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Summary:

Network World has an article about how telecommuting might kill your career. 1,320 executives from all over the world were surveyed and 60% of them said that they felt telecommuters are less likely to advance in their careers as company executives want face time with their […]

Network World has an article about how telecommuting might kill your career. 1,320 executives from all over the world were surveyed and 60% of them said that they felt telecommuters are less likely to advance in their careers as company executives want face time with their employees.

As someone who has telecommuted full time for almost a decade, I can say that my career has probably been “stunted” as a result of telecommuting. There are certain opportunities I missed out on or were simply not available to me as a result of not being in the office full time. I have also missed out on a lot of distractions as a result, such as office politics.

There is this “myth” that one has to “advance” in their career. What does that mean, really? For a lot of people, it means moving from an individual contributor to a manager and then on up the the management chain. Telecommuting does make it more difficult to jump into management. Unless, of course, you are managing remote people, which is even more difficult than managing local people.

There are plenty of reasons one might want to telecommute. All of the reasons ultimately boil down to wanting to improve work-life balance. Advancing your carrer seems to go against the grain of improving work-life balance. That isn’t to say you can’t advance as a telecommuter, but it does present an additional barrier to overcome.

For me, personally, what matters isn’t the upward mobility, but the lateral mobility, i.e. the ability to change tasks. It’s not about really about “advancing,” it’s about continuing to do something I am excited about doing. Whether I am low man on the totem pole or the CEO, I really don’t care as long as I enjoy my job and I make enough money to pay the bills.

Do you telecommute? How has telecommuting affected your career, good or bad? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

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  1. I’ve worked remotely at least part of the time (2-3 days per week) for the last 11 years. In my most recent previous job, my manager was in Finland, I was in California, and the team I managed was in Texas. In my current environment, I telecommute for a small company located 600 miles away.

    Through all of this, I’ve advanced either my work and/or personal situation with each job change or promotion. I have been involved with companies that have been telecommute friendly, which has been a blessing, but it’s still been hard work at times to make certain I was “plugged in” to office goings-on.

    While I’d agree that in general being a remote employee can hamper visibility, I believe if you are attentive to that issue and actively work to make sure your projects are visible, and your accomplishments recognized, you can advance fairly far on the telecommuter path.

    And the personal benefits can be incredibly compelling. In my case, the difference is between living thousands of miles from extended family versus just a across town. Attending birthdays and get togethers versus seeing only a couple of photos of them via email. Seeing nieces and nephews grow up, versus missing out on their lives completely.

    How can you put a career advancement price on that?

  2. Do you think that your specialty has a lot to do with your ability to advance as a telecommuter? I see a lot of bloggers, technical writers, and journalists climbing the ladders quickly while telecommuting close to 100% of the time. I guess its the nature of the trade of writing that your words (and in some cases your talent for editing) speak for themselves. Since a lot of publications are moving to online models with decentralized offices an employee’s ability to move up the ladder would almost depend entirely on what they put out opposed to their presence in the office (when there is a brick and mortar office).

    Do you think there are other specialties in which advancement would be unhindered by location? Perhaps photojournalism?

  3. Island in the Net Thursday, January 18, 2007

    Telecommuting can definitely have a negative effect on your career. My sister-in-law has worked remotely for the least 10 years for various companies. She has worked for the last 5 years for the same employer and she is struggling with the fact that other less capable employees are being promoted over her. She has talked to her management about it and was told she has other choices – leave.

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  5. I used to manage a remote employee and it was a pain in the ass. Sorry, but I don’t like telecommuting. This guy would take off to run errands thinking that he could make up the time later, or whatever, but that doesn’t work. There are also distractions at home: dogs, wives, kids, mail man, broken appliances and all kinds of other shit. Groggy in the morning because no commute time means you can sleep in until 8:59.. it just never ended. Telecommuters get lazy, comfortable, do the bare minimum at their own slothy pace. And being remote doesn’t leave you out of office politics at all! If you are part of a team, you are part of the politics – this is a social reality. In fact, being physically removed puts you at a major disadvantage.

    -Willy

  6. To speak to Willard’s point “Telecommuters get lazy, comfortable, do the bare minimum at their own slothy pace.” While I was managing projects for a University’s IT area, I often relied on a programmer who was telecommuting from about 1000 miles away – and we managed to deliver quality products on tight deadlines. A friend of mine, a systems analyst for a major bank, has telecommuted for 6 years while bearing and tending for three children. She is a key person who delivers support to complex financial trading systems. These people are neither slothful nor minimalist. Yet I have worked with many people at a worksite who do have those qualities. I believe it’s all about the personal work ethic of the person delivering the service – wherever they are.

  7. Dameon Welch-Abernathy Thursday, January 18, 2007

    Let’s see if I can address some of the comments here:

    Bill Day: You’re absolutely right, it’s not all about career advancement, it’s about those other things that work simply enables you to do. The fact I haven’t “advanced” in some sense really doesn’t bother me too much because the benefits far outweigh the downsides.

    justelise: Photo Journalism requires you to actually be at the location. Certainly you can do some of the writing and telephone calling that I do from anywhere.

    Island in the Net: In order to succeed as a telecommuter, you have to work for a telecommute-friendly company. Clearly your sister-in-law didn’t.

    Willard: I agree with Ronnie Ann, it’s about the person who is telecommuting, not the telecommuting itself. Telecommuting makes the “sloth” a lot more apparent.

  8. When it comes to telecommuting and careers, one size does not fit all. I’ve managed remote workers who performed fabulously and remote workers that weren’t worth the cost of phone calls. I’ve managed local workers with similar results. I’ve worked for companies that encouraged telecommuting and for companies where “out of sight” definitely equaled “out of mind.” Bill and Elise have the right response in terms of matching your goals and preferences with the culture of the organization. In many ways distance work requires a better fit between employer and employee because each side depends on the other to fulfill their obligations without the constant reminder of face-to-face contact.

  9. The one consultant job where I could actually telecommute, I was able to get a ton of work done. I think that if you are doing anything that requires you to be concentrating on what you are typing; the office cube is the absolute worst place to try to get any real work done.

    Also, it’s the person’s work ethic. If you are lazy to begin with, you will be a lazy telecommuter. If you ROCK, then you will be a ROCKSTAR as a telecommuter.

    I almost slapped my little “ts” phrase here. I’ve been blogging a bit this evening, and truthfully, given the choice of staying home or working from where I want vs sitting with a bunch of people I could really give 2 rat’s asses about – I’ll sit at home and get something done!

    Rex

  10. Yes, sloths are sloths – regardless of telecommuting

    As for career advancement, telecommuters lose out on upward & lateral moves. The upward may not be desired, but lateral moves are commonly desired by telecommuters (which is why there are so many that change companies). Usually a good telecommuter would make a great leader (self motivated, organized, and disciplined) – kind of the opposite of a sloth :)

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