Does Telecommuting Kill Your Career?

27 Comments

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.

27 Comments

George Dimopoulos

Internet and IT offer unprecedented opportunities for telecommuting and a more flexible work- and lifestyles, as part of the emerging paperless trends. A number of measures can be taken to ensure that telecommuters won’t become compromized in their opportunities compared to traditional office workers. Get comprehensive information on these flexibilities at http://www.paperlessjoy.com

Barbara Saunders

One of my freelance clients hires most of its writers and designers as off-site workers. I see why every time I go into the office for a meeting. Their offices are so crowded that on-site teams that work together are scattered over several blocks and people have to scramble for meeting rooms. Real estate (I’m in SF, CA) is expensive. This company knows that it would lose millions in both rent costs paid and productivity lost if it were to require certain workers to be in the office.

Deb

In short, telecommuting would not work for employers/managers who feel they must micromanage their employees. These kinds of managers would not hire candidates who can work independently regardless of the opportunity for telecommuting.

For those professionals who are self-disciplined, highly skilled, and excellent communicators, telecommuting not only works, but one can and does excel.

My advice to those who are interested in telecommuting, first consider the type of work you do. Next find an employer who appreciates your skill set, demonstrates respect for their employees, and one which creates the kind of environment where you are judged on what you produce, not on the office politics. Then excel in all you do! Don’t wait for someone to tell you what/how to do something. If you do not possess this ability…then don’t attempt telecommuting.

For employers, I offer the following. When you reach the plateau where you can begin think of your employees as productive individuals who are capable of making valuable contributions no matter where they choose to do their assignments, you are providing a wonderful opportunity to help our protect our environment (you and yours benefit), create sound) relationships (happy employees=higher productivity, and reduce stress (again happy employees=higher productivity). When you learn how to be a better manager *your* life will be a great deal more productive, too!

In summary, telecommuting is an excellent opportunity for everyone concerned. However, the success of any telecommuter is highly dependent upon the culture of your company. If your company has not created a supportive environment, then, yes you probably will be held back. The answer to this is to stop telecommuting *or* find a better employer!

(look up the terms pluralism or totalitarianism – which type of employer do you work for?)

Good luck!

Jamie

I appreciate all the positive comments about telecommuting. I agree wherever you are working your work ethic depends upon the person. I am looking to change careers, currently I am an Executive Assistant wanting to switch to a technical position, but I am looking for a telecommute friendly career and or company. Any suggestions?

itsjustelise

As a Technical Writer, there are times when I would get 10x the amount of work done at home as I would at the office. I cannot get the quiet and comfort I have in my home office, and I certainly cannot avoid the constant interruptions of people with “questions” and who just stop by my office or cube. Writers, artists, and individuals who need long quiet periods of time should have the option of telecommuting as they see fit without missing scheduled meetings, phone calls, and other group/team activities. You can telecommute without working remotely all the time, and a lot of businesses fail to see this.

Kim Martin

It’s funny how polarized people are on this subject. I’m inclined to think our opinions are largely based on personal experience. Like the earlier comment from the person who managed a lazy teleworker who now thinks all teleworkers are lazy. I’ve telecommuted for 8 years of my 15-year marketing career. Do I ever take a break to walk my dog or toss a load of laundry in the washer? Of course, but I’m still working at 6:00 at night and not sitting somewhere in traffic. I eat lunch at my desk nearly every day. And, because the boundaries between life and work tend to blur for me, I often jump on mail first thing when I wake up and spend another hour or two after dinner working. As for advancement, I agree that career growth can be limited for remote employees in a corporate culture that doesn’t embrace a virtual workforce. However, if you find a company that understands the value of hiring the best talent regardless of location and knows how to leverage available tools like video conferencing, distance almost becomes a non-issue. I get “face time” with my boss and colleagues daily despite the fact that we are scattered across the globe.

Richard Grunburg

Be forewarned. I’m going to rant a little:
I enjoyed the article by Network World.
Our research and studies back up this issue of “less face time—-no promotion”. After working remote for the past 15 years and most recently at the largest networking manufacturer in the world– I have built a business around teleworking. Consider this: 1 in 5 companies in US allow some form of telework. That means 4 out of 5 do not. We did research to find out the largest inhibitors to businesses or agencies employing telework in their organization. #1/ Productivity Mgmt # 2/ ROI (wanted to be sure it would pay for itself, we all know that an effective teleworking program pays for itself but what is interesting about this survey is owners and managers put productivity management above ROI. Sort of a Cart before the horse issue)…..and last –#3 / Culture, Morale, Collaboration. To help accelerate adoption and break down barriers, our company, home2office, has developed a comprehensive policy based managed telecommute, keenly focused on ROI and risk management . This is all we do.

Leveraging our application and services along with third party standards based products, we provide the employer with all of the 15 or so critical success factors/ elements needing to be considered when employing a teleworker program.

I am more passionate about getting people to work from home than most anything. .The benefits are pervasive to the community, the employer and the employee. Any feedback appreciated if you care to check us out online.
Thanks,

http://www.home2office.com

-Richard

Josh Maher

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 :)

Rex Dixon

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

Tim Peter

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.

Dameon Welch-Abernathy

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.

Ronnie Ann

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.

Willard

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

Island in the Net

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.

justelise

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?

Bill Day

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?

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