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

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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 πŸ™‚

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 β€œto eliminate commute time and costs.”   Hey, how much traffic from the bedroom to the basement, to get to the pc? πŸ™‚ 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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