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Working in Pajamas: The Downside of Telecommuting

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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.

Lethal Loneliness

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.

 

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