Telecommuting: It’s Not All Bunny Slippers And Bathrobes
By Nicolle Fogleson
She watches the sun rise from the east window of her home, snatches the paper off the porch, then moseys into the kitchen to start the morning coffee. After the kids are hustled off to school, she lets the dog out for a quick tour of the backyard, then - still clad in her oversized bathrobe and pink bunny slippers - fires up her trusty computer, fax machine, and copier, settling in for another peaceful day at the office.
Who is this robed woman? Why can she afford the leisure of working at home? Wouldn’t it be nice to be her?
Well, maybe it would and maybe it wouldn’t. While it may seem that such workers have it pretty easy, that’s anything but the truth. Referred to as "telecommuters," many opt to work less in the morning and more fervently in the evening, turning out their share of reports, projects and routine daily tasks when most folks are winding down for the day.
9 Million People Doing It
The number of people who telecommute has been on the rise, mostly due to more efficient use of technology including the Internet, voicemail, and e-mail. According to Telecommute America, a national public-private initiative committed to raising public awareness of telecommuting, the number of workers who telecommute today has nearly tripled since 1990. A Find/SVP survey recently estimated the number at 9 million.
Companies implement telecommuting in an effort to maximize office space, decrease relocation costs, reduce overtime and comply with the Federal Clean Air Act, which requires decreased commuting for all companies with more than 100 employees.
John Andrews, president of Rockworth Inc., says he would rather spend money on a new engineer than on office space. He allows five of his employees to telecommute three days a week. The rest of their work time is spent in the field.
While telecommuting saves on office space, it is effective only if you have the right workers and the right technology, says Steve Ossandon, president of Interworks Systems Inc. His company seems to have just that. "We have six teleworkers, all software developers. They’re located throughout the Northeast and communicate with the office and each other on a regular basis. We’ve been doing this for two years and only had to disconnect one person."
"The technology is there," Ossandon adds, "and is easy enough to use even for those still coming to grips with the technological revolution. The phones are fully digital with multiple lines, and work much like those in the office; dial-up routers make connections to the corporate network or the Internet a no-brainer."
Not For Everyone
While the technology is there and a number of employers are using it, many workers are simply not interested in working in their slippers. Loneliness, cabin fever, general household distractions, jealousy from co-workers and less access to copiers and other office services cause many workers to say "no thanks" when asked to become a telecommuter.
But for some of the 9 million who have given it a shot, it seems to be a blessing in disguise. "Anyone who tracks the trends in their own, personal energy levels will soon discover their highs and lows during a day. Telecommuting allows me to concentrate and tackle detailed problems when my energy is highest...then to get up and take a walk when energy begins to flag," says Cathleen Jones, who telecommutes for Autodesk Inc. "For writing and research, the quiet solitude is worth its weight in gold. No longer do ringing phones interrupt my activity. And there is less chance that someone will walk in and interrupt me either," she adds.
Others laud how telecommuting allows them to spend more time on the important things. "I usually get out of bed, send the kids off, and start working. I don’t have to take a shower, put on the suit, put on makeup or drive the one and a half hours in traffic to my office downtown," says Michelle Waters who telecommutes as a project manager for AT&T.
One telecommuter who works for Ossandan says that she didn’t have to give up a
career to find just any job that would allow her to be home at 3:15 to meet the school bus. As a telecommuter, she simply takes a 10-minute break from work and walks down the block.
"In the time it takes for smokers to take a cigarette break, I can move laundry between machines or load the dishwasher and get mundane household chores accomplished. I’m not taking away from my obligations to my company and I am greatly helping to finish chores that take away from personal time on the weekends," says Jones.
Trust Is Key Component
While many companies have implemented telecommuting programs, there are many that aren’t keen on the concept. Some managers believe that telecommuting will cause them to lose control of their employees. One manager for a software company in Florida explains that departmental communications will likely suffer and the telecommuter could very likely abuse the situation because there are a lot more interesting distractions at home.
This apprehension is understandable, says Rockworth's Andrews. "Trust in your employees is a necessity. Without trust, telecommuting will easily cause you more stress, rather than less. If I felt my teleworkers were untrustworthy in the slightest, they wouldn’t be telecommuting - but also remember, would you
want an untrustworthy person working for your company at all?"
"Telecommuting isn’t as easy as plopping around the house in my bunny slippers," explains one Seattle telecommuter. "I am permitted to work at home and the work is work and it has to be done or I’m out of a job. But, oh, I wouldn’t give it up for any other job at this point. Not to mention how great it’s affected my relationship with my husband and kids, and relieved me of migraine headaches that used to attack me on my hour-commute home from work. Telecommuting has brought positive aspects to all different areas of my life. It should definitely be an option at every place of work."
Copyright Nicolle Fogleson 2005