What your boss hates about telecommuting

Summary:If you're not having any luck convincing your boss that you should be able to work from home, trying seeing it from his or her perspective.

Your boss probably stands between you and this.
In theory, everyone wants telecommuting to work. It is hard to argue against the goodness of companies saving on office space, managers landing happier and more productive workers who have more hours a day to work because they're not in traffic, or drained from it; HR departments and recruiters pitching work-life balance to recruits, a priceless tactic to lure workers, young or old, who crave more flexibility than the confines of most office arrangement provide, and employees getting to spend less at the pump.

Yes, saving on gas. With the price of a gallon of gas higher than it has ever been in U.S. history, offering cash-strapped employees the option to telecommute for all or part of the workweek is the perk du jour this summer.

But in practice, remote work is struggling on its way to the workplace cure-all it was once hoped to be. It's been associated with career stagnancy, those left in the office feeling dumped on and telecommuters getting the short end of the stick, as those out of sight are often the first ones getting pink slips during a downsizing.

Plus, odds are, your boss or manager is just not crazy about it, and not just because they might be a curmudgeon. In fact, you might even agree he or she has a few points:

1. Telecommuting is often poorly defined.

Most managers will tell you that they think there is a misunderstanding as to what working from home is and is not--working "anywhere" versus working "anytime." When a boss or organization enables employees to work from home, it's not so that the employee can schedule their day as they wish, running errands, watching the kids or otherwise "flexing" away from the computer for a spell--they're simply giving you the option to not drive into the office.

"Smart employers have learned they actually do need to be flexible in working out schedules with employees that respect and embrace family obligations and extra-office activities," explains Ken Hardin at IT Business Edge's Bullet Point's blog. "... But there still has to be a predictable schedule, and employees have to stick with it, predictably."

2. Not every company, or job role or individual is cut out for remote work.

The fact is, not every corporate culture meshes well with the flexible nature of telecommuting. You may play all of your cards right, but still feel resented when you're back in the office, and there's little you can do to change this.

There are also positions for which remote work is all but impossible, such as many in the IT department.

"To be fair, not every position can telecommute, and upgrading systems for remote workers can be costly. Technical support can be awkward. IT has never made a house call to my house," writes Susan Harkins at Tech Republic's Tech of All Trades blog.

3. There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction.

Repeat after me: Telecommuting is not a panacea. It doesn't cure cancer. It will not make you love a job that you do not. If you didn't like your boss before, yes, you'll still be working for him or her. If you had trouble managing your time well under the watchful eye of your superiors, well, it's going to be a whole lot harder from your living room sofa, with ESPN a click away.

And if you work in the kind of office where decisions are often made over impromptu meetings after last-minute lunches whether you're in that day or not, you're going to be quickly pushed out of the loop.

"I was missing things all the time," a self-described "recovering telecommuter," an IT professional in the Austin area told me. "It wasn't just the business agendas that would come up over lunch but even the things I hated when I was there--the gossip, the people who'd drop into my cube and interrupt my day and the ease of talking to people. I felt like I needed to schedule a conference call just to discuss the smallest detail of a project."

Topics: CXO, IT Employment

About

Deb Perelman is a journalist in New York City with a focus on tech and the daily grind. Previously she was a reporter for eWEEK, leading the magazine and Web site's coverage of the issue and trends that affect IT workers.

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