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Telecommuting and why it’s valuable

I’m sure by now almost everyone has heard about Marissa Meyer banning telecommuting at Yahoo! starting in June, and it’s created quite a stir in the community of telecommuter, teleworkers, hot-deskers, whatever you choose to call it [us].  I too fall into that category, having the ability to work from home a few days a week.  There are a host of benefits for both the company and the employee, but also come pitfalls if the wrong employee is in the position to telecommute frequently.

tim-telecommuteI had the opportunity this week to provide my opinion to Jason DeRusha of WCCO, and had my 5 seconds of fame on TV [I look like a hozer on TV it appears], but there are more points that I care to address, based on my own opinion since the topic got my brain rolling.

First off, Telecommuting is not for everyone, I’ll get that out of the way right now.  Some people simply need the structure and oversight that comes with working in an office.  They are easily distracted, don’t have the capacity to work from home, or their job simply doesn’t fit the criteria for someone working at home. (bank teller, retail employee etc)

Then there are those of us that can responsibly handle telecommuting.  We are accountable for our time, available for contact when needed, and simply put are able to handle the freedom and responsibility that comes with the option.

While there is a good case to be made for having face time with the other staff in your office, or being in a cube so someone may drop by with a question, as our work-force is ever expanding into the global market, staff is becoming spread across the globe.  You have that sense of togetherness and teamwork when you can sit around a conference table and accomplish a task.  Plain and simple, you are are easily accessible.  This is both a bonus, and a drawback at the same time depending on who is looking at it.  Being so accessible allows others to interact with you more often, potentially distracting you from projects that require a great deal of thought, or otherwise uninterrupted flow of productivity.

There are many times I will leave a more in-depth project for one of the days I telecommute, as I know I’ll be able to focus on the task, tune in some music that I can grind away without the distractions of being in the office.  This works very well for me.

Some say that by telecommuting you lose that balance between work and home life.  I will agree to a point, but that’s only if you let it.  I assure you I am guilty of looking at the company issued laptop a few times a night or over the weekend, just to check in and ensure everything is going as it should.  That’s just how I work, and I feel as long as the laptop is on, I should check it now and then.  That doesn’t cause a big problem at home, but I know that isn’t the case for all.  I have found the days I telecommute, I tend to put in longer days, as I don’t have to deal with a 65 mile round trip commute, which can extend to 2 hours each way in bad weather; (again, a bonus for telecommuting) I can be much more useful to the company working at home vs. sitting in traffic.  I can do a quick tally of about 16 hours of commuting time I have saved by working at home during poor weather/driving conditions this season. That’s 2 days of work/life I reclaimed.  That’s a great trade off in my book.

So, I stated in the clip that being accountable for your time is key.  If you’re not in the office, how does your boss know you’re working?  How do your co-workers get in touch with you? There are quite a few ways to get a rough idea that someone is online and working at home.  We use instant messaging, email, video conferences etc, as well as track our time for tasks and projects.  Knowing that the ability to work remotely is a privilege I take it upon myself to track my time very diligently both in and out of the office.  My co-workers can quickly see my IM status if I’m available, in a meeting, out for lunch, or have left ‘the office’ for the day.  I try and keep good records of my time as a ‘cover-my-ass’ move so if there is any question of what I’m doing when I’m supposed to be at work, I can prove out my time.  On the flip-side of things, we’re adults and should be treated as such.  If you have issues with a few members, address it with them individually, not to the mass.

Many people that currently telecommute part of full time do it to the benefit of their company and family. Between daycare, after school activities for kids, or any other host of reasons that may prevent you from working a traditional 9 to 5 and still maintain your sanity, the flexibility offered is excellent.  If you have to take off an hour early to pick up your kids from school, and put in that last hour at home in the evening, there shouldn’t be an issue with that.  If you need to work from home a few days a week to help trim your budget with the cost of gas these, then that is also valid.

Wrapping back to the main topic of interest, Yahoo! pulling the plug on it’s remote workforce, demanding they report to the office by June or find new places of employment.  Is this fair? No. Is this right? No.  Will it no doubt cause many remote workers to change jobs, possibly re-locate or take a cut in pay?  Certainly.  If you’re trying to reign in a company in disrepair as noted in varied articles, you need to maintain your morale.  Taking away these freedoms the many that are abused by the few is just plain wrong.  Why are the honest and productive workers being punished?

Effective time management, and being held accountable for your schedule is key in both work places.  Roping in your remote staff won’t fix the problem, it may make it worse between resources, space and the potential replacement of a number of remote workers. I’m certain you can find a large number of people in any office, actually IN the office that take multiple breaks per day for runs to the coffee shop, smoke breaks or extended lunches, only to be burdened with unproductive meetings and then complain/boast about putting in 12 hour days.

I feel that I’ve been treated very fairly by my employer and am thankful for the ability to work remotely.  Do you get to work remotely, part of full time for your job?  What is the policy at your shop?  Feel free to chime in with your opinion!