Working from home is the best job ever ... as long as you're willing to tether yourself to technology, produce twice as much as you would in an office, blur every possible work-life boundary and have the discipline to bite your tongue when someone asks you if you ever plan to get a "real" job.
Telecommuting is a disaster for anyone who is unmotivated, disorganized, thin-skinned or has fantasies about working in pajamas. Trust me. I'm speaking from experience.
And remember this: it's the wrong choice if you expect to have regular lunch or coffee breaks (a blessing in disguise, actually, because you often won't have time to avail yourself of the restroom, either.) Your boss will call the minute you step away from your desk, creating suspicion about whether you're working at all. Differences in time zones mean calls at almost any hour of the day (or night).
No wonder those spoiled, entitled, forever-whining tech-obsessed millennials (aka Gen Y) are just so over this whole telecommuting thing. And guess what? They aren't alone.
Hello? Hello? Anybody Out There?
A recent study by Cornerstone OnDemand found the majority of millennials crave more in-person collaboration — make that touch, contact and human interaction — than they get in a world of texts, tweets, email and geographically dispersed workforces.
Surprising? Perhaps, given the stereotype about the whole generation's obsessive connection with technology. But in fairness, it's not just Gen Y: The study actually examined three generations' views of workplace technology. And while it found 60 percent of millennials prefer to collaborate in person versus online, the percentage is even higher (72 percent) for all ages combined.
"It seems that good old-fashioned face time is still the preferred way to get work done, even in our increasingly hyper-connected world," noted Jason Corsello, vice president of corporate strategy and marketing for Cornerstone OnDemand.
No one, it seems, is an island — a fact many people seem to discover after working in a virtual vacuum.
More than 150 years ago, Henry David Thoreau concluded that the man who had the courage to be different must also have the courage to be lonely. But that's not necessarily the case anymore. Loneliness is not exclusive to people who are "different" — the metaphorical long-distance runners.
Loneliness, which can ravage body and brain, is a curse of the ever growing numbers of people who work remotely.
Plenty of people telecommute, Yahoo and HP notwithstanding. How many, precisely, is hard to say. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated last summer that 20 percent of employees and 56 percent of self-employed people work at home in the US on any given weekday.
Global Workplace Analytics, a firm that researches mobile work, workplace flexibility and other emerging workplace strategies, estimates as many as 20 million employees telecommute at least once a month, and 3 million do so once a week or more. But Kate Lister, president of the organization, told CMSWire, "Studying the work-at-home population is a little like trying to study meteoroids. We know there are a lot of them, and we know they’re important, but we don’t know where they all are and not everyone agrees on which ones to count.”
Suffice to say there are plenty of remote workers, including a growing number of creative professionals. A new survey by The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service for interactive, design, marketing, advertising and public relations professionals, found a third of the 400 advertising and marketing executives polled said more creative employees work remotely today than three years ago. They said the benefits of telecommuting include access to a broader talent pool (22 percent), improved retention and morale (19 percent) and increased productivity from reduced commute time (15 percent).
The numbers are likely to keep climbing, too. A new law in California — Bill SB 1339 — will legally require San Francisco Bay Area employers with more than 50 employees to offer commuter benefits, including telecommuting.
Wait. This isn't What I Expected
Like everything that seems so appealing on its bright and shiny and new surface, telecommuting is alluring.
No commute. No worries about the weather or wardrobes. No need to climb under your desk to fix an allegedly loose wire every time you glimpse that coworker who disturbs you with his laugh, comments or hand gestures.
No more avoiding the heavily perfumed or the pungently unwashed.
But peel off those fuzzy fleece pajama pants and look a little closer. Working from home often means working alone — and it's harder to work when things are eerily quiet than you think. Do you realize how crazy it can feel to have ongoing conversations with your dog or cat, or a reincarnation of that imaginary childhood friend? Do you understand the desperation you drip when you refuse to return the signature pad to the UPS man — just so you can engage him in small talk a few minutes more?
Do you realize how little you have to share about your workday with family and friends when the only interactions you have with other adults are on Skype or Yammer or some other collaboration tool?
Say all you want about the evils of gossip. But there is a little place inside of all of us that craves overhearing things we have no right to know. And you aren't going to get that huddled around virtual K-Cup machines.
Telecommuting has its place. And despite its annoyances, trivial and significant, it can be an effective way to work. But it's important to recognize the challenges. Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group — the organization that just released results of that study about creative professionals — put it like this: "When employees are collaborating from diverse locations, everyone needs to step up their communications game."
Distance increases the odds of miscommunication and misunderstandings. It's hard to detect tone, sentiment and intent in email or a comment on Yammer. And it's harder to accurately judge emotion in a phone call than it is when you are talking face-to-face.
Maybe the best thing to do is recognize the obvious: Working from home is work. Period. It's not easy. But neither is trekking to an office every day.
Title image by Asa Aarons (all rights reserved).