The Telecommuting Myth

A tech manager finds a mixed experience with telecommuting.
Posted September 17, 2007

Eric Spiegel

Eric Spiegel

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I’m a total hypocrite. This realization pains me, but after many years of championing the cause of telecommuting, I’m finding reality to be different than the utopian telecommuting environment I envisioned for IT workers.

I’m sure you telecommuters out there will not care much for my perspectives and you may have found different, more positive experiences. However, with all the popular press recently pushing the flex work environment, I feel the other side of the coin should be explored.

To help you understand how I arrived at my conclusions about telecommuting, it will help to provide some history.

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First let me start with a question. Did you ever write an email to the CIO or CEO about some pet cause to improve the life of your fellow IT workers (like telecommuting)? Kind of a slippery slope. If they like what you are advocating, then you could be seen as a hero. If they don’t like it, well, you could be seen walking out the door with your bags packed. Or even worse, you may never hear anything back and always wonder if there is a little black mark next to your name in some deep HR vault.

I actually sent such an email to the CEO of the consulting firm where I worked as a new grad fresh out of college. I asked if we could seriously consider more telecommuting options. And he wrote me back! Something about how executive management was always seeking ways to improve employee morale and productivity.

And you know what? I really was encouraged to do much more telecommuting after that email. One small problem though. It was only after a full day in the office and an hour commute home that I had the pleasure of working remotely deep into the night.

Ok, strike one.

But I wasn’t discouraged – after all it was better than staying in the office all night. So at my next job, this time at a large insurance firm, I wrote the CIO a similar email. I was pushing for more flexibility in hours for on-call support staff, including telecommuting. He actually invited me to meet with him.

(Side moral to the story – don’t be afraid to email executives with suggestions. I found most people don’t and thus if you do AND you have something useful to say, the response is generally positive. Don’t worry, as long as you don’t call he or she a moron, you are not likely to get fired.)

I digress! Back to the telecommuting myth. I met with the CIO and he asked me to write up a plan that would help on-call staff deal with the weird hours and the burden of carrying a beeper (no cell phones existed yet – if they did I could have IM’d the CIO!)

I wrote up the plan, sent it for review, and they ended up outsourcing the entire group. Everyone could telecommute – from India! Depressing, isn’t it?

Strike two.

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