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Building a Case For Telecommuting

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the where-did-my-robot-avatar-go dept.

The Internet 230

Esther Schindler writes "Many of us geeks prefer to work at home without distractions, but a lot of bosses still believe that if they don't see you, you must be lolling about, eating bon-bons and playing Angry Birds. 'There may be many reasons a manager is distrustful of telecommuting but the phenomenon of what Albiero calls "presentism"—that is, only trusting and rewarding the folks you see at their computer is a major factor.' So it may be of some use to read through the research compiled by Diann Daniel that says telecommuting creates happier and more productive employees (which naturally include fewer distractions and better work-life balance), and an accompanying infographic showing the environmental benefits from reduced commuting. She follows it up with suggestions on how managers can mentor and support teleworkers. Some of this is general advice, but some of the tips are more specific: 'It may seem like a lot more work—all this up-front addressing of communication issues that happen far more naturally in the office—but the upside is increased efficiency. Albiero sees this especially in the area of meetings. He speaks of one client who has now instituted a meeting format that is structured to allow for the first five minutes of all meetings to be "small-talk minutes." Thus, everyone knows they needn't call in for those minutes unless they want to join."

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230 comments

person to person = best communication method (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39255879)

Outsourcing to India = second best.

If you can't understand the value of meeting up live and in person, don't expect your job to last.

Re:person to person = best communication method (4, Insightful)

clay_shooter (1680300) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256451)

+1

Public speaking classes tell you that over 1/2 of the communication between you and an audience is through non verbal cues including tone and body language, mostly body language. Even regular conversations are better in person because your meeting is better conveyed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_language [wikipedia.org]

If you're job can be done without communication then I can send that job to the cheapest place that can read the directions.

Re:person to person = best communication method (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256491)

Techie's can probably do fine without face-to-face communication in most cases. However, that's not the case for non-techies. Thus, if you interact with non-techies in your job, it's best to be "available".

Outsourcing to India

And if you telecommute, managers may indeed start thinking that offshoring will be a cheaper version of the same thing. Don't put ideas in their heads. Globalization is a real threat to IT careers.

Re:person to person = best communication method (2)

Nursie (632944) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256745)

Agreed.

I'm a 'techie' (software engineer) and effective collaboration is much easier and more productive face to face.

I work for a global company and I won't say that I can't communicate effectively with people I don't share a room with (or haven't even met), because I can. But I wouldn't want to be part of a team that didn't spend a good part of the week together.

Telecommuting is useful for those times when flexibility is required - someone lives remotely and would like not to commute a couple of times a week, the guy is coming to fix the dishwasher and you need to be home... but all the time? Hell no.

Re:person to person = best communication method (2)

Dop (123) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256871)

So how does that work when you are employed by a large corporation that has multiple locations, where the majority of the people in meetings are on the phone from different locations? How does it matter if I'm at one of the other corporate offices rather than my home office?

Re:person to person = best communication method (3, Informative)

murdocj (543661) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256949)

The answer is that those meetings don't work very well. You get people not paying attention, people answering their email, people who are hard to understand over the phone, etc etc etc. Such meetings are very rarely productive. If you are having a lot of them, time to starting looking for another job, because your company is in trouble.

Re:person to person = best communication method (2)

Americano (920576) | more than 2 years ago | (#39257049)

You're right - I work at a very large company with half a dozen locations in the US spread across 3 timezones, plus a major presence in Europe and India.

Face to face meetings aren't possible in a lot of cases, but my company has actually made an effort to consolidate the majority of people on a particular project team into one or two sites, and encourages managers to rotate "off-site" people through by bringing them to the project's main site for a couple weeks at a time. It works well.

Our schedules tend to be very flexible, but we're all encourage to set (and keep!) "office hours" a couple times a week, where we'll commit to being available for in-person meetings at the office, as well as using instant messaging, screen sharing, and voice chat to keep in touch as-needed.

It's not as good and convenient as being able to pop your head over the cubicle wall and ask the guy next door a question, but it is possible to be fairly effective while working "virtually." But it's definitely more effort.

Re:person to person = best communication method (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 2 years ago | (#39257065)

The answer is that those meetings don't work very well

And the ones that do work well happen at companies that have spent a lot of money on technology to get themselves there - Good HD videoconferencing systems with good audio, allowing for the non-verbal cues and other components for good communication.

Re:person to person = best communication method (1)

Dop (123) | more than 2 years ago | (#39257099)

I agree that the meetings don't always work well, I think you're 100% right on that. However, we're talking about Fortune 100 companies that aren't necessarily in any financial trouble, it's just difficult to manage that many employees. It's not physically possible for all of the employees to be in one location.

My premise is, given meetings of that nature, why not telecommute?

Amazing (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39255883)

Hey, you ever play Skyrim and see the Orcs? Then you think "wow they're just like niggers - their women are ugly, their men are irresponsible, they are clannish, they never build anything great or govern any huge city, they are primitive and tribal, but you wouldn't want to get in a fight with one." Was that intented?

Not exactly a balance (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39255911)

Going to work creates a balance by segregating time between work and pleasure. I work at home and the only thing that happens 18 hour days.

Re:Not exactly a balance (2, Insightful)

__Paul__ (1570) | more than 2 years ago | (#39255947)

Log out and turn off your phone at 5pm, then. If you're not getting paid for those extra ten hours a day, you are giving your employer free labour.

Re:Not exactly a balance (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39255991)

I once told them if I'm stuck doing all the other employees work, they might as well fire them and pay me instead. I guess they took that seriously.

Lights Out (3, Insightful)

Jonah Hex (651948) | more than 2 years ago | (#39255921)

All the iron I work on I never get to see anymore, which is fine by me. At least from home I'm not trying to shout over all the fans while either freezing or burning. - HEX

Re:Lights Out (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256291)

Same here. About the only time I have to set foot into a data center is for failed drive replacement, physical reconfiguration, or upgrades.

Re:Lights Out (1)

Jonah Hex (651948) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256483)

That phase is good, but complete removal is the best. Last few of my contracts have been for data centers with dedicated teams, and even the onsite dev data center I did have access to I never needed to enter thanks to VMware. Pretty much same thing at home, split between desktop powerhouse and basement servers. - HEX

What about non verbal communication? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39255923)

Sure its nice to work at home, cuts down on office costs, but don't good managers read all the non verbal communication coming from their employees? How are managers suppose to do that through email or phone?

I love it! (4, Interesting)

djbckr (673156) | more than 2 years ago | (#39255927)

I got lucky and found a job where I can telecommute from Seattle to San Francisco. I go to SF about once a quarter just to get some face time, but I spend my working time here at home. I put very few miles on my car now and I feel great about that. I don't take up office space there in SF and I feel good about that. I'm productive and my bosses are happy about that.

I fully realize this can't work for everybody, but it sure works for me. My superviser and I communicate through Skype and GotoMeeting at least a couple times a day, once for SCRUM and every so often to get some information across to each other. It would be a boost to the economy, I would think, if more places would do this.

Re:I love it! (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256045)

Call your auto insurance and see if you can get a discount for not having a "daily commute car". We did... both of our cars (wife doesn't work) are considered "secondary". Saved a couple hundred bucks.

Re:I love it! (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256761)

...It would be a boost to the economy, I would think, if more places would do this.

Call your auto insurance and see if you can get a discount for not having a "daily commute car". We did... both of our cars (wife doesn't work) are considered "secondary". Saved a couple hundred bucks.

It will reduce energy demands (good for the economy as long as we are making energy from non-renewable resources), but it will also reduce long term demand for new cars, auto service, road construction, medical services for car accidents, and any number of other industries that benefit when you drive - those are mostly domestic industries that are suffering.

Fancy new computers, monitors, tele-presence camera/microphones, and most of the trappings of new telecommuters are all imported. Guess how many elected officials are pushing telecommuting as "Good for America"?

Re:I love it! (3, Informative)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256897)

Go read about the "Broken Window Fallacy". Our country is failing because of wars for oil, having to import oil, etc. Not to mention all the good citizens it loses to auto accidents. You want people to be killed and maimed just so that the medical industries can do better? This country needs to do anything it can to reduce oil usage; telecommuting is a good first step. Personal rapid transit like SkyTran [skytran.net] is a good second step.

Re:I love it! (3, Informative)

Necroman (61604) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256429)

I couldn't agree more. When I'm working on a difficult problem, I can buckle down and disable all distractions with ease. Turn off IM, close email, and just work. No co-workers coming up behind me and bothering me.

My company also uses Skype and GotoMeeting to get everyone together, and it works pretty well. It takes some discipline from the office people to make sure to include remote employees, but it seems to be working out well. I know I couldn't be happier.

Other members of the household (2)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256893)

No co-workers coming up behind me and bothering me.

In my experience telecommuting, I traded that for people who live with me coming up behind me and bothering me, forgetting that I'm on the clock.

They know your not playing Angry Birds (1)

dilvish_the_damned (167205) | more than 2 years ago | (#39255929)

..you must be lolling about, eating bon-bons and playing Angry Birds.

No, they think your posting to slashdot.

Re:They know your not playing Angry Birds (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256003)

..you must be lolling about, eating bon-bons and playing Angry Birds.

No, they think your posting to slashdot.

Classical case of false metrics. For practical business purposes, you should be measured on what you're actually getting done, not on what you might be doing alongside of it. I mean people do that kind of stuff in the office, too, you know. At the end of the day, the question is, did the job get done?

Re:They know your not playing Angry Birds (2)

clay_shooter (1680300) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256477)

I worked on a project about 6 years ago where we actually tracked work for the staff across days. The whole "middle of the bell curve" part of our team did significantly less work on their Friday "work at home days". Less email, fewer source code commits, fewer tickets closed. Someone is going to claim it was because they were more "heads down" but I don't buy it given the size repeatability of the differences.

Re:They know your not playing Angry Birds (2, Insightful)

Sneeka2 (782894) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256693)

Hold on, hold on, you're saying people don't actually work at 100% theoretical capacity 100% of their official work time? That they, like, ramp up on Mondays and wind down on Fridays? That they, like, cannot go from 0 to 100 instantly when coming into work and back down to 0 instantly when leaving? That they're, like, humans, not robots?

Woah, woah, stop the presses, this is a mayor breakthrough!

Re:They know your not playing Angry Birds (2)

dudpixel (1429789) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256767)

We collect stats here too.
Recently an employee left to go overseas and his manager thought it might be interesting to read out some of his stats.

Turns out that most of his commits were on mondays and wednesdays, the 2 days we work from home.

Make of that what you will, but no one here would deny the benefits of working from home.

I would argue, that even if the only benefit was happier workers, the company still wins.

Re:They know your not playing Angry Birds (2)

Daniel Phillips (238627) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256795)

Less email, fewer source code commits, fewer tickets closed.

If what you say is accurate, then simple: identify those whose productivity does not decrease when remote and give them more remote. Take remote away from any who demonstrate insufficient maturity to manage it.

Re:They know your not playing Angry Birds (4, Insightful)

mooingyak (720677) | more than 2 years ago | (#39257157)

..you must be lolling about, eating bon-bons and playing Angry Birds.

No, they think your posting to slashdot.

Classical case of false metrics. For practical business purposes, you should be measured on what you're actually getting done, not on what you might be doing alongside of it. I mean people do that kind of stuff in the office, too, you know. At the end of the day, the question is, did the job get done?

^^THIS

Most weeks I telecommute two days and go to the office the other three. We have a strong "get the job done, the rest is window dressing" philosophy. One of the things I tell my new hires early on goes something like this:

"I don't need to walk past your desk and see you working non-stop for 8 hours. I don't expect it to happen. If I walk past you and you're checking some news site or playing minesweeper or freecell or whatever it is you do to pass time, I don't care. At the end of the week, I know if you're getting the job done. I know if you've completed all your assignments or have good reasons for not having finished. I know which projects you've asked for more details or clarification about, and that tells me all I need to know. I don't care how or when you're getting it done, so long as you're getting it done."

I'm definitely sick of (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39255939)

Being in a 6 by 6 foot cube surrounded by co-workers who have annoying habits or have extended conversations.

Re:I'm definitely sick of (3, Informative)

Daniel Phillips (238627) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256081)

At Google, that included ducking the three way nerf gun crossfire between the SRE, sysop and intern cube farms.

Re:I'm definitely sick of (1)

rinoid (451982) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256101)

I pity the fool who modded you down.

A lot of people need peace when working. It's called environmental sensitivity or at least awareness.

Re:I'm definitely sick of (2)

s73v3r (963317) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256687)

I'm just sick of being stuck in a cube, and not doing anything at work.

If I'm not going to have anything to do, I can waste time much more effectively at home.

this is the future (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39255943)

this is acutally the only way forward for alot of bussiness models.. it will only take 10-20 years before this becomes the norm in alot of fields think of it this way :

Reduced Costs (office space)
More of a Blurr between work/home life (woudl generally mean benefits for both) ie Flexible working times, equals greater coverage for support type roles.
Less distractions

As technologies overcome the issues for telecommuters (not being in same room for meetings etc) this will become the norm.

Actually, (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39255981)

I am more likely to make diversions to snack on bon-bons, play whatever, and jerk off to porn. Sometimes, the structure of actually "going to work" is needed sometimes. Probably depends on the person -- just my two cents.

Re:Actually, (5, Insightful)

UncleRage (515550) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256085)

My standing rule for working from home (I spent years as a consultant and often find myself telecommuting with my current job): Get up at the same time you would if you were to go in, get dressed, shower, shave (if that's your thing), brush your teeth, have breakfast/coffee/etc... away from your work space. At the point you would typically leave for work, sit down at your desk. Do so dressed as you would at work.

Keep your desk in the same state you would feel comfortable at your job. If you smoke, go outside for a typical smoke break. If you stop for coffee, do so by walking away from your desk.

Take lunch away from your work space.

Finally, log off VPN at the end of "your shift". Don't fall into the habit of "working late", it's only going to set a habit of allowing your schedule to fluctuate and will make you less productive where it matters.

Re:Actually, (2)

aXis100 (690904) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256669)

I did exactly that for 18 months and it worked well. It took some discipline to achieve, but I felt the benefit of maintaining work/home seperation was worth it.

Re:Actually, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256141)

I doubt anybody cares whether you jerk off at home or work. In either case you waste a swivel chair that could be occupied more productively by a drooling chimpanzee.

Communications not a big issue with WFH (1)

jedwidz (1399015) | more than 2 years ago | (#39255989)

I'm going to make a sweeping generalization and say that in an office environment, people only talk when they're on the phone, in a meeting, or goofing off. So I don't really think communications is the biggest problem with WFH.

Ironically the best reason I have for being in an office is to be free from the distractions of home. Also, having other people working around me helps me focus and maybe keeps me sane. People pace each other through the day; you can witness this collapsing on a hot Friday afternoon.

But... offer me a well-paying job where I can work remotely from an affordable house in a beautiful environment, with a sound-insulated home office and a lock on the door, and I'm there in a flash.

Re:Communications not a big issue with WFH (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256027)

There are a lot of 2 person meetings in the next 6 by 6 foot cube in my office. Definitely distracting.

Re:Communications not a big issue with WFH (2)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256935)

At my last job, I had all kinds of distractions: the A/C unit in the ceiling over my desk was horribly loud, cow-orkers constantly coming up behind me and startling me when I was trying to concentrate, people having conversations next to me, etc. And I didn't have any cubicle walls on two sides, only a half-height wall on one side and a full-height wall next to it (which separated workgroups from each other). It was so distracting I never could concentrate very well. My boss insisted we needed this environment for "collaboration". They didn't even have any decent quiet areas to go take a break in; they had one quiet area with chairs downstairs for a while, but then the building ownership told them not to let their employees sit there any more because some other company had rented the space next to it. I ended up walking out without notice one day in sheer frustration.

Then I got a job telecommuting. It has its challenges and problems, but most of them are with myself and my own discipline, rather than other people and outside factors. I don't get in trouble for being a few minutes late to work, I don't have to deal with 25 miles of traffic each way, I can wear whatever I want, I can have my cats keep me company, I can play my music as loud as I want; it's a pretty good deal really. The discipline is a big problem though; you have to constantly exercise self-discipline to get things done and not get distracted (like with Slashdot).

Re:Communications not a big issue with WFH (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256155)

I worked from home for a few months, and found it way too solitary! I agree that having people around helps me focus and keeps me sane.

Poppycock (1)

sk999 (846068) | more than 2 years ago | (#39255993)

OK, I AM the boss, and the problem is not that my telecommuting people aren't being productive, but rather that when you need them to do something or provide information that they uniquely possess, you can't get it from them on short notice, thus preventing other people from getting their jobs done.

The fact that we are all on the road a lot (spread overy 4 continents) doesn't help either.

Re:Poppycock (3, Insightful)

cavtroop (859432) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256049)

You're not using the tools available to you then. Phone. IM, chat rooms, teleconferences available at a moments notice. We have a number of people in our group that work remotely (and the rest of us work from home once or twice a week). We keep a chatroom going with the lot of us (8 of us) in there at all times - mostly it's used for the usual office-type banter, but its great for collaboration etc. We also have loose rules, that if you want to telecommute, you HAVE to make yourself available at a moments notice by phone. Sometimes you step away from the computer, so you miss an IM etc, but if that phone rings, you better be answering it or you're going to lose your telecommuting privs.

Just set the expectations with the group. We have no problems getting stuff done on very short (minutes) notice.

Re:Poppycock (0)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256813)

You're not using the tools available to you then. Phone. IM, chat rooms, teleconferences available at a moments notice.

Reread the bit about spread over 4 Continents... remember time zones?

And, beyond that, in an office environment, if I have a minor need, I can take a break go for a walk, look and see which of the three people who might help me looks least engrossed at that moment and talk with them for a minute.

Even though I truly believe in telecommuting, there are problems with all of the available tools, they really aren't a 100% substitute for "being there."

Phones demand instant attention (and interruption of the callee) with no real "I'm busy" capability beyond flat out ignoring the caller with no explanation.

E-mail has a tendency to be over-answered and suck up more time than a simple conversation might.

A webcam looking at your workspace is just too creepy, especially not knowing who's looking when you really need to scratch somewhere...

And, I refuse to constantly update "my status," now GET OFF MY LAWN.

Re:Poppycock (4, Insightful)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256053)

Implicit in the idea of "telecommuting" is the idea of "at a distance," a.k.a. "tele" -- the same root as "telecommunications" and "telephone." If you need to get in touch with your employees quickly, is there a reason you can't just make a phone call? Obviously, if your business is of a kind where employees need to be able to do things hands-on, then probably it's not a good candidate for telecommuting and TFS doesn't really apply to you. Otherwise, I'm not sure I see what the problem is.

Re:Poppycock (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256729)

There's no business where this isn't true. If I can take 2 hours and figure out something for myself, or ask someone and get an immediate answer, I'm asking. It's the right thing for me and the business. And the same thing in reverse (they come ask me all the time). This is especially true in a senior or lead position- if I was not to show up at the office on a given day, I'd probably cost my team half a day of productivity (even assuming I get a full day of work in). You can phone, but it isn't as effective when you can't pull up code and show them a function or show them a bug. You can email, but same problem plus a time lag. In person communication is the most efficient, by an order of magnitude- provided you use it effectively (not on minor issues).

It's nice to be able to do it when necessary. It's a nice perk to have it to enable other life balance issues- take a vacation without using vacation days by working from the hotel evenings (or days if you're there visiting friends). But as a permanent way of working? It's just not effective.

Re:Poppycock (2)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256329)

I can see a bit of that. I like walking to people's cubes to talk. If not there then often I'll just go do something else, and only after a few times of being missed then I'll try email. But email is too often a black hole (and it applies both ways I admit). And I never do IM, I just hate that as the worst way to communicate. So it is nice pragmatically just to talk to people.

There's also the advantage of having someone in the office in being able to just chat. Ie, "what are you working on?" or "how's it going?" A lot of work related info can pop up that way, you learn that Bob is working on some feature that you might be able to use, that the source code control system totally sucks, how to work around a problem, etc. Most telecommuters are really only out of the office a short time, but for those telecommuters who spend the vast majority of time at home or away (ie, those on the other side of the country) are often left out of the loop on many things. They know about their own tasks and a few related ones but often seem to miss the big picture of the full project.

For instance I can swivel in my chair and ask "what's the name of the function I need to use to log an event?" and get an answer. If I send email it may take an hour to get a response, and I've already figured out the answer on my own. Even in IM you don't get an instant answer (you can't tell if the person on the other end is busy). Of course some people don't like interruptions like that and maybe they're the sort who do better telecommuting. I can chat with the person in the next cube and say "this code is really nasty" and then learn some backstory on it but I'd never actually email something like that.

Out of sight, out of mind. This does not apply just to the boss but to your coworkers as well. Especially if you're the sort who rarely shows up in person, the coworkers may not be sure just what you do or how you fit into the team or when you need to be consulted with. Team building is minimal.

Telecommunication probably works best when you have a very well defined task, don't mind being isolated, etc. Even if you think IM is great does not mean all your coworkers are going to chatting with it as much as they could and some won't use it at all.

I've been on a team where I was mostly doing my own thing. My boss would say "it's ok, you don't have to come to the status meeting" and things like that. But over time I really felt out of the loop and isolated. People would be using project names I'd never heard of, unfamiliar buzzwords, etc. I just did not feel like a part of a team.

Re:Poppycock (1, Insightful)

Esther Schindler (16185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256555)

I understand what you're saying, but do you realize that you're contributing to someone else's need to get away from distractions? By showing up in someone's office to ask just one question, you're interrupting her -- which she might not appreciate. Peopleware made the point a generation ago that it takes 20 minutes to get back into a warm creative fog after you've had your elbow joggled.

Instead, as a full-time telecommuter (who does like to see colleagues in-person once every three months or so) I live on IM. A message can pop up on my screen, and I can ignore it until I finish my thought (whether that's a paragraph of prose, code, or brilliant repartee). I can see who it is, and immediately triage my response: Client=answer-right-now; friendly acquaintance= The world won't end if I respond in 5 minutes, etc.

Dealing with isolation is another issue, and so is "out of sight, out of mind." That's why a telecommuter does have to work to ensure that communication stays healthy.

But in my opinion, it's a heck of a lot better than working in an office. For one thing, I can't imagine how anyone gets work done without a cat on one's lap.

Re:Poppycock (1)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256755)

In my experience, people expect an instant response to IMs and get extremely upset if there isn't one. At least with email they expect a lag of 15 minutes to several hours. IMs are the worst possible way to communicate- there's an expectation of fast response combined with the lack of non-written communication methods. Plus the annoying notifications themselves which annoy me more than being asked if I'm busy.

Plus 20 minutes is an exaggeration. There's a cost, but it's more on the order of 5-10 minutes of reduced (not zero) efficiency. Whereas IM tends to be much worse- rather than 5 minutes of answering followed by 5-10 of getting back into the groove, you have 10 minutes of slowly typing back and forth waiting for responses where you get very close to 0 work done, followed by the same 5-10 minutes of getting back into the groove. It's a net loss. Which is why I refuse to ever install IM aplications- email me or come talk to me, don't waste my time on messaging.

Re:Poppycock (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 2 years ago | (#39257139)

It probably depends on the people. You get to know who will be willing to discuss stuff and who hates it. If I'm twiddling my thumbs for an hour waiting for someone to tell me where a header file is, that's a big waste. And to be honest, it's been a long time since I could focus just on one think and nothing else for more than a couple of hours. There are always interruptions.

Email helps but often I write a detailed description with backstory, possible solutions, and ask for advice from the team and end up getting no response at all. Coming back the other way I'll have lots of morning email that's just busy work, answering the same old questions again...

For IM I hate it. It seems much more insistent to me than the phone (which rarely rings anymore anyway). The icon pops up, then bounces when I ignore it. And if you ignore it and the person trying to talk to you walks by later to stick a note in your cube it can be embarrassing. You spend too much time thinking or looking up the answer and the IM says "hello??" and starts bouncing again. One person always starts with "hello?" and refuses to ask the main question until I say "hello" back, worried perhaps that I'm not there. And the people who use IM act like they don't know how to type anymore and instead revert to caveman texting style. On the rare occasions that something useful happens in IM and there's good info I want to save I have to waste a lot of time editing and converting that conversation to an actual legible text file, whereas with email I can just drag it to an archive folder. I can do without it (in fact until two years ago I had done without it my entire life).

Re:Poppycock (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256975)

There's also the advantage of having someone in the office in being able to just chat. Ie, "what are you working on?"

I've found that to be one of the hardest questions to answer without the cop-out of answering a question with a question: "At what level of detail?"

Re:Poppycock (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256957)

cellphone responses not immediate? Or texting? Or email? If not, then I can see your concern...employees need to meet the needs of the guy who hands them their paycheck.

Have you tried pointing out this problem to your employees, and asking them for a solution?

Of course, being on the road isn't what I'd call telecommuting.

Slashdot and your career (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39255999)

For most with a little care we are just as likely to get away with wasting our employers time and money on slashdot all day from our offices as we are from the comfort of our own homes.

Posted as AC for obvious reasons.

I find it much easier (2)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256021)

to say "hey bob" rather than text him and hope I can get a response in a reasonable amount of time. We "telecommute" when people have to be on the road, like today where one of the engineers sent me an email at 1P.M., though I had zero reason to even be near my computer until I left at 6 ...yea, that was efficient

Re:I find it much easier (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256077)

What you say has been true in the past, and to some extent is true even now. However, with the spread of smart phones (as much as 50% of adults in the US, as per recent reports) and Internet access becoming increasingly available in places like Trains and Airplanes as well, the argument that an email may go unnoticed between 1pm and 6pm, is quickly evaporating.

It is easy to imagine, in a highly and increasingly connected world, that telecommuting can work well. I already know quite a few software engineers who telecommute. Not only does this really keep them happy, but the added flexibility of managing their own time without having to worry about 2hr daily commutes makes them much more efficient employees as well.

Re:I find it much easier (0)

sehgalanuj (2057492) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256097)

Sorry for the duplicate post, but I wasn't logged in to Slashdot apparently.

What you say has been true in the past, and to some extent is true even now. However, with the spread of smart phones (as much as 50% of adults in the US, as per recent reports) and Internet access becoming increasingly available in places like Trains and Airplanes as well, the argument that an email may go unnoticed between 1pm and 6pm, is quickly evaporating.

It is easy to imagine, in a highly and increasingly connected world, that telecommuting can work well. I already know quite a few software engineers who telecommute. Not only does this really keep them happy, but the added flexibility of managing their own time without having to worry about 2hr daily commutes makes them much more efficient employees as well.

Re:I find it much easier (1)

kwerle (39371) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256181)

Telecommuting (in my experience) works very well when everyone knows when everyone else is working. I put in standard 8-5 hours. If someone wants to get ahold of me, they do (except a smaller than 1 hour lunch window that starts somewhere from 12-1). I am more predictably available than most folks in an office are at their desk.

An awful lot depends on the person (as you would expect). But predictability is key.

Re:I find it much easier (1)

CaptBubba (696284) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256271)

Yes, keeping a regular schedule or at the very least a core set of hours is key. Some flexibility to allow people such as night owls to start a bit later and such is nice, but not really required because they save on commuting time.

I telecommute and keep a very regular schedule of 8AM until... whenever, but at least 5PM with an hour lunch. I just finished up for the day a few minutes ago actually, something I certainly wouldn't do if I had to stay in the office.

Re:I find it much easier (1)

similar_name (1164087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256391)

Where I work, no one telecommutes but it is a large facility physically. It is reiterated to everyone constantly that if something is important, you pick up the phone. Many employees have work cell phones and all Managers have cell phones capable of receiving email. In your example, if something could wait 5 hours it seems it wasn't that urgent anyway. While 'hey bob' is easier, sometimes it is too easy. I have worked for bosses that 'hey'd' me so much I could hardly focus on anything.

Re:I find it much easier (1)

Necroman (61604) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256403)

If you can't get ahold of a co-worker via IM, how will being in an office be any better? I started telecommuting for a company just over a year ago and people that are unavailable via IM/Skype, tend to be in meetings and can't be bothered by people in the office either.

As others have said, telecommuting requires a few things:
1) keeping regular hours (which is important no-matter if you are in-office or not).
2) Everyone staying available. This means checking emails and IMs regular. While this helps telecommuting, this also helps geographically distributed teams.

I've worked in a "main" office, a satellite office and telecommuted. While the main office I could definitely stay on-top of the most information, I was also the most distracted (less productive).

Re:I find it much easier (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256479)

"2) Everyone staying available. This means checking emails and IMs regular."

see not everyone works a desk job, so checking emails and IM's regular means I am running back n fourth all day not getting my job done, heck, I really didnt know that much time had passed, I was having too much fun rigging up a 9000 rpm vibration table inside a thermal shock chamber.

Re:I find it much easier (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256829)

Well that isn't something suitable for telecommuting, then, perhaps?

It can be hard to seperate work and personal time (5, Insightful)

jonhorvath (934037) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256029)

I did part time telecommuting for a few years. It saved my an hour a day in commute time and reduce my gas purchases by half. There is one downside to telecommuting that wasn't mention in the article. At times, it can be difficult to separate work and personal time. If the work is engaging, it is easy to lose track of time and work many more hours. When working on tasks that are boring and monotonous, it can become impossible to focus. It is much easier to get into work mode when the environment changes.

Re:It can be hard to seperate work and personal ti (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256189)

Mod parent up.

I telecommute two days a week to take care of my wife. I find it much easier to focus when I'm in the office.

Re:It can be hard to seperate work and personal ti (1)

JoeMerchant (803320) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256823)

Mod parent up.

I telecommute two days a week to take care of my wife. I find it much easier to focus when I'm in the office.

And, I have 2 young boys who get home from school at 2pm, they're a little distracting too.

Re:It can be hard to seperate work and personal ti (4, Insightful)

swillden (191260) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256627)

I did part time telecommuting for a few years. It saved my an hour a day in commute time and reduce my gas purchases by half. There is one downside to telecommuting that wasn't mention in the article. At times, it can be difficult to separate work and personal time. If the work is engaging, it is easy to lose track of time and work many more hours. When working on tasks that are boring and monotonous, it can become impossible to focus. It is much easier to get into work mode when the environment changes.

Different people are different; I don't think one size fits all. For me, I found it much easier to balance work and home life while telecommuting, because of the flexibility it gave me -- not to mention the hours saved in commute time. I telecommuted nearly full time for 10 years, and then a year ago got a new job that requires me to be in the office most of the time, and it's been hard adjusting. I appreciated the ability to easily leave "work" for an hour or two to go to a kid's school production, or to go out for a run, or whatever. I shifted some of my "work" time late into the evening when my family was in bed. All in all, I really preferred it. I love my new job, but I'd love it even more if I could work from home.

I found that it is useful to maintain some separation, though, even when working from home, mainly so that your family can distinguish between your work and non-work time. I did it by designating my home office as my workspace. My kids knew that when Dad was in his office, he was working and not to be disturbed if possible. Though my wife never did grasp the concept, somehow...

That doesn't mean I only worked in my office. Geek that I am, I packed my laptop everywhere, and I didn't see anything wrong with answering a few e-mails while watching a movie with the kids or something. On the other hand, I also didn't see anything wrong with ignoring the e-mail when it wasn't convenient.

Company culture (this was at IBM) had quickly developed some rules of etiquette that really helped. For example, one rule is that you don't call anyone on the phone without first instant messaging them to ask if you can call. So when people aren't working, they shut off their IM client, and that's a signal to everyone else that they aren't to be bothered. Some other rules were that e-mail was not used when quick replies were expected and that background noise (kids, dogs, whatever) was normal and not unprofessional during conference calls.

One thing that really makes a huge difference in your ability to successfully telecommute is the number of your colleagues who telecommute. At IBM it quickly became everyone, so it worked very well. At Google, where I am now, most everyone is in the office and while we have great tools for remote communication (Google+ Hangouts, basically, integrated into calendaring and with high-end audio/video equipment in the conference rooms), if you're not around for the water cooler conversation you miss a lot, and it would be hard to be productive.

Ahh... (1)

slasho81 (455509) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256065)

a lot of bosses still believe that if they don't see you, you must be lolling about, eating bon-bons and playing Angry Birds.

Of course they're wrong if they think those are the only things I'm doing to avoid work.

I salute anyone who figured out [youtube.com] how to stay productive while working from home.

go4t (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256127)

coming a piis Tired arguments WASTE OF BITS AND arrogance was *BSD is dead. Another folder. 20 Too, can be a

Works Best When... (4, Insightful)

Lord of the Fries (132154) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256159)

...you enjoy your job and what you're currently doing. I've telecommuted with a team of 18+ other software engineers for the last 5+ years, and did a stint a while back. When you're engaged in what your doing, and believe in it, working at home is awesome. You focus, you maximize your efficiency by finding the optimal interlacing with the rest of your life. But when the company is jerking you around, or dumps crap work on you, working at home is really hard.

So my word to employers is if you believe in your product and your people, then this really is the best arrangement for you. Otherwise, get our the whips and put 'em in them thar cubies.

Telecommuting can reduce CO2 (1)

jackhatedance (1940640) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256195)

I am dreaming about working at home. Just a few days ago, one of my client asked me that whether I was willing to work for them as fulltime employee. I am a part time freelancer and worked for her on her web site. It is always acceptable for bosses to have their freelancers work at home, but not so for their fulltime employees. So she asked me to move to either SF or Hongkong office while I have my family here in Hangzhou, China. So I guss I couldn't move there and lost this opportunity.

Another win-win of telecommuting often overlooked. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256249)

Pooping in my own toilet. I get privacy and the company doesn't have to pay for TP or water.

Failed to build a case around productivity (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256375)

After reading all the relevant sources from the article, there is on peer reviewed research that shows improved productivity when telecommuting.

In fact there is no research at all.

There are opinions from people, but no actual evidence. And most of the opinions could be considered bias because the source is from those already pro-telecommuting.

I think that lack of evidence is telling.

Try hiring adults and managing them as such (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256415)

Simple solution: hire adults who will actually, you know, work, and manage them as such. I've worked remotely for 12+ years now for several companies, it's not that hard.

my company "flex work" works well (4, Insightful)

netsavior (627338) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256425)

I work for a megacorporation. I can go to any nearby office and get a desk for the day (or a conference room for my team), but I can mostly work from home. I tend to go in and meet my team about once a month for collaboration and socialization. My company was able to close 10 pretty large office buildings in my region, at pretty substantial savings. I am pretty sure they get tax breaks for "green" business practices.

It's a pretty big company and we have a 20% telecommute goal, but it is mostly IT who are eligible, so nearly all of us in software telecommute now.

Everyone I know complains that "you never really leave work" when telecommuting, and most of the people I work with don't even stop for lunch any more. I try to have boundaries, but honestly as a developer you never really leave work anyway... but I can take a shower and eat dinner at home, which is great.

Mostly what they got from me though is loyalty. I have worked there for 8 years, only 2 of them telecommute, and no bonus, raise, or corporate title bought them the loyalty that telecommuting bought them. With this sweet setup, I will never quit... It would have to get pretty bad for me to want to... I am hoping that by the time I have to move on Telecommute will be the norm.

On the other hand... (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256441)

The office has a better desk and chair than I have at home, a bigger monitor, etc. Work has faster internet access and better backups. People who will solder boards for me and people to get equipment from. Then the office has a nicely stocked refrigerator unlike my empty one at home, free lunch, and a much better cleaning staff. There are people there to have lunch with, some who will willingly talk to you even if they don't have to. Fewer distractions at work too.

Seriously, I was letting my mind wander the other day thinking about winning the lottery. Besides the usual fantasies of figuring out where to live honestly wondered about somewhere to work part time...

Make the manager work from home. (1)

Above (100351) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256503)

Often telecommuters work for a manager who still works in an office. When this occurs, the #1 thing all involved can do? Make the manager work from home for two weeks straight!

I've seen managers do all sorts of dumb things with telecommuters, from making them do things that made no sense to ignoring their requests for simple changes that make working from home much easier. 80-90% of these were simple ignorance. I had one manager who totally blew off my requests for video conferencing for some of our group meetings, after all we had the telephone. Two weeks of them from home and he told me he never realized how much you lose from not seeing faces for some of the meetings!

Which brings up the other half, you have to have some minimal training/awareness for the still in the office folks. Things like setting your IM status become more critical when folks are in other time zones, or can't walk by your cube or hear you coming and going. Making everyone work from home for 2 weeks a year can go a long way to helping.

It doesn't fix all the problems, but it provides a solid foundation for all of the other advice you see in the managing people remotely books.

Communication Methods and Culture are key (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256569)

Telecommuting is commonplace where I work. It is very very RARE where my spouse works. Why?

- My work communication: 50% instant messaging, 35% email, last 15% split between phone or face time
- Spouse work communication: 75% split between phone or face time, 25% email, no instant messaging.

- Where I work, dead weight is very obvious to both management and coworkers. Doesn't go over well.
- Where spouse works, accepted for there to be dead weight in the group. Others end up picking up the slack.

However, it comes down to communication methods and company culture, neither of which are going to be easy to "make a case" to change on a large-scale per OP. Start small with pilot groups, find what works and what doesn't. Make the business case afterwards.

Naturally? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256581)

In my experience, there's nothing natural about having less distractions, increased productivity, or a better work-life balance when it comes to working remotely. Like all things, you have to work at it. Remove distractions, create a productive work environment, and make sure you leave work in your office area and get on with your personal life when the day is done.

It's never been about employee productivity (4, Insightful)

holophrastic (221104) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256583)

It's always been about employer risk. Certainly, many telecommuters do good work and do work well. That's not the point. For every ten good ones, there's at least one bad one. That bad one is really bad. And the problem is that it takes a long time, and a lot of effort and money to discover and deal with that one bad one. It's just not worth the risk.

I, as an employer, far prefer the costs associated with the office setup to have ten office employees who are each at 50%, than to have ten telecommuters, save the office expenses, have 9 at 100% and 1 at 20%. That one guys can take down my entire business. I've worked far too hard and risked far too much to let that happen.

And the article is correct. It takes longer to train a telecommuter -- who may not stick around longer enough to matter.

Telecommuting is for already-proven and trusted employees, who want a break and a better life. It's something to be earned.

Re:It's never been about employee productivity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256783)

So you prefer 50% efficiency with office overhead to 92% with no overhead - man I am astounded you are still in business. (and those were YOUR numbers).

Wake up - you get dead wood in every workplace... at least from home they cost you less to keep.

Re:It's never been about employee productivity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256895)

RTFC. The one at 20% can kill his business. That's a hell of a liability. For his business, it's not worth the risk. Do you really believe that we're all completely interchangeable?

Re:It's never been about employee productivity (1)

laffer1 (701823) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256867)

I've got a coworker that knits at work. Just because they're there doesn't mean they're actually working. I don't think your math makes sense.

You train them in the office before you let them telecommute. You have to know they're actually going to perform. I did it for ten months and it was the happiest I've been working. I actually got a lot more done than when I had to start coming into the office. I eventually managed a team for that company and it ended up that we got less done than I did alone at home. When you're there, you get sucked into meetings, office distractions, etc. When I telecommuted, I only had a meeting once a week. My boss could call me at any time if there was an issue and I was on Jabber all day. Most of the time, a boss just emails you anyway.

Re:It's never been about employee productivity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256989)

I've been a boss, and I am again now an engineer.

It's hard to measure software developers. So seeing them sit in front of the glowing monitor in their cloth covered box gives the boss a sense of something is happening.

When you aren't there in the box what *are* you doing?

The problem is that as a boss, you can't really tell what that developer is actually doing even when in the office.

Where I work now, the company tracks all our time against tasks. When we open the project task, the timer starts. Tasks have estimates. They can measure your hours vs. the estimate. But they don't know what you are doing. I find this level of task monitoring stupid and insulting.

Is there a better way?

CLM (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256709)

Just tell the boss that you spend all day lolling about, eating bon-bons and playing Angry Birds at the office, so you might as well work from home.

I'll bet he'll send you home in no time.

Why management should love telecommuting... (1)

Rik Rohl (1399705) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256861)

The beauty of it is, if you can telecommute to do your job, then some dude in India can do it too for half the price!

Find another boss (1)

Fujisawa Sensei (207127) | more than 2 years ago | (#39256869)

The best way to build a case for telecommuting is to find a boss who likes the idea.

Then when they ask you why be truthful and tell them you wanted to telecommute and when you were turned down you decided to look for other opportunities.

Nothing beats negotiating like 2 weeks notice.

And never take the counter-offer.

All About Results (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39256875)

I am a software engineer for SAP, and I've been telecommuting for the last 4 years for a job that would normally be 1 hour away, and I love it. I go into the office once a week for a few hours for our weekly meeting to discuss current projects, any issues, etc. Our team is fairly small, only 5 of us (4 developers including the manager and 1 QA.) When I got the job my boss said to me, "I don't care when you work or where you work, all I really care about is results."

That is really the way any company really needs to handle it. You can't be setting hour requirements, you need to set result requirements. As long as reasonable expectations are set on both sides it is win-win.

The only issue I have had is separating personal time and work time. Sometimes I will be so into a project I would realize that I had been writing code for the last 15 hours and lost track of time, but whenever that happens I usually just end up giving myself a day off later in the week.

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