Raben didn’t even rent office space during his first year in business, prefering instead to work from wherever he was.
The business of lobbying thrives on face time and the subtleties of in-person contact. Lobbyists pay good money to get into a fundraiser for a quick chat with a lawmaker. And meetings in a congressional office, well, those are close to priceless.
None of this can be done in pajamas.
But a lot of what goes on in the professional advocacy world can, and does, take place while lobbyists work from home — or from a vacation abode or the pediatrician’s office.
Amid the fallout from Internet giant Yahoo’s decision to scuttle work-from-home arrangements for its employees, lobbyists say home can be the ideal place for behind-the-scenes preparations, writing proposals or talking points, following up meetings and dialing in for client conference calls. Some firms have policies encouraging home work, and nearly all shops will allow their lobbyists to conduct some business from home.
And for many solo entrepreneurs, the office is home.
When Robert Raben opened his one-man operation, The Raben Group, more than a decade ago, he didn’t sign a lease for office space for the first year.
“I walked around in my flip-flops doing work at 4 in the morning,” he recalled. “There were no boundaries.”
Raben’s outfit now has swanky offices in downtown Washington and Los Angeles, but a few of his 40-plus employees have arrangements to work remotely.
Jackie Payne, a Raben Group principal, moved to Seattle six months ago when her husband took a job with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Now she huddles with her three direct reports, one based in Maine and two in D.C., through Skype video conferences. “I save a lot of time by working from home,” she said. “I basically just walk up the stairs, and I’m at work.”
Raben said his firm doesn’t have fixed rules about working from home. “For me, it’s less about physicality and more about attitude, commitment and passion,” he said. “I’ve never studied the science of this. It’s all by instinct: I want you to do what works for you as long as it’s OK with me. Some people roll in at 10:30, and some people don’t roll in at all.”
John Feehery, a director with QGA Government Affairs and a former solo lobbyist, said that a blanket policy against working from home is counterproductive, even in a business like government relations.