The Realities Of Daily Telecommuting

Telecommuniting seems beautiful on paper: work from home or any location you want, without the hassle of going into an office. Telecommuter Sylvia Marino explains how the day-to-day realities are quite different from the perceived fantasy.

Photo by jessamyn.

In an article for the New York Times, executive director of car website Sylvia Marino writes that often the expectations are different for telecommuters than people who work face-to-face in an office, even though the work demands are exactly the same. She addresses the importance of including structure and routine; more importantly, she highlights the (lack of) separation between home and work. Often, because of it, many people assume that it is appropriate to contact her at any time of the day:

Some telecommuters say it gets lonely, but I'd say a bigger problem for most of this group is feeling that they always have to be available. If I call people at the office and the phone goes to voice mail, I figure that they've stepped away from their desk for a minute or are in a meeting. But if someone calls me, I feel that I'm expected to pick up the phone within three rings — no matter what time of day or night.

People think that I'm always at my desk. But I have conference calls and meetings, just as my colleagues in the office do, and I get up to get coffee or grab lunch, too. I don't ever want to be perceived as holding up people's work because they can't reach me, so I make sure to get back to everyone as soon as I can.

There was a day when people thought you had all kinds of free time if you worked from home. There's still some of that stigma, but the remote workers I know have strict accountability. None of us would last long if we weren't really working when we were supposed to.

There are often workarounds Marino employs in her defence: she omits that she works at home, and her children aren't allowed to bother her while she's working. Still, Marino often finds she is more productive telecommuting without the common office distractions.

If you can identify with Marino, and you've got tips for handling expectations telecommuting with an office, sound off in the comments below.

Debunking the Myths of the Telecommute [NYT]


    Been working this way for a few years, and it's not as easy as people tend to think.
    First of all, it does feel lonely, going to the office helps you develop relationships with people on a personal level, and on a professional level and makes your work easier and smoother.
    Discussing issues over the phone or email tends to be more one sides, and problems develop easier.

    I'd love to be able to go back to the office, but without the long driving and waste of time (closer office maybe?)

    Definitely can relate with Marino on this one. I have been freelance designing/developing for over a year and luckily deal with the majority of my clients via email, so the phone isn't too much of a problem. However I did have an otherwise fantastic client who would call me on Saturday nights, for example, to give me updates about his business. I guess it's about finding the right balance, and deciding how you want to be perceived and making the rules clear from the beginning. No real problem for me at the moment so I'm just going to keep answering when people call until it's not working for me any more.

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