Networking

Is telecommuting on the whole beneficial?

The drop in connectivity prices has been a boon to the mobile worker. No other feature has had a greater impact on workplace mobility, but a new survey suggests that the bigger picture may not be all that perfect.

The drop in connectivity prices has been a boon to the mobile worker. No other feature has had a greater impact on workplace mobility, but a new survey suggests that the bigger picture may not be all that perfect.

An excerpt from Ars Technica:

Until now, virtually all of the studies performed on telecommuting have focused on the benefits for employees and their employers.

In-office employees in his study became disappointed at having fewer and weaker relationships. They also got frustrated at a perceived increase in workload and difficulties that telecommuting can present to finishing projects and building strong working relationships.

The survey factors in the holistic effect that telecommuting has on the morale of the team, which ultimately means the effect on non-telecommuters.

More computing in smaller form factors, coupled with the ease of connectivity means more independence for employees. Or does it? It works well for enterprises to brandish telecommuting as a privilege, but in reality it implies more of the employees' time devoted to the organization. However, that "privilege" may not accrue to all employees alike.

Telecommuting definitely has its green credentials, but from the perspective of the survey, what does the TR community have to say -- especially the non-telecommuters?

30 comments
jdclyde
jdclyde

First, there is the legal liability involved. If the worker has a slip and fall while "on the clock", who gets sued and pays the bill? The employer. Costs go up. Daycare was mentioned. How many people are going to be productive if they are taking care of their kids? Very few. Self-motivation. The majority of people fall under the "Cat is away, mouse will play". Without someone to see you playing solitaire all day, a lot of minimal effort will be put into the day. Forget working as a team. In general, you will not build a good team if they are all at home in their pj's. too easy to have the boss think of you as always on the clock. think back to the company cell phones and pagers. are you allowed to just turn your company phone off at quitting time? The strong points? Bad weather, you can still get some work done. It can be a reward handed out here and there, but not a daily deal.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

Telecommuting is a must. In the Bay Area, it can be down right brutal to commute too and from work. This morning, it took me 1.5 hours to get to work because of fog and traffic snarls. So, in terms that an employer will understand, I just wasted 1.5 hours doing nothing. I'll probably waste slightly less on the way home, but those could be productive hours spent. On the flip side, what is the difference between an employee that travels and a telecommuting employee? Nothing. So why the problems with the employee working from home? As long as they finish their projects and get done what they need to get done, who cares? The other benefits you have from telecommuting employees is that they tend to feel like they have a little more ability to control their schedule and will typically bring in fresh ideas because they aren't in the daily drudge of office life.

ireaneus
ireaneus

After all the posts, I still think telecommuting can be successful and very productive. I am looking for a job that involves telecommuting. Is there companies out there willing to hire telecommuters? If so, where are they?

MistyMue
MistyMue

I telecommunted for 2 years. For the non-telecommuters there was a mindset that we telecommuters were not working as hard as they were. For us telecommuters, we worked twice as hard because of that perception. Management has a lot to do with it too. If the management is of the opinion "if I can't see you, you aren't working" then telecommuting fails. In the 2 years I as at home I went out to lunch 3 times, the rest of the time opting to eat at my desk. I frequently was on my PC between 7:00 - 7:30 am and worked until 5:00 or later. I even remember being on a call at 1:00 am with 2 other telecommuters to fix a problem. When I didn't answer the phone because I was in the bathroom, the greeting when they called back was not "hello," but "where were you? You didn't answer the phone." Excuse me, but the company did not want to give me voice mail, which if I was sitting here at the main office would have picked up the call. No one would ever have asked me that question had I been here, but because I was home the perception was I was not doing my job and was out laying by the pool. I was even chewed out once for not answering my business line at 6:30 pm. Everyone at the main office left at 4:30 (the end of their day) so why was I expected to answer the business line in my house at 6:30 pm? If it was an emergency, the process is they were to page me. I always drove into the office for meetings (depending on the expected meeting length) and for office functions. My work was always done on time and my productivity was very high. I never understood why there was such anomosity with telecommuting. I found myself working longer hours just to make sure no one could accuse me of not doing my job. Telecommuters will tell you there has to be a balance of time and a cutoff. A telecommuter has to put limits on his/her availability. Non-telecommuters have to understand and accept that telecommuters do work and are productive. It is a total mindset issue and in some cases and a jealousy issue if the non-telecommuter wants to work at home, but job description does not allow it. I am now back in the office full time because our program, while successful, was terminated on the whim of the CIO. I am sure the items I listed above attributed to the decision.

dw
dw

It has to be. Whatever problems telecommuting may have must be overcome because it is a real solution to a multitude of serious problems. How was your commute to work today?

pr.arun
pr.arun

what does the TR community have to say about the holistic benefits from telecommuting - especially the non-telecommuters?

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

>If the worker has a slip and fall while "on >the clock", who gets sued and pays the bill? How do you know this? Has a court case set a precedent or a law passed? Please cite your source. >Daycare was mentioned. How many people are >going to be productive if they are taking >care of their kids? I don't have kids at home anymore, but when I did they would play in the yard, at a friends house, in their room, etc. Yeah, you got to check up on them, but not that often. If its a baby, baby monitors work wonders. >Self-motivation. The majority of people fall >under the "Cat is away, mouse will play". Citation? Study done to prove this? Or are you just making assumptions from your personal experience? >Without someone to see you playing solitaire >all day, a lot of minimal effort will be put >into the day. I don't know about you, but my manager is in meetings all day, so I barely see him during the work day. I make it a point to let him know what I am working on, any issues that I need help with, and when a particular task is done. He probably doesn't care about everything that I tell him about, but it keeps the communications channels open, which is what is important. >Forget working as a team. In general, you >will not build a good team if they are all >at home in their pj's. With my previous employer, I was a one-man show at my office. I never met my first manager in person, and my I didn't meet my fellow IT Coworkers until the company started closing offices and merged IT from several closed offices. If the didn't close the office, the switched from local support to remote support, so that IT only came onsite for hardware issues. >too easy to have the boss think of you as >always on the clock. think back to the >company cell phones and pagers. are you >allowed to just turn your company phone off >at quitting time? This point has applied to me for a very long time, but it continuously diminishes as companies appear ( from my experience ) to offer less and so employees ( included managers ) are less motivated to go above and beyond. That plus offshore after-hours support contracts have really reduced the number of after-hours support calls I receive.If you get a strong 24/7 Tier I structure in place, that you've given instruction on how to handle calls ( i.e. if this problem, page me, if this problem, just reboot the system, restart the service, etc. ) Tier 2 and 3 can get a lot more sleep after hours :) >The strong points? >Bad weather, you can still get some work >done. >It can be a reward handed out here and >there, but not a daily deal. This may be the correct solution for your current situation, but don't mistake it as a global one. I've seen engineers working from home design Telecom CO's that get lit up ( activated ) and run fun without them ever meeting a fellow employee. If they were playing solitaire, millions of dollars would have gone to waste.

JamesRL
JamesRL

I have a mixed team. Many of the junior people work in the office all week. Some of the more senior people work in the office part of the time, home on some other days. In their case some of their interactions are local (same office) some are remote (other offices). One of my staff works from home all the time. Some people have the self discipline to work at home and many of those people are more productive. They then have to have the discipline to go to the office often enough to maintain social relationships with people. It also depends on the type of tasks they do. I have a large staff and need to see them and be available. My boss on the other hand has no reports in the same city. He goes into the office to show the flag for our group, but doesn't need to do that every day. I've been working from home while healing. Personally I miss the interactions in the office, and I find it tough to concentrate when the kids come home (about 3:30). But Much of my job is in conference calls anyway, so I can be effective whereever I am. James

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

"On the flip side, what is the difference between an employee that travels and a telecommuting employee? Nothing" I disagree, there are advantages and disadvantages to telecommuting. To name a few Advantage -- Company does not need a set area (cube/workspace). Company does not use as much power -- each person working from home is using their own power Company has happier employees Disadvantages Some people wll slack off and/or do other things rather than work. Remote workers dont have the 'kinship' with fellow employees. remote workers will spend more time trying to figure something out, rather than ask a team member Like I said, just a few things. However, I do prefer working from home sometimes, but if I had a choice, I would likely be on-site almost as much as I currently am. So as you say that there is no difference, I see large differences.

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

Let me do a quick list of benefits: Environment - telecommute = less driving = less pollution. Your planet will thank you. Moral - Employees work in more comfortable environment, can watch their kids at home ( no child care worries ), etc. They also feel more in control, and well, you are treating them like adults, and they will act thusly. Money - Gas prices anyone? Expensive dry cleaning to look good at the office? And the child care that I already mentioned. Society - better work environment, less traffic = a better atmosphere in general. And the employer is not left out. They can spend less on providing parking and office equipment as employees are providing those items now. En sum, win-win situation.

BrettFusion
BrettFusion

MistyMue's experience was very similar to mine. I was telecommuting for nearly five years for a single organization. At first, I was so eager to 'be there' for my employer, that I practically never missed any calls, and emails were responded to with lightning-fast speed. And, I soon found that I was suffering from the 'where were you?' issue with the very rare missed phone calls or emails that weren't answered immediately.. I found myself practically chained to my desk, with a fear that I was setting myself up to fail, due to this 'got to be there all the time' mindset I shared with my employer. But, I eventually realized that the responsibility for reversing the mindset was mine. I started a carefully scripted program of missing more calls and taking longer to respond to emails. Each time it happened, I would immediately insert a small explanation before my employer could ask 'where were you'... (e.g., "Hello, this is [the boss]." "Hey [boss], sorry I missed your call.. I had to take a potty break") As belittling as this was, it took away the concern about my missing calls immediately. Then, over time, I started giving less and less information... (e.g., "Hello?" "Hey [boss], sorry I missed your call." "Oh, no problem.") And... ultimately, I took out the explanations completely... and had 'trained' my employer to expect to miss me on one or two out of every five calls. At the same time, in each of my annual reviews, I was constantly praised as being the 'most reachable' and 'most reliable' employee. Anyway, I honestly believe that the only way to get through these types of mindsets is for the telecommuter to not let their eagerness and/or thankfulness (for being 'allowed' to telecommute) to set themselves up for failure. Yes, you'll still likely work more hours than anyone in the office... and you'll still likely catch 9 out of 10 calls on the first ring... but when you miss that 10th call, nobody will panic that you're not doing your job.

hfeddema
hfeddema

Yes, it is beneficial. We should move data, not people! All knowledge workers should telecommute. Why have any in-house workers at all? Working relationships can be achieved by working together on projects, with email, phone and IM communications as needed. I have been working with some of my clients for over 10 years, without meeting them in the physical world.

mhanratty
mhanratty

My company has found that we can retain some of our best people by allowing telecommuting and working as virtual teams. The impact on non-telecommuters is not as great when most of our interaction is over the phone and network anyway.

jdclyde
jdclyde

[b]Liability.[/b] I read, and there have been a LOT of articles discussing this topic for a few years. It is surprising that this is a first for you to hear about it. Telecommuting: A Legal Primer http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/0003/sb000320.htm Firms Liable for Telecommuters' Safety http://www.inc.com/articles/1999/05/13734.html Rise in telecommuting prompts concerns over workers'-compensation insurance http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3718/is_200607/ai_n17184955 [i]""If the injury occurred while the employee was working out of a home office, it is covered under workers'-compensation insurance," Jones explains."[/i] ======================================== [b]Daycare.[/b] I laugh at your understanding on how much time kids take, especially if an infant. You are a funny person. ======================================== [b]Productivity[/b] Does Telecommuting Really Increase Productivity? http://www.empirenet.com/westfalr/prdctvty.html And as I CLEARLY said, it depends on the person. =================================== That is enough reading material for now. You probably won't read the links anyways, so no reason to cover any other issues for now. Clearly you have been accused of wasting time at some point for you to take this as such a personal attack against you. Glad it is working out for you, though. It isn't for everyone.

jdclyde
jdclyde

It also depends on the distractions around. On days when I HAD to work from home, I would have to make a point to not let the ex know before hand or she would act like I have the day off and would be able to run errands and stuff. She then got VERY upset when I would inform her that I was working, and did not have time to amuse her or run things around for her. We also had a programmer that started to work remotely. At first it worked out well, but she had kids at home (the reason she was working remotely in the first place) and after a few months, her productivity really dropped and became pretty much useless. A good thing because when we had to do a one-person cutback in the department, it was an easy call on who should/could go. B-)

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

Dude, the other day I was playing flash games in my cube because there was too much noise in the office. Working at home means staying in your fuzzy slippers and plopping down on the couch and doing work. Going to work means dressing for work and doing the same, but without your fuzzy slippers...What's the difference?

hfeddema
hfeddema

If people are going to slack off, they can do that just as well at the office (remember those hot keys to put up a fake worksheet when the boss comes by?). Studies showing the amount of online shopping and porn viewing that take place on office computers show how much slacking is going on at the office.

wesley.chin
wesley.chin

Right now, there is someone who is doing that. Except there are a few differences from what you describe. The employee has a laptop that was purchased by the company expressly so that the employee could work at home. This is despite the employee having a computer at home. The employee does have a child, but no childcare was needed, since the half of the workday was spent at the office when telecommuting had not begun. The point about less driving and pollution could be had without telecommuting. Namely through utilization of public transit.

JamesRL
JamesRL

At Nortel, was that if you had kids, you had to have someone to take care of them or all bets are off. You can spend lunch with them, and the odd break, but you have to have a daycare provider. Good idea. You also had to have a quiet work environment. They would pay for furniture etc., but you needed to set aside an area in a quiet space. I've met lots of programmers who worked well from home. But it is important to consider both the role and the person. James

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

When in the office, its easier to slack off. I mean, you showed up and clocked in, so you did your part, right? Now think about working from home. Omg, what have you accomplished? Nothing but wake up. Get some work do to prove that you are being productive. Earn the right to work from home, dang it! See the difference? Its all about psychology.

hfeddema
hfeddema

If you are a programmer, at least, when you deliver the database, add-in, template or whatever, and it works, your employer knows that you have been working. If the job is so vague that there really isn't a work product to examine, maybe it doesn't need to be done.

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

Seeing as they put in tons of overtime before the hours/working from home restrictions we put into place, I would say yes. One in particular would even stay in the office overnight to watch over very serious, revenue-stream impacting problems. Not anymore. 8 hours and that is it.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

some slacking is OK, but too many people want to just surf the web, and collect a paycheck. If these same people were to work at home, would anything ever really get done? I knew someone that was in a continuation class (high school) that never really studied much at all. His homework was easy and he just had to show up once a week to turn in and pick up new work. Anyway, he never did his own work, but still passed the class.

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

Related to what hfeddema said, my current employer used to let salaried employees work from home, flexible hours,etc and people ( including myself ) would put in insane number of hours a week because they could do it at their convenience. Then came new rules such as core hours, time sheet reports, etc, and the mentality of employees changed to one where they put in the only the newly defined minimum number of hours and no more. But hey, the company is getting what it asked for...40hrs a week. They probably don't miss those free extra 20-30hrs of productivity that people used to put in each week.

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

I agree 100%, that was a great point. For me, time is also important, as I often have appointments during the work day, after work, etc etc. I often change clothes at the office and then go straight to movies, soccer, shopping, school, etc. The mass transit system refuses to accommodate my schedule. :) With telecommuting, I could position myself pretty much anywhere that gives me VPN access to the office and is also a good location from where I can travel to my after-work activities.

hfeddema
hfeddema

Public transport -- what public transport? Unless you live in a big city, there isn't any public transport to speak of. Where I live, there is a little bus (Ulster County Rural Transport) that runs on major highways a few times a day. Nothing to get you from your house to the bus, so it is useless unless you (and your destination) are both located on Rt. 209, and exact timing is not important. We should be moving data, not people!

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

In some areas of the country it does work (re: NY and the Bay Area), but in many it either is close to non-existent or so poorly managed it might as well not be there....so the employer would have employees that would not show up to work or be quite late because of the poor public transportation.

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

It will help if the employees use it, but with the crazy schedules most people have, I doubt it. Oh, you took the bus to work and now need to get to a restaurant to eat? Nearest one is 3 miles away and its 15 degrees outside? I guess you shoulda brought your lunch. I have class immediately after work, probably not a common occurence, but I definitely wouldn't be able to go to school if at the mercy of the public transportation schedule. However ( again, from my personal situation ) my school is a 7 min walk from home, so working from home would be great :). Equipment would best be supplied and controlled by the employer, but for the home employee, they might just supply a computer and not a desk/cube, copier fax machine, telephone, hvac, etc. Child care, I didn't think of that one b/c I don't have kids. Some employers subsidize this or even provide it on site, others do not.

wesley.chin
wesley.chin

1. Just saw the post from someone about advantages to telecommuting and office equipment was mentioned. 2. The employee had a spouse, who worked the night shift. During the time in office, the spouse was doing child care. 3. From a purely financial and environmental viewpoint, public transit is good. No need to pay for employee parking, less cars (pollution)on road, less traffic congestion. But of course public transit does have disadvantages. But if thinking strictly from the side of the profit driven companies, the disadvantages don't matter.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

1) Why should the employee use their own computer for the employer? 2) I don't get your point about childcare, if they work half day at office, wouldn't they need half a day of child care? 3) Public transportation!?? You live in Dallas, and you know it sucks there...you think it is better in Bumfart, Nebraska? There are VERY few areas with good public transportation (and those with good public transportation can't keep up with the demand...I'm looking at you BART) and even fewer areas where public transportation is even a viable solution.

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