When Marissa Mayer told Yahoo telecommuters to show up in the office or else, it set off a wave of concern among the nation's telecommuters. It was clear that quite a few of the Yahoo remote worker contingent were abusing the system, but that didn't mean that all telecommuters were doing the same. Fortunately, rational heads held sway across the multiple industries that had moved portions of their workforces to home-worker status, and eventually the furor died down.
Like everything else, there are advantages and disadvantages to telecommuting. Not having to shave or put on make-up is just part of the picture. Here's a real portrait of the telecommuter lifestyle in the form of telecommuting myths busted.
Telecommuters are slackers
Telecommuters actually have to work harder to overcome the perception that they are not working as hard. Unfortunately, the perception that telecommuters are slackers is still alive and well with insecure micromanagers.
Solution: Some people do try to game the system, but if true productivity is really the metric instead of something less measurable and more vague, and if people are allowed to be accountable for their own performance, there will be no slacking. The key is to have clear and measurable performance metrics that both managers and telecommuters accept up front.
Telecommuters avoid office politics
Long-term telecommuters do not get promoted as often. Unfortunately, one of the unwritten aspects of the job description that comes with a promotion is that your new boss has unlimited access to you. One of the reasons telecommuters like working out of the office is that they are interrupted less by guess who -- you guessed it. This is just one way that the office political dynamic reaches out and touches you when you are telecommuting.
There are other ways as well. You won't hear about it if people are gossiping about you at work. You will not have an opportunity to defend or deflect criticism. Getting someone on the phone is harder than walking over to their desk.
Solution: If these are real concerns for you, you may want to opt for that commute and cubicle.
Telecommuters make their own schedules
Work still starts regardless of where you are, and deadlines are still real and specific regardless of your time zone. If the office is in the Eastern Time Zone and your home is in the Pacific Time Zone, you will be getting up earlier whether for conference calls or to be part of online collaborations. The office time zone that an immediate manager inhabits will dominate the telecommuter's life.
Solution: Get used to it.
Telecommuters don't have to go to meetings
Meetings still happen, and you still have to be there. You can wear your bunny slippers and show up in your underwear or PJs, but you still have to pay attention and show that you are there, at least in spirit.
Solution: Contribute regularly. Learn how to operate the mute button and don't pretend to be "mute challenged." In most companies, telecommuting is a privilege. Treat it as one and respect your co-workers by interacting in meetings responsibly. With the amount of technology available, the toughest part about communicating is convincing yourself you have to.
Telecommuting is easier
Telecommuting is actually a lot more complex if there are other people in the house. Smaller houses and shared spaces make telecommuting even harder. Sometimes it just isn't worth it. At work everyone knows why they are there, at home there is a conflict of interest. Kids don't understand why you can't stop. If there is only one phone line in the house, sharing the phone can be a problem.
Solution: You may need additional equipment. Phone line, speakerphone, fax, office furniture, etc. Factor these costs into your thinking. Often your company will help defray some of these costs. It never hurts to ask.
There may not be more interruptions, but there will be interruptions. They will just come from a different source. Unfortunately, it is sometimes harder to say no to a family member than to a co-worker. This is something that every telecommuter with a family has to work out for themselves.
If you do telecommute, there are things you can do to make it easier for yourself. Whatever you do, don't make it harder than it already is. Here are some thoughts:
- Most people are actually more productive if they dress for work instead of trying to work in their pajamas.
- After you try telecommuting, you will probably discover that your office experience is more of a social experience than you think.
- Feeling isolated and not in the loop is a major negative consequence of telecommuting for some people.
- There are serendipitous encounters that happen when you are in the flow of interacting with other people in the office that you will miss.
- You may not get invited to gatherings or parties unless you stay in touch with the social connectors in the office.
- Full-time telecommuters have to deal with some distinct disadvantages.
Telecommuting isn't for everyone. Some personalities just are not comfortable with it. Give it a trial before you make a commitment. You may decide it isn't for you.
Nick Rojas is a business consultant and writer.
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