30 Comments

Summary:

You may have seen the big news over the weekend: a key piece of the San Francisco Bay area’s highway infrastructure was destroyed by a spectacular gasoline tanker truck fire. Sure enough, the news coverage included the key point that savvy web workers have grown to […]

You may have seen the big news over the weekend: a key piece of the San Francisco Bay area’s highway infrastructure was destroyed by a spectacular gasoline tanker truck fire. Sure enough, the news coverage included the key point that savvy web workers have grown to expect: “Transportation officials…were urging people to telecommute if possible.” This advice gets trotted out after every natural and man-made disaster; when society gets disrupted, it’s telecommuters to the rescue!

But I’m starting to wonder how long we’re going to have to watch telecommuting (and by extension, other forms of web work) be marginalized this way. Implicit in the “telecommute in case of disaster” message is the other message that no sensible person would do this in normal times. Given the choice, of course everyone would prefer to get up an hour earlier in the morning and join all the other commuters in their giant vehicles, jockeying for position in the multiple lanes of a still-intact I-80 to I-580 connector in order to have the pleasure of being tied to a desk, wearing a suit and tie, for eight hours.

What’s it going to take to make telecommuters first-class citizens of the working world, rather than the crazy uncles that most companies don’t really want to talk about? Advances on many fronts, I think:

Business. It would help to have companies and executives who are more concerned with results than with empire-building, to accommodate those who work best in the burst economy. This would help prevent web work from becoming a career killer.

Government. Some basic tax fairness for telecommuters, or even tax incentives, would go a long way towards making the telecommuting option more mainstream. Like it or not, in our society money talks. ($6 per gallon gasoline would have the same effect, but that falls under the heading of “telecommuting as disaster response” again).

Technology. The current tools for maintaining a connection between teleworkers and those back in the home office are crude or experimental. As we move towards the 3D Internet, it will become easier for telecommuters to interact with their peers, and so remain a part of the team even though they happen to be physically in another place.

Personal. Finally, I think we do ourselves a disservice when we respond to “what do you do for a living?” questions with “I telecommute.” In an ideal world (at least in my ideal world) that piece of information would be irrelevant. Instead, try “I’m an architect who telecommutes” if you feel your audience must know that you work at home. After all, you didn’t go to college to become a telecommuter. The more we act like it’s no big deal, the more other people will start treating it like a normal life option.

What do you think? Can or should we do more to make telecommuting and other web work a core part of the work landscape? Or do you like being one of the crazy fringe people?

  1. Telecommuting will be rationalized as a ‘legit work environment’ once there is a more seamless transition between in-office dynamics and offsite dynamics.

    Another ‘less legit’ theory: Once more people, not just anomaly’s, can effectively make good money working at home in a ever increasing connected world.

    Share
  2. [...] Worker Daily has a pretty good essay on how telecommute workers are marginalized. What prompted the essay was the story of a spectacular [...]

    Share
  3. Mike Gromley Monday, April 30, 2007

    “What’s it going to take to make telecommuters first-class citizens of the working world?”

    One word: Trust!

    Most employers don’t trust their employees to get work done while they are in the office being supervised. So, trusting them to do an honest days work from home, or somewhere off site, is out of the question.

    Share
  4. It seems a tad bit defensive to interpret, “Transportation officials…were urging people to telecommute if possible” as “Telecommuters are second-class citizens.”

    There are some people who work exclusively from home (like myself the past 10 years) and others that work exclusively at an office and still others (in the tech-centric Bay Area especially) who do a little bit of both depending upon the situation. I think this was merely a governing body trying to point out to that third group that working at home was probably the way to go under the circumstances.

    Maybe I’m luckier than I think I am in the way my company treats me, but I’ve never felt lowly because I’m typing here unshaven in a t-shirt and basketball shorts.

    Share
  5. [...] be true for a lot of people, but for a good number it isn’t anymore. Telecommuting is an increasingly popular option in the modern workforce, and will likely grow more popular in response to rising gas prices, [...]

    Share
  6. I’m so glad someone said this besides me!

    “It would help to have companies and executives who are more concerned with results than with empire-building…”

    Managers need to get over “building an army” and focus on “building results”, but what do I know???

    Share
  7. When employers start advertising to hire work at home employees, telecommuting will be mainstream. For now, employers prefer to have people present and only offer telecommuting if they must. It would be nice if things were the other way around.

    Share
  8. I have telecommuted for the past 18 months, 5 days a week. I am on the east coast and my company is in San Francisco. Prior to that I did it 1-2 days a week while working at Monster.com.

    One poster pointed out Trust as an issue. Couple of points, if you don’t trust your employees to get the job done in the office, fire them. I have seen it all too often where people keep their jobs who under perform just so the boat isn’t rocked or time would be wasted brining someone new up to speed. Fire them, today.

    Second, I think it is okay to have people start in the office before giving the okay to work remote. Come in prove yourself and then we can talk about it.

    Some people are not made to work remote, others thrive. I manage a team of 6 remote. Between desktop sharing apps, IM, teleconf, video chat it works out well.

    I have control over my day working from home, I actually put in a lot more hours a day working from home than I would in the office.

    Georgia had a telecommuting tax break last year. Not sure how it went but it makes perfect sense. Instead of widening every highway, disrupting traffic, adding pollution as rush hour traffic lasts almost all day give companies an incentive to work from home.

    There is a possible business here and that is to create shared office pods of some sort. More “regional offices.”. I live/work 35 miles N of Boston. Office space along the major areas could be converted to shared space. Starbucks on steroids. Desks, meeting room, internet, copier, fax, kitchen. You lease an office by the day and meet there 1 day a week with your region. You get face time, get out of the house etc. As for phone, everyone has a soft VOIP line so it goes where ever you go.

    Share
  9. Good one there, Mike! However, isn’t it sufficient to say “I’m an architect”? Do you even need to add the clause “who telecommutes”?

    Interesting thoughts, Brian.

    Share
  10. I telecommute 3-4 days out of the week with my boss’s complete concent. In fact, he encourages it. Though, he does get a lot of funny looks from his superiors over the issue and he’s had more than one argument with them about it as well. I do it so that I can save on gas but I enjoy being able to wake up later. It also helps with my desire to eat in more which is another nice money saving advantage to telecommuting. And honestly, I do not think I would take another job that did not allow me to telecommute 3-4 days a week.

    A lot of larger companies are starting to let their employees telecommute regularly including IBM and Best Buy Corporate.

    Share

Comments have been disabled for this post