Career Blog: Telecommuting aka Working from Home

It’s the American dream: roll out of bed, put on your slippers, and start your work day. Your commute can be as short as reaching over to your night-stand, grabbing your laptop, and turning it on. Almost any worker would love to be able to work from home and an ever increasing number of companies are allowing their workers to do it. Being a frequent remote worker, let’s talk about the pros and cons for corporations and for the workers

PROS:

  • Workers have more flexibility with home/work life. Theoretically, this enable workers to be more productive. The ever decreasing line between home and work becomes almost invisible (which isn’t for the weak at heart).
  • Reduced office overhead: Reduction in real estate needs, network strain, office equipment, office supplies
  • Reduced stress on transportation: Less traffic on the roads, less people on the trains
  • Better labor pool for organizations (essentially every market)
  • Privacy: Assuming you are working alone at home in a home office, you can be a loud as you want, have conversations on speaker phone, don’t have to worry about offending someone sharing a cubical wall with you
  • Better tools: My monitor is better at home, my chair, keyboard, and phone are all better in quality and functionality. Hell, my internet connection is MUCH faster at home. If I could use my own PC, that would also be better.
  • Reduced Costs: In a time where companies aren’t giving out raises and are given no options to reward employees – working from home allows workers to save money on travel (gas, train fees, parking, wear on your car), food (I buy when I am in the office), and clothes.
  • Not involved in rumor-mongering

CONS:

  • Less face-to-face time inhibits team building
  • As a worker, if you are not seen and heard – are you being forgotten? (See the last few paragraphs)
  • Invites the possibility of massive slacking
  • You aren’t as informed of issues/chatter that might impact your job
  • Infrastructure cost: VPN and virtual desktop infrastructure like Citrix are needed so workers can actually work (I have a whole counter point this issue, but I will save it for another article)

The last two years I have found myself working from home more often and it is most definitely a perk to my current job that I enjoy a great deal, but with great power comes great responsibility. Many managers fear that their employees are sitting at home and performing personal tasks and errands instead of working. I cannot speak for other remote users, but allow me to share insight into my remote work day:

6:45 AM – 7:30 AM: Eat breakfast, catch up on personal email, get my mind ready for the work day
7:30 AM – 9:00 AM: I start my day and catch up on emails and paperwork
9:00 AM – Noon: I am in a block of teleconference meetings during this period – EVERY DAY
Noon – 1 PM: Assuming I don’t have a lunch time meeting, I will go to the gym
1:00 – 2:00 PM: This is the witching hour for project managers – I don’t know why.
2:00 – 4:00 PM: More Meetings
4:00 – 5:00 PM: People don’t seem to set meetings at this time as they are leaving the office, I typically catch up on emails
5:00 – 6:00 PM: I cook dinner and eat with my wife
6:30 – 8:00 PM: I typical check emails, speak with my manager who is finally coming up for air, and do any reports/paper work that I need to get done.

10 hour work day every single day. Some days I don’t leave my desk for 8-10 hours. Slacking? I don’t think so. Now let’s review a day in the office.

NOTE: I car-pool with my wife unless there is a situation that would warrant me driving another car to the same location, because of this, I am on her schedule the days I go into the office because she has more specific requirements around when she has to be in and when she can leave.

5:50 AM – 6:30 AM – Wake up and get ready to go to the office
6:30 AM – 7:10 AM – Traveling to the train station (this can take 20-40 minutes depending on traffic)
7:10 AM – 7:45 AM – Take train into the city, walk to office building
7:45 AM – 8:15 AM – Get PC started, open email, run down to the cafeteria to get breakfast (oatmeal if you were wondering)
8:15 AM – 9:15 AM – Conversations: either in the cafeteria or people coming to their desks, the good morning hellos and water cooler talk starts. I am usually 5 minutes late to my 9 AM
9:00 AM – Noon: Same block of meetings
Noon – 1:00 PM: Lunch (typically at my desk answering emails)
1:00 PM – 4:00 PM: Same block of meetings
4:00 PM – 5:15 PM: Travel home
5:00 PM – 6:15 PM – Gym
6:15 PM – 7:15 PM – Dinner
7:15 PM – On: Veg out on the couch

I am much less productive on the days that I go into the office and I am far less inclined to come home and sign in after a long day (and I don’t have kids to deal with – which is another point I will get to). A major productivity impact is the office environment itself: I have to be concerned about volume control (I am loud, everyone around me lets me know…), who is overhearing sensitive job related conversations in the isle (which often forces me into hiding in conference rooms or un-used offices). When I don’t put myself in a private location, I am often interrupted on calls from people stopping by to ask questions or just to say hi – this is a perspective that people who have had offices for years tend to forget (it’s easy to have an open door policy when you know it can be closed and people will respect that). All that complaining aside, working from home is most definitely a privilege – and like any privilege, it shouldn’t be abused. A worker shouldn’t run out for 2 or 3 hours at a time and not be accessible without telling anyone. W@h shouldn’t be used for daycare: to this point, when I have children, I will be going into the office every day. A child cannot understand why you can’t talk to them during a teleconference and I don’t want to have to explain it, that’s when it’s time to give up the dream (at least until they are in school).

The managerial fear of workers abusing the remote office is strong. In my experience, managers seem to think that if a worker isn’t in the office, they aren’t working. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure there are people who abuse the system, but I am willing to bet they would have performance issues in or out of the office. If someone isn’t getting their work done, revoke their right to work remotely – its that simple. The same managers who worry about their employees not being on-site are usually stuck on the phone all day themselves, barely leaving their offices and most definitely not out shaking hands and kissing babies, what value does it add to manager or worker? Managers need to resolve their trust issues and have confidence in their ability to adjust to managing remote workers. There has been a 74% increase in remote work since 2005,there are now 17 million people telecommuting at least once a week and 20.7 million people working part time and starting business in their homes, remote work is not a fad, and should be a means for a company to reduce costs to off-set rising operational increases and health insurance costs.

Just because you can work from home all week, doesn’t mean you should. Assuming you don’t live hundreds of miles from your home office, you should set up a schedule with your team and manager so you are all in the office at the same time. Once or twice a week is really enough to “feel like part of the team” and getting the benefits from remote office. The hybrid approach allows companies to save on real estate if they go to a “hotel-office” set-up, where people come in and work in unassigned cubes. In my opinion, this is absolutely the best possible work arrangement.

The corporate world is at an interesting crossroads: Personal and home-based technology is surpassing the tools available in the work place. Companies that need to lock down their employees due to security risk concerns are not keeping up with productivity and communication tools that are revolutionizing the way people function in the other areas of their lives. In many cases these tools are free (I know this is a security issue for most companies), or have very low cost secure pay models that have little to no downside (I am looking at you Google apps). The corporate world needs to get a handle on what is going on with technology and how people work because they are letting money fly out the door by paying for tools that just don’t work as well as low-cost alternatives. I am mentioning these tools because they will only further-enable the remote worker revolution.

More to come true be-loggers.

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