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Telecommuting - Hype or Happening? - Making the Case to your Higher-ups

We've seen the argument before, that working from home, actually increases productivity.  This is one of the major cases in favor of working from home and telecommuting to your office, and there are many more!  So is telecommuting the wave of the future?  Is it hype, or is it happening?  Well, the answer to that, is as always, it depends.  I've seen some recent discussions, Steve Jones blogged about Telecommuting, and wanted to weigh in on the topic.

I've been an advocate of this for a long time, so let me explain why.

As DBA's and technology professionals, practically everything we need to do at the office, we can do remotely from home or anywhere!  Obviously, if you're in construction, then telecommuting is not an option!  However, if you're managing technology,  we're totally there in terms of logging on to the company's corporate network (VPN, Citrix, RDP, LogMeIn, GotoMeeting, etc.), and having at it.  It certainly is not a question of could we do it, it's more of a question on how fast is it becoming an acceptable option to your employer?  Before we fast forward into the future, we must put working from home in perspective as a complimentary goal of the company culture.

Telecommutting has evolved and is becoming more and more accepted as a viable way to be at the office.  Let's be frank though, many companies will never allow this to be a reality in their shops.  First, off, the thought of an employee "working from home" in many corporate corners, was and still is today a total taboo.  I remember when my girls were born, I needed to go on family leave, and had the total support and sign off from my manager to work-from-home for about a month after that.  All my projects were on-time, attended all my meetings via conference call, and the databases never went down!  However, when I finally got back to the office, I started to hear the snickers and the rumors of being less than any other worker.  Even talk that I've been out six months - which was utterly ridiculous.  Perhaps I was ahead of the times, and it wasn't yet the "in" thing to do.  Maybe it was jealousy!  Of course, later on, I saw it become a regular option for those who needed it.

So, even though we have VPN, VOIP, Skype, Video-Conferencing and all the like, people and management, just want to see a live body sitting in a cubicle.  To me this is just short-sighted thinking!  What what you rather have, an employee who sits there, and clocks in and out for 8 hours with nothing hardly done, or someone who can work from home, uninterrupted, is 5x more productive, and actually puts in more hours of real quality time?\

The ability to telecommute probably started out for after-hours support - long gone is the day where the beeper would go off, and the corporate cab is waiting to pick you up at 4AM in the morning to bring you to the office to fix the issues before dawn!  The last time I did that was the old slammer virus.  I remember my boss saying "you're just gonna have to put some pants on this" - which is kinda funny, because I see a lot of conversation on twitter of those fortunate enough to work from home talk about "not wearing any pants!"  So, there's another advantage, if you're adverse to wearing pants work from home :-)

As I moved around during my DBA career, I've been at both ends of the extreme.  The above-mentioned experience is one, and then working for a major consulting company with national clients where the only office was in fact virtual.  It was a 100% pure remote telecommuting DBA job.  We had our daily team meetings, and management meeting, stayed in-touch via email and IM, and rotated our after-hours support.  I have to tell you, having to respond to alerts from 2am-5am in the morning is painful, but after that, I get to sleep in, and not have to rush to the office later that morning.  In fact, when we were on-call, we all covered for each other, and let that person sign on later. ZZZzzz.

I think for companies that are hesitant to implement such a policy, needs some education.  It's not easy to change corporate culture, but perhaps, small steps can go a long way to making the employer-employee relationship much stronger and healthier.  For example, instead of asking for that elusive raise, maybe lobby for a couple of days to work-from-home.  They need to consider how that benefits them.  Not only are you foregoing a salary bump, you're also not taking any "vacation" days you would otherwise take, but you're offering them a full day of employee productivity - just away from the office.

I worked for another financial company, where they just ran out of space to accomodate everyone from having a desk and a pc.  So, they started to rotate folks to work from home 1-2 days a week.  Rather than having everyone on top of each other sharing desks, this made for a much more productive and harmonious relationship.

And, think about those sick days!  How many of us have waken up from time to time, and just felt like crap.  Not infectious disease w/103 fever that confines us to our bed - but just a headache, a cold, a cough, a sore throat, etc.  Many times we'll call in sick, and burn those sick days before you know it.  While these ailments make us uncomfortable, it wouldn't necessarily prevent us from sitting in front of our computer and doing work.  Given the option to work from home, if we weren't feeling 100%, many of us would jump at that.  Employers should be aware that they can a)reduce the number of sick days that employees take; b) avoid even more sick days, by having fellow employees coughing, sneezing and spreading germs to the whole office, if under such circumstance workers could just, work from home.  This seems like a reasonable argument, doesn't it?

Of course, the whole thing is a trade-off, and a give and take as well.  Some workplaces that offer this as an option, want their employees to use it responsibly, and not abuse the privelege.  I've seen times where people weren't even scheduled to work-from-home, as everyone had their designated day, and they just emailed, "yeah, got in late last night, so I'm just gonna work-from-home today.  Email me if you need something"  Or, when the boss asked one my co-workers why they didn't pick up the phone or reply to email, he replied "That's because I was in the middle of painting the house, and couldn't get to the phone"  I kid you not!  The boss fumed, this is a work-from-home policy, not paint-the-house!  Soon enough the company just cut off the privelege, and made everyone report to the office.

The moral in this story is, if as a team you're granted the option to telecommute, with conditions, make sure you are 1. always available; 2. actually working from home (for your job); and 3. if you have to leave or step away from your pc for a significant amount of time - email your team and manager to let them know.  It's not that you have to pick your kids up from school at 3PM sharp, just let everyone know where you are, and when you'll return to your pc.  Maybe schedule your lunch hour at 3PM.

And of course, I'm sure they'll be the clever ones that will carry around their iPads and Blackberries, so you'll always stay in communication, and always be available to log in and do something.  But so what.  Doesn't matter where you are, as long as you can do the work when needed.  So, communication and productivity is the key.

There are, as Steve Jones suggested, many articles, whitepapers and case studies out there, about the trend and advantages of allowing your employees to work from home/telecommute.  Such studies say, that often at the office, workers are distracted, interrupted, and even watching the clock to jump out the door as soon as it hits 5o'clock!  Productivity often drops in the last half hour at the office, as you get ready for departure, and especially to make that 5:08 train home.  If you can guarantee that productivity will be up, and prove it, then employers may be willing to give telecommuting it a try.

Here's one article I found on Working From Home - The Case on Telecommuting, where it sights among other things, workplace distractions, and decreased productivity, as a reason the boss should allow you to work-from-home.  Another major reason that us worker bees want the option to work from home is to “to eliminate commute time and costs.”   Hey, how much traffic from the bedroom to the basement, to get to the pc? :-) With gas prices high, and environmental factors playing a role, telecommuting may be an attractive option to both workers and employers, who want to be environmentally conscious.  They government may even grant incentives to companies that offer "green jobs".  But even on a simple level, that extra hour or two used on either side of the commute, could be applied to real productive work.

Another powerful argument, which I believe many companies are striving for as an incentive to come work for them, is work/life balance.  This is becoming ever-increasingly a major deciding factor to prospective employees who want to stay close to home, and consider family vs, work.  Telecommuting sure should be one option in the work/life balance booklet, shouldn't it?  And why the sudden concern to balance work and our personal lives by the employer?  Well, burn out and decreased employee morale is one of the key reasons why turnover is high, and employees are leaving in droves!  By allowing even partial telecommute days, will boost employee morale, which in turn increases productivity, and lessens burn out.  Hey, I've been there - working those long 14 hour days, only to get home and beeped by the boss!  Well beep this!  As companies incorporate telecommuting as part of their policy, other companies will see that the ability to hiring quality candidates will become much more competitive.

As an example, I've seen companies post jobs for 6-months to a year, with a job vacancy. "Immediate DBA needed for work in Alaska!" Why not fire an email back, "Would you consider a highly qualified DBA to fill the job, if I can work remote?"  You never know.  It's like buying a house for the perfect price, after being highly inflated on the market for 8-months or so.  But, I digress.

Try to strike a deal with your employer.  You know your worth, and relationship with management, so gauge your approach accordingly.  Armed with the right information, and document the pros and cons, to convince your higher-ups that this is an option that can benefit them.  We already know the benefits for us.  No doubt, it is a symbiotic relationship.

Another good career article I've seen on the subject is, Making Your Case for Telecommuting: How to Convince the Boss.  Many jobs may not start out as work-from-home, but as you prove your salt and build trust, they may be willing to down the line.  Like I mentioned earlier, if 100% telecommute is not an option, maybe your employeer would be open to 2-3 days a week.  Perhaps, there is an unknown policy already with HR, but it's one of those well-kept secrets.  The aforementioned article covers many of the aspects you need to make your case.  My favorite "presidential" quote in there, and sums up what I said in the last paragraph, "Ask not what telecommuting can do for you; explain what telecommuting can do for your employer"

So, I don't believe the debate is decided.  It's still evolving.  I think a lot of companies need to get educated on the topic, before they decide their own corporate policy.  There are truly advantages to both the employee and the employer.  Well, I've virtually said it all.  Do you think telecommuting is a remote possibility where you work? What are your thoughts and experiences on working from home.  The virtual office may one day be the norm.

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Comments

Posted by Jason Brimhall on 1 August 2011

Nice read on the topic

Posted by dwentzel on 1 August 2011

Telecommuting is anathema in a scrum/agile environment.  I do agree that many corporate jobs can be done just as well from home as from the office.  The government could affect change here by giving corporations tax breaks for every man-hour worked without physically commuting.  Call it the Save the Environment subsidy or whatever, but this would help companies adopt telecommuting by helping the bottom line.  

Posted by csaptd on 4 August 2011

As a developer I find it often helps to be able to speak to DBAs face to face instead of email or phone

Posted by Chris Taylor on 4 August 2011

Being on a daily rate myself, it makes sense for my clients to allow telecommuting purely due to the fact that in some cases i could be commuting 6hours a day, which doesn't leave very much time for actual work and the cost savings from not commuting can mean i can charge a lower rate for my services. However, as you mentioned in your topic, there are some people i've worked with who abuse the process and use it as an excuse to watch sky sports news all day so in some cases you may have to prove your worth to the company/client by showing how much work can be done from home as opposed to commuting plus being in the office where you'll always get the odd, "have you just got 2mins?" or just general gassing in the corridor :)

Posted by tsceurman on 4 August 2011

I have tried telecommuting, and I have to say, I did not enjoy it at all.  Answering questions or discussing ideas with coworkers become slow and difficult.  I ended up not being included in some discussions simply because I wasn't there.  And to be honest, I found working from home to be truly more distracting than being in an office.  

Additionally, in the jobs that I've held, I have found that face-to-face meetings have become critical, as you miss lots of clues about what's going on by not being able to see everyone.  If I'm doing requirements gathering, I want to see the people I'm talking to, and be able to sketch out ideas with them.  Also, I like having the ability to walk down to someone's desk to ask a question directly, and to spend time making sure we both understand.

I may be the exception to the rule, and I admit that my way of doing things may not be what others prefer, but for me, I actually enjoy putting on the shirt and pants and driving to the office.

Posted by Don B on 4 August 2011

Our single product software company is entirely virtual. We had an office, and had people come in maybe 2 days a week, found it was painful.

We changed our mindset, went 100% skype and other VOIP technologies and couldn't be happier. We use products like Teamviewer or GoToMeeting and conferencing calling which works almost as well as face to face. If we need to meet face to face, we sometimes go to another persons house because it's closer than going to the office.

We still hold the office space and maybe twice a month someone will go and utilize the space, but beyond that it's great. Instead of a multi-desk noisy room (no cubicles there), I have my own office, customized and setup the way I want it. I'm saving on fuel and commute time, and the company is actaully saving in communication costs. T

here are so many technologies out there that aid this that in my mind it's a no brainer.

Posted by Robert Pearl on 4 August 2011

Thanks all for your comments.  Clearly there are two-camps and varying opinions - that's what debate is all about.  Of course I can say with balance, there are cases for telecommuting, and cases against it - and there are also cases where the employer/company just doesn't have enough data to make an informed decision.

Here is some cross discussions on the PASS LinkedIN Group on my article:

www.linkedin.com/groupItem

Posted by midgard on 4 August 2011

The one thing I have not seen addressed is the agency risk level. For example if someone is injured at home, but on the job due to telecommuting, then it becomes a SAIF claim. The agency basically takes on the risk of an environment they have no control over.

Posted by Randy on 5 August 2011

I work from home fulltime. For me, it has been a great change. I find working in an office to be distracting because the social aspect can be so stressful. The commuting was also stressful and of course cost money.

A couple of things I've learned since working from home would be to not hesitate picking up the phone if you have a question for someone. Question/answer sessions go too slow over email. Even better, if its a technical problem, use Adobe Connect or similar to connect to their desktop so you can see and hear what they're telling you. It's as good as being there! If you do work from home, you have to kick up the communication more. But the payoff is well worth it.

As a govt contractor, I have worked in offices where more and more employees are working from home. These offices are even pressing to allow more people to do this, as well. So, if the (slow-to-catch-onto-trends) government is doing it, I'd imagine we are well on our way to greater acceptance for telecommuting or working from home.

Posted by Kevin Kline on 5 August 2011

Good article, Robert.  Like most things in life some people can telecommute well and some can't.  Some organizations can manage telecommuters well and some can't.

The only point I'd open up that you missed relates to work/life balance - that highly motivated work-at-home types actually WORSEN their work/life balance.  Just as you no longer have to go in to the office, it turns out that you NEVER really leave the office any more.  It can be a real issue that requires great discipline on the part of the telecommuter.  

Just another thought to consider...

Again, great stuff!

-Kevin

Posted by Jorge Serres on 5 August 2011

Hi,

I get to TC everyday and it's 10X more productive. I get to work with people from all of US and Europe/Asia so the expectation for one to be there is nearly "always". So when the EAST coast is ready for a work session and it's one's lunch time, one has to commit. Other than that productivity starts from the moment one does not have to deal with traffic, parking, walking etc One can almost wear any pair of shorts or fleece and comfortably get down to biz...Long run, companies may save a lot too, on costs related to power/water/maintenance etc. Separating home from office, within our house is an important mindset if we want o see the best part of TC.

Posted by john.delahunt on 9 August 2011

I work in a downtown location and have a 2.5 hour round-trip commute which I usually cite as being one of the biggest negatives.  

As Robert points out, working-from-home eliminates poor use of sick and vacation days.  There's those days when you're not well but not really sick, days when you have a personal appointment and the days when your transportation or the weather won't copoerate.

Take a dentist appointment as an example.  Even if I get the earliest appointment available, it puts me heading to work after I'd normally be starting.  Just how productive is that midday commute?  The traditional alternative is to take a vacation day (or, dare I say it, fake an illness to use a sick day).  With work-from-home that's a near full day of productivity without even going outside of normal office hours.

How about a delivery or a service man coming to your house?  They often pin that down as happening somewhere between 9am and noon and some such time frame.  That's productive time if you work-from-home.

Feeling a little off?  Definitely not a good thing to share with your co-workers.  But you can still be productive.  Being at home, maybe you can even get a little lunch time nap.  Try that at the office!

And nevermind trying to get to work during a major snowstorm.  First, get up early to shovel your driveway, then try to drive through unplowed roads only to arrive for your commuter train and find out that either you're late or the train's in trouble somewhere.  Of course after you finally get to work, you've got the commute home to look forward to.  Instead, just stay home, log in on time and enjoy a warm beverage in the comfort of your home, maximizing productivity on what would otherwise be a wasted day.

There's ceratinly value in working face to face with your team members, but we have found there's definitely a place for work-from-home too.

In fact, during the G20 Conference in Toronto, our office managed to run with all workers telecommuting (with the exception of one operations guy in case a physical presence was required).

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