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.
“There’s a lot of focus on mothers doing it, but a lot of dads do it,” said Feehery, who has two children. “You do what you’ve got to do. I’ve done conference calls from the pediatrician’s office. That’s tough because you’ve got to be on mute since the kids are crying. As a matter of fact, I had to do that last week.”
Ilisa Halpern Paul, who heads a team of more than a dozen lobbyists at Drinker Biddle & Reath, said that senior-level lobbyists in her shop get flexibility.
“A lot of people consider lobbying and government relations solely a contact sport,” she said. “When you need to be doing face-to-face meetings or relationship building, you need to be on the Hill or at the agencies. But a lot of the work doesn’t require being in any specific place.”
Sometimes Paul and her folks are walking the halls of Congress, cramming from the Rayburn cafeteria, drafting a memo from their basements or working in their offices on K Street. She has one team member who splits his time between Florida and Washington.
Similarly, Stephanie Silverman, who runs Venn Strategies, has a full-time lobbyist based in Madison, Wis.
“I think it’s wise in our business to have flexibility,” Silverman said. “We don’t have regular business hours. There’s weekend travel, late-night events, early mornings. Sometimes people just need to stay home to work at a slower pace to recharge their batteries.”
Rich Gold, who runs the lobbying practice at Holland & Knight, said that giving employees the flexibility to work remotely helps his shop attract and retain top talent from the Hill.
But if he’s lobbied you, you might want to stop reading now.
“I’m a strong believer in actually naturalist lobbying,” Gold said, setting up a joke. “I like to be at home totally naked and call staff and talk through policy issues. I’m a big work-at-home guy from that perspective. You can quote me on that.”
Turning serious, he said his firm’s philosophy is “we don’t care where you are, we care what you do.”
So it’s no surprise that one of the more unusual places from which Gold has held a client call was “from out on my boat on Lake Winnipesaukee” in New Hampshire.