What your boss hates about telecommuting

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.

TOPICS: CXO, IT Employment

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

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  • since 1994....

    since 1994 I've been a full time telecommuter. It works very well for me and my family. I can see it NOT working for many people and many careers. Lower auto insurance rates, no commuting costs.. but your home electric bill may creep up. At one point I did not step on company office turf for 9 years in a row. Then again my manager works from his home 2,000 miles to the west. When it works it is great !
    Steve Stone
  • RE: What your boss hates about telecommuting

    Has anyone seen articles on the benefits of going to a 4-day work week instead of telecommuting? I think for those departments where telecommuting may not work, perhaps four 10 hour days would be able to provide the same level of support/productivity -- help the environment and the employee's pocketbook.
  • There is more to telecommuting than broad band internet access

    In order to succeed, telecommuting can not be implemented with a one-size-fits-all approach. Workplace dynamics and social issues are just as important as reliable internet access. Workers need to feel like they are part of the work force, and they need to be able separate work life from home life. Some workers are able to work efficiently from their home 5 days a week. Some staff members will work more productively if they come into the office once a week (on preset days.) Other workers can be more efficient if they work from a remote office center, which allows them to work in a familiar environment with professional facilities and a sense of workplace (even if it is in a location shared with staff from other companies).

    The technology works. Successful telecommuting requires more than just technology. Management and workers need to make sure they are meeting the needs of both employers and employees.
  • but if you already work 5+ 10 hour days?!?

    For some, a 40 hour work week would be nice :-)~

    Another obstical can be a micro manager with tunnel vision who thinks that even though he is over 2K miles away, everybody needs to be in the office. (or a former managers attitude, if you are able to make it to the office, that is where you work from, period!)

    Funny thing is I worked from home for almost 2 months in a row and Mr. Micromanager had no idea I did not work from the office!

    Gotta be here just in case someone has a question.

    Yes I do agree many tasks or meetings are better served face to face, but if you can arrange the schedule to be in the office when needed & work remote when it is not, it can work great for all. (except during summer school break where I would rather work from the office!)
  • Good point on home cost increases

    1. Your electric bill is going to be higher because you are running equipment and lights that would otherwise be turned off (assuming you care enough about your carbon/energy footprint and electric bill to turn stuff off when not at home).

    2. Your heating and cooling bills will be higher since you will want you home to be at the optimum temperature for occupancy; insead of lowering the thermostat while out all day in the winter or raising the A/C temp during the summer.

    3. Your water and sewage bills will be higher due to higher usage.

    4. Your trash volume will increase.

    5. You may lose some space at home if you have to have a confidential trash recepticle or shredder.

    Those of us who were suddenly unemployed for many months during the dot-com bust and moderately observant, saw that all those costs increased during the months we were home conducting job searches and drawing unemployment checks.
    • Not Necessarily

      ... 1, 2, 3, and 4 do not apply if you've already got a family at home all day.
    • Compare costs

      For me these days it costs roughly $300 per month to commute, or about $12.00 per day (likely will be more by tomorrow). I live 25 miles out and public transit is not an acceptable option (Five hours versus 45 minutes? Sorry). I save by car-pooling with the SO, whose office is nearly on the way (she also spent $300 a month).

      I can't work from home except on rare occasions because company policy prohibits it. Based on the nature of our data, I tend to agree, but we do need to ensure that we can connect and work remotely in a disaster, so we test our abilities every so often.

      On those days I work from home I use CFLs unless natural lighting is enough, I use a fan in the summer and a sweater in the winter, and leave the unoccupied temp settings alone (60-75 degrees).

      The equipment is a laptop, so only a few watts for the power supply, and a company cell phone. I don't print anything so there's no worries about secure disposal, but I have a cross-cut shredder if necessary.

      Drinking water is bottled, and I brew coffee in the morning anyway. The big-current item would be the microwave for lunch, but when you're paying by the kilowatt-hour (about 8 cents, I think), a couple kilowatt-minutes isn't much.

      I'd have to say that even if every light were on, and the thermostat were set to occupied, and I ran the faucet during the entire work day, I could spend more than $12.00. But in reality I'd spend a lot less by telecommuting.

      YMMV, of course.
      Larry the Security Guy
  • is this trip necessary?

    The main problems with regular commuting are the time and money required to do it every day. Not just cash transportation, but for clothes and lunches too. As the price of fuel escalates, distant job sites are now simply "not worth the trip." A better solution (for larger companies, anyway) would be adding small offices and satellite locations that are an easy commute for most employees. Let the six-figure bighshots travel 100 miles daily to the big city if they want to. The company is probably picking up the tab anyway.

    Telecommuting has its own problems, the main ones beings isolation and loneliness for the telecommuter. Workers need to interact with each other on all levels, and nothing beats being there face-to-face. Most commuters do not need an audience, but they do look forward to seeing a few familiar faces on a regular basis. A short commute ads some structure to the day that (apparently) most people find helpful to establishing the mindset needed for doing regular office work.

    Ineffective management probably hates telecommuting because if the telecommuter is productive, he/she constantly reminds everyone (by sheer presence alone) that many managers are simply unnecessary. Who do you schedule meetings with if your underlings are all efficiently grinding out the corporate product 300 miles away on a schedules of their own choosing and convenience?

    Don Mennie
  • Doesn't always work.

    My job would be one of those that telecommuting is impossible. Drivers, the blue collar workers of the transportation industry, cannot telecommute, cannot lower fuel usage by carpooling. My shift is from 2230 till 630. 5 days a week.
    • For those who can't telecommute

      There are many jobs where people can not telecommute. However, they would reap the benefits of telcommuting because there would be less cars on the road, which would result in less traffic and less fuel consumption. All this would lower fuel demand and increase efficiency for other other drivers.
    • Drivers rule

      I know drivers can have a grueling workweek, even with the hours of operations rules. I just wanted to give you a shout-out. I have to go study now!
  • RE: What your boss hates about telecommuting

    Telecommuting has been talked about for probably 10 years, yet where is it? Not much in America. But if you look at India, China and a lot of Europe, they have gotten it to a fine science. But then, they have been faster to integrate new technology than the US.

    Again, America is increasingly less competitive, and all we do it talk about it.

    A few companies have learned to manage it well and encourage it. They will be the market leaders.

    Don't worry, those companies who do not allow telecommuting, remote conferencing/collaboration will simply go out of business, and will no longer be a problem.
    The Rationalist
  • Task and time, what you get for your time...

    I have always had a problem with management about this issue: Say you give me a task that in your opinion takes 8 hours and I get it done in 2? Well the boss's task is done, so I want to go home and the boss wants to get more out of my hide by making me work out the last 6 hours. That is why I am a consultant, the boss gets his job done, he doesn't know it took 2 hours, and he can pound sand for the last 6 hours and I get paid.
  • RE: What your boss hates about telecommuting

    If a job can be done by a U.S. employee who only telecommutes, it can be done more cheaply by any employee anywhere in the world with the same skill set and who will accept lower wages.

    I WANT my clients to know ME. There is nothing like personal contact. And clients deserve no less.
    • Something to consider...

      I firmly believe that telecommuting in one of my former positions was a "trial run" by the company. They promoted off site flex work and telecommuting as a quality of life issue.

      After about a year of several hundred of our IT staffers working from home, we were then transferred to a separate newly created division. We were told that this was to "move IT into a separate division to market us to outside companies."

      I told everyone who would listen that this did not bode well no matter what the company said in emails and meetings. My team mates thought I was being paranoid.

      A short time later, all of the IT department worldwide sold off to a well known technology firm. We were told that it was best for our careers to be working for an IT firm. Of course, the loss of all profit sharing was not mentioned in the Power Point slides!

      Well, while working at home several months later, I was IM'd by my boss to call him. He laid me off over the phone without fanfare after almost 10 years with the original company.

      Morale to the story: IMHO, be careful what you wish for in working from home. If you can work from home, so too can lower cost workers in Kuala Lampur and Bratislava, Slovakia in my case. Of course, customer satisfaction with the outsourcing is a whole other discussion.
  • RE: What your boss hates about telecommuting

    to be honest the jobs ive had allowed me to be a telecommuter for the last 17 years. this im sure is the exception but, it was either telecommute or jump on a plane. i believe that most positions could be telecommuting. a couple things pop to mind. when i was a boss, i needed to be sure that the staff i had was self motivated enough to be able to work from home to get 'work' done versus sitting in their deck drinking beer. once it was determined it was ok for that person, my mind was at ease. ive had some of the best people in the country work for me and i could rely on them to get 'it' done. i also have had 'bosses' as well. in most cases i have found that 'bosses' and 'managers' differ. a 'boss' is the guy that is a micro manager and demands 'face' time to him/her because they are insecure and cannot determine if an employee is good or bad. a 'manager' will make himself/herself available to the employee for work advice and make sure the telecommuter has every thing they need to be successful. a'boss' just stares over your shoulder making sure the decision you make is the one the 'boss' would have made. a 'manager' will help an employee make a decision. the above may not e true in all cases but in my career this is what i have seen.
    i could go on forever on the telecommuting issues but the last two i will mention are that some employees 'need' to have the water bubbler time, meaning they need peer interaction and the other is that some smaller companies may not have the technical expertise in house to be able to support the telecommuter in which case the telecommuting benefits are null.
    my .02