Paying to Go to Work

After moving to a bigger apartment with a separate office, I canceled my monthly WeWork membership. Since then, I’ve only visited the space a handful of times, usually as a guest of a friend. Yesterday, I spontaneously decided to go the next day.

“Don’t you need your friend to be there to let you in?” my girlfriend asked. “Nah, I’ll just get the day pass,” I said. “How much is that?” “Around 50 bucks.” “Oh wow — paying to go to work! That’s dedication!”

That phrase struck me. “Paying to go to work.” It’s true. As employees, we take many things for granted. We expect our employer to offer a dedicated space to do our work and to furnish us with everything we need to do it, from a good laptop to a comfy chair to perhaps even food and other amenities.

On the one hand, those are perfectly reasonable requests to make. If you’ll sacrifice one of the most precious things you have — your time — to help someone else, they should make it easy for you to be efficient in helping. On the other hand, everything you might expect to “just be there” — before even asking for your salary — is something your employer has to pay for before any work gets done.

As an employee, you go to work, grab a coffee, sit in your chair at your desk, fire up your laptop, and start working. Cost so far? Zero. As an employer or freelancer, that same, simple sequence of events might cost you $3,500 the first time, and then another $500 each month to pay for your office space, hot beverages, wifi, and other necessities.

That money is money you’ll have to generate whether or not you are productive, whether or not your revenue is going up or down, and whether or not your baby son is screaming all night because of an ulcer. If you don’t have any starting capital, you’ll have to make those first $3,500 from your couch, at a Starbucks, or sitting on the floor at your university.

It’s one of the most formative lessons you can learn: How do you turn nothing into something? How do you get started with minimal resources? I’m convinced that if everyone had to learn this lesson, to actually earn their keep in hard dollars, if only for a single month, work would flow a lot more smoothly in corporations across the globe. Life’s a lot harder when you’re on the sales team, and in a way, everyone is.

Meanwhile, as a founder, freelancer, or solo creator, its important to remember: When you want others to work for you, your job is to enable them. There’s nothing worse than a cheap boss who holds back the resources you need because she can’t see “beyond the edge of her own plate,” as we say in Germany. This doesn’t just apply to full-time employees. Even if you hire someone on Upwork, you can make their life easy or complicated. Either way, their time ends up on your bill.

When you go to work today, remember: Someone paid for you to come here. If that person was you, you’ll know and feel it. And even if it wasn’t, it’s worth thinking about what it’ll take to make the entrance fee worth everyone’s time, including yours.