Thoughts After a Year of Telecommuting
I composed this post without realizing it was Telework Week. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that, but what the hell…
After commuting to office and studios for more than 20 years, I joined the ranks of teleworkers a year ago January. I promised myself (and others) that I would blog observations, but I think the year’s wait was worth it to give me a little perspective on what has worked. Here are a few of my observations:
Routines may be great, but breaking them is more important: There is no shortage of articles (like this from Monster.com, a client, and this from Yahoo!- also a client- maybe I should get out more) on telecommuting advice, and they largely include some sort of advice about routines– set up your work boundaries even though you are at home, resist the temptation to do dishes and laundry during office hours (nailed that on day 1, by the way), and more.
What I found more difficult was breaking those routines. It is easy to get locked in work until 8. That’s great short-term, but long-term it’s deadly. I found that actually breaking the routine is very healthy and important. No, I don’t do laundry or dishes (again, nailed that one), however:
- I occasionally move offices- most telework equipment is portable enough to afford a change of scenery- the dining room, the porch, the backyard. As a bonus, send pictures of your workspace on a nice day to your office-bound colleagues (the isolation of telework can incubate a nice cruel streak).
- I regularly get out of the house altogether, attending a weekly coffee group when I can, networking with folks for lunch and coffee, and attending events when I can (I can do better at this).
In all, changing scenery is important. In this laptop age, I found moving from my office to a conference room or other location on occasion was just as beneficial.
(Cliche warning) Social media really is the new water cooler: At an office, getting up and gathering at the “water cooler” (whether or not it is actually a water cooler) is not (just) a waste of time, it’s a vital socialization component that helps productivity by fostering workplace relationships, informal brainstorming, and simply clearing minds. At home? I do find yelling at my printer sometimes yields (imaginary) results. However, tools like Facebook, Twitter and Yammer are good for trading information, questions and quips with company and industry colleagues. It’s not face-to-face, but it is social and intellectual stimulation.
Similarly, I would say that many workplaces lack that stimulation– they may have the water cooler, but sometimes it is great to get out (and encourage your workers to get out) and talk with others.
Shutting off is hard. Shutting off completely is easier: When I worked at an office, I found that I would get home and set aside time to get back on the computer to do personal blogging and social networking many evenings. When home IS the office, I find I am either online or off. That’s no judgment either way, but an observation. Before, getting on the computer at home wasn’t work (aside from taking work home like many of us do). Now, being on a computer at home defines “work” even when I am doing personal things. I find myself shutting it down more after hours.
No line is uncrossable, but that’s what it feels like.
Culture is important: I work for Voce Communications, a company that has several senior people telecommuting (not to mention a small office in Florida to go with two in California). It’s important that that culture was in place as I joined, and the company does much to include the remote folks. Other people arrive at telecommuting in different ways, so mileage varies, but it is important that I have the support to be able to do my job and deal with the unique issues telework brings.
Those of you who telecommute, even sometimes, or did so in the past: what has defined telework for you?