Telecommuting – A Two Edged Sword

Whenever you meet someone for the first time the subject invariably rolls around to what you do for a living and where.

I’m a telecommuter (aka working virtual office, work at home, etc.) Working for an IT organization over the past fifteen years I’ve been blessed with the experience of telecommuting part time from 1998 to 2002 and then full time from 2003 to the present.

Almost all of the reactions I get are ‘That’s fantastic for you’ and they get that envious look in their eye. But they become baffled when I tell them it’s truly a two edged sword.

They all day dream of waking up, avoiding the long drives to the office and working in their PJ’s. Yes, it’s true you can work in your PJ’s and allow your personal hygiene to slip for as long as you want and spend no money on gas.

On the other hand, there is the total isolation. You only communicate with another human being when your on the phone or via the already impersonal means of instant messaging. You can never truly judge the other persons reaction through all of this.

Not to mention you really have no friends through all of this. Sure, you may have one or two people you work with that you develop a rapport with and can talk more candidly with, but when your entire strata of work relationships is scattered across the eastern seaboard, your opportunity for developing a true camaraderie is slim if at all. You can’t just strike a talk about the game passing in the hall for thirty seconds. Meeting for lunch and after work for drinks or maybe the Monday Night Football game are gone.

And, as much as everyone says they would love the isolation, (like marriage) that honeymoon feeling fades and you settle into a grind that is much easier to get through when you have other people around for the simple recognition that you are a good person no matter how hard the corporate grist mill grinds because no one passes by your cubby on the way to the water cooler to recognize your new hair or how much weight you lost or how well you handled that jerk in accounting.

Then, there is the work environment. You have to own a home thats conducive with residents that are cooperative with working at home. Working at the dining room table while the wife or kids or noisy large dogs or lawn mowers are going is not the best way to focus on what you’re doing and produce for the team. Trying to use a master bedroom when a mate wants to sleep or watch tv or have that discussion you’ve been putting off doesn’t fly either.

Then there is mental self discipline. You need the self discipline to ensure that you stay focused on your work rather than doing all the chores in the house to avoid that project you so dread. And you also need the self discipline to tell yourself enough is enough, you’ve slaved from 8am to 11pm on nothing but coffee and chocolates for the past week and you need to walk away, take a break and visit the land of the living.

Here are some tips for telecommuting sanely and successfully:

  1. Have a room dedicated to use as an office, preferably with an insulated door and a normal interior door lock to isolate yourself from the live-at-home distractions who invariably believe that if you’re at home, your free whenever they are. If it has a limited number of windows, all the better for noise dampening in the suburban setting when the lawn warriors are out in force and it sounds like the deck of an aircraft carrier.

  2. Set a schedule and try to keep to it as best you can. Start and end your day at a given time each day. And for heavens sake include a lunch break in your schedule. Just because you’re working at home doesn’t mean you have to be inhuman. A little break from work is a good thing. It allows you to regroup and finish out the day more refreshed. Healthy alternatives like exercise will definitely generate endorphins to combat cabin-fever. Or meet a friend for lunch. Or run a few errands. Or satisfy some self serving whimsy, just take that break.

  3. Avoid distractions in the schedule. Don’t think you’ll be able to concentrate on leading a conference call while sorting the laundry, doing the dishes, starting the roast, scrubbing the bathroom and cleaning the pool all at once. The distractions will take away from your ability to focus on the quality of your work. Try to limit all non-work related activities to non-work hours or at least to times of work when there is little or no demand for your attention. Additionally, don’t get caught in the middle of something you can’t stop easily if the boss calls and needs your undivided attention.

  4. Get the cooperation of those you live with. When you first start telecommuting, those immediately around you will have to be trained that just because you are at home does not mean you have all the time in the world to get things done for them. Getting a honeydew list from the spouse with a ‘before I get home’ deadline doesn’t fly. Things will have to wait until the work day is done. You’re time is supposed to be dedicated to working. On the other hand, using that ‘commute time’ that got freed up to contribute before and after your working hours will win kudos with the significant other.

  5. Telecommuting (aka virtual office) implies you will be using a few technology solutions. This post won’t discuss details. From my personal experience, keep it as simple and flexible as possible. I’ll cover more details in the future.

As for the conversation with those that ask about the two-edged sword of telecommuting, it’s up to you whether you decide to gloat or put a picture of reality out there for them. So for those exploring, consider the possibilities. For those with no choice, take heed. There will be more to come.

Author: 21Buzzards

Mid-life retired reservist in the corporate IT world parenting a grandchild. Sharing my evolution as age and priorities impact life.

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