out year-end bonuses. On the other hand, I am fascinated how employees were able to only work two hours a day on average for so long.
Rationally, I think most of us would happily take a job that pays full-time while letting us work part-time. Garg's comment is validation that working from home can be really awesome for a lot of employees!
Work From Home Joy
Here's a great comment from a Financial Samurai reader named Dave, who started working from home once the pandemic began.
I am in sales and my job is 100x easier post-pandemic. I used to spend about 20 hours a week in an office and 20 hours traveling to see customers. Half the office time was wasted socializing or just being there to show face.
Now, with WFH, I work about 15 hours a week and have been for 1.8 years. I’m early 30s and in sales and make about $300,000 a year. I could work more but it’s not worth it at this point.
I don’t have a side hustle because I’m not interested in working more. The only problem is I spend about 3-4 hours a day not doing anything work-related. But I’m checking my phone every 5-10 minutes to see if my boss messaged me or if there’s any customer issue.
I believe this makes me live in a bit of an anxious state but I’ll take it! This won’t last forever though, it’s just a lucky period until work travel starts again probably next spring.
So Much Free Time
Given working 15 hours a week is within my ideal number of hours to work a week, I asked Dave what he does with the rest of his time. He responded,
Nothing too exciting. I play golf a lot and I exercise almost every day at 3pm when the gym is empty. I go to a lot of self-care type appointments like physical therapy, chiropractor, mental therapy, massages, or other doctors which eats up a lot of time with travel to the offices.
Further, I sometimes take a nap after the gym from 4-5 to recharge for the night. My wife works more than me so I do a lot of household chores during the day. I listen to podcasts or read financial blogs (-;
Not bad. Not bad at all!
Industries That Pay More And Let You Work Less
I really thought running a lifestyle business was the best way to get paid more and work less. However, since starting Financial Samurai in 2009, I've had many weeks where I have ended up working normal 40+ hours because there was always something to do. And when I first started, I wanted to do everything.
Today, I'm better at working ~20 hours a week. The main reason is parenthood followed by knowing more precisely what I want.
Here are three lucrative industries that probably have a better work/life balance thanks to the pandemic.
1) Management Consulting: Less travel, so probably less work. Can you imagine having to get on a plane every Sunday to meet a client on Monday? Then you've got to live out of a hotel room until Friday and fly back home. Sure, it can be fun for the first year or two. But after a while, traveling so much gets old real fast.
2) Technology: No more commuting to work, but a lot more video conference calls. The largest firms like Google, Facebook, and Apple continue to delay going back to work. They've also allowed more people to permanently work from home or have hybrid schedules. But the key is not having to sit at your desk all day once your responsibilities are done.
3) Law: Lawyers seem to be benefitting too. Here's one reader's comment: As a litigator, most of my work (reviewing documents, legal research, brief writing) can now be done remotely. Client calls were already frequently done via telephone/videoconferencing. Depositions of witnesses are a bit more complicated when you’re not in the room with the witness. But I’ve actually enjoyed them more remotely than having to deal with the extra time/hassle of going to wherever the witness is located for a deposition.
Lucrative Industries That Probably Have Been Hurt
Banking is another high-paying industry. Unfortunately, business is booming with so many mergers, acquisitions, and IPOs. Further, the bull market is creating a lot more wealth to manage and a lot more trading volume.
We also heard heavy complaining from some GS analysts for inhumane work conditions. Therefore, banking is unlikely an industry that will enable employees to work less. Although, the rank and file employees all got big raises during the pandemic.
Venture Capital is a pretty cushy job. You get paid big bucks while investing other people's money with no downside. No need to go through the grind of building a business either. If your investments turn sour, the limited partners won't find out for 5-10 years. By then, you can start another fund. But I suspect the pandemic has made being a VC less fun because there are less boondoggles.
How Companies Track Work From Home Employees
Employers can surveil your conversations in any company-run software. Assume that everything you type on your work laptop and work phone is monitored. Therefore, never conduct personal business on work equipment.
Employers can also see everything you write in email. They aren't constantly reading what you write. However, if you write emails that contains certain keywords, they can get automatically flagged to the administrator for review. Therefore, please don't use blasphemous, discriminatory, foul, or suspicious language.
During my exiting process in 2012, I almost blew up my severance package. While e-mailing some personal files to my personal e-mail address, I accidentally e-mailed a client data file. HR was alerted immediately and I was sent to the principal's office.
The client data file had client names, contact info, and revenue information. Luckily, after making me sweat an entire weekend, HR was forgiving because I told them it was a mistake and the file was five years old. I also reiterated I wasn't going to a competitor. I was retiring from the industry altogether.
Most workplaces now use Slack, Google Workplace, and Microsoft Teams to do remote work. All of these work systems have monitoring features. VPNs and remote-desktop software have the same web-browsing monitoring as at a physical office. Finally, video recordings can all monitor who is looking at the camera or not.
How To Evade Company Surveillance
If you don't want your employer to track your keystrokes, mouse movements, and the websites you visit, perhaps there's a way.
1) Set expectations up front.
Let's say you're a parent. You can tell your boss that between 8:30 AM – 9:30 AM you won't be online because you are driving your son to preschool. Then from 3:10 PM to 4:30 PM, you will also be offline because you've got to pick him up. Each way takes 25-35 minutes, depending on traffic.
You should also make clear when you like to take your breaks. These include your bathroom breaks, walk breaks, smoke breaks, lunch breaks, and snack breaks. You probably want to just share your lunch break time slot at first, because all these breaks tend to add up to a lot of unproductive time!
Given we tend to always have our phones on us, we might as well keep them on and connected just in case a colleague does need to reach us.
The reality is, so long as you are getting your work done and attending mandatory meetings, you should be fine. Your boss is busy. She doesn't have time to monitor your every move. Nor does she probably want to.
The average hours worked a week is actually less than 40 in America. Not bad.
2) Join a winning company.
When a company is growing rapidly and/or making tons of money, you might get more surveillance leeway. It's usually when there's a negative change in business when companies start cost-cutting and clamping down on waste.
For example, I presume Better.com wouldn't have laid off 900 employees if the refinancing boom didn't slow down due to a rise in rates. When things are booming, mortgage companies need all the manpower they can get, even if it's just for two hours a day!
Therefore, if you want to have more flexibility at work, you might want to join an established company that is still growing quickly versus a startup or an ex-growth company. In other words, it may be better to join Google than a Series A startup or an AT&T. At a big corporation, you can more easily quiet quit and live a much better work life.
3) Buy a mouse jiggler and use a green screen.
If you're really sneaky, you could buy a mouse jiggler on Amazon to keep you logged in and active while you go play a round of golf. This is what one of my tech friends who works from home suggested. You might even ask someone you trust to keep you logged in. However, there are ethical issues with these methods and you'll probably get reprimanded if your company finds out.
Here's another strategy where a guy uses a green screen on his company work calls while doing whatever he wants. His whole series is hilarious!
Want to work out while on a company call? No problem! Green screen!
Evading company surveillance is just going to get harder with more “bossware” software. Therefore, it's better to be upfront about your daily routine. Further, your boss is being monitored as well. And she probably also wants some time off during the day.
The Demand For Labor Is Strong
Companies need to be careful not to overdo their surveillance monitoring of employees. Nobody wants to feel like Big Brother or Big Sister is always watching. A surveillance culture will negatively affect hiring. At the same time, companies have the right to get the agreed-upon full day's work.
It's just that ~80% of the people I've spoken to since the pandemic began have said they've taken advantage of being able to work from home. Even parents, who've had to juggle both childcare and work, have said they've been able to use more company time to take care of their children.
In a strong labor environment, WFH employees can probably continue to work less and get paid the same if they want to. However, if there is ever another 10%+ correction in the stock market, I would tighten up the slacking and be more productive. Employees should also strategically be better employees during year-end bonus and promotion times.
As for me, I'm still on the path of taking it down next year. Given I believe one of the worst times to retire is during a pandemic, I decided to work harder since 2020. But once my two years of sprinting is over, I'm done. Even if I could work only two hours a day and get paid full time, I'm going to leave these work opportunities for others.
Readers, anybody else able to work less and get paid more during the pandemic? What are some ways in which you or others evade company surveillance? Wouldn't companies risk alienating their employees if they surveil too much? What other industries or jobs are enabling employees to work less and get paid more? What about the ethics of not working a full day while getting paid for a full day's work?
For more nuanced personal finance content, join 50,000 others and sign up for my free weekly newsletter. I've been helping people achieving financial independence since 2009.