I work from home one day a week. Most of my coworkers do as well.
So I was interested when I read about Yahoo! doing! away! with! telecommuting! (with apologies to The Register. I couldn’t resist.)
When I got this job, being able to work from home one day a week was the part that impressed everyone more than anyone else. My former managers shook their heads and said, “You know we can’t match that.” (Several things about my previous job kept working from home from being an option.) Several of my friends called me a “rock star,” for landing such a gig.
It works pretty well for us, but there are caveats.
Attending meetings by phone is doable, but I don’t like it. Some offices have snazzy Cisco teleconferencing equipment that makes remote meetings work really well, but I don’t have that in my basement. So most of us schedule our telework day on the days we have the fewest meetings, and we try our best to schedule meetings around everyone’s telework days.
For solving some problems, puzzling it out in person just works better.
Then again, I have some projects that I deliberately put off until my telework day. One of my duties is writing or editing security documentation. Sometimes I like it quiet for that; sometimes I want some music, and sometimes I want some things that people question whether it’s really music. When I’m secluded in my office in the far corner of the basement, I can get any of those things, and I concentrate better and do a better job without bothering anyone or anyone else bothering me.
I’m reachable of course, by IM, e-mail, or phone, while teleworking, and since we do a fair bit of communicating via IM anyway for the sake of quietness, in that regard, there isn’t a lot of difference.
So teleworking takes a bit of adjustment in the way we work, both for the office as a whole and each employee, but there are benefits. We find what we’re able to do better from home and what we’re able to do better at the office, and everyone benefits.
There’s a bit of adjustment on the homefront, too. It’s important to establish boundaries. You’re home, but you’re working, so we can’t treat it like a day off. Now, if I come upstairs for a cup of coffee and there’s a basket of laundry that needs to go in the wash, I’ll carry it down. But I can’t spend my telework day doing laundry or painting the living room.
But there’s benefit, too. If I want to spend my 30-minute lunch doing something around the house, I have that option. If I have an appointment at the doctor or the accountant, I can do that, make up the hours at the end of the day, and save leave time. And I have no commute on my telework day, so my day is effectively longer.
There’s a benefit to the client, too. Our most heavily certified people are also the most sought after. Our phones ring a lot. (Mine rings once a month if I’m not actively looking; once every couple of days if I am.) Telework is the one thing our shop offers that few other places do. That reduces turnover. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve had opportunities to walk away, and couldn’t bring myself to do it.
From a disaster recovery standpoint, there are benefits, too. If something were to happen to the office building we work in, we’re not crippled. We can fire up our laptops from home, VPN in using the infrastructure at our office in Kansas City, plug in our encrypted USB drives containing our backups, and still get work done. It’s not ideal, but it’s a lot better than having no contingency plan, and much easier than building from scratch.
That’s actually part of our disaster recovery plan. Once a year, we have as many people as possible telework for a week, to ensure our VPN and the rest of our infrastructure can handle it. The only way to know if your failover works is if you fail the system over sometimes–yes, this applies to your network devices, your RAID arrays, and your other fail-safe equipment–so this is a good thing for everyone involved. Tabletop exercises are one thing, but telework week forces the infrastructure to support a real-world workload and brings any problems to light before the emergency occurs.
I can see where having employees who telework full-time can be less than ideal. I don’t think I could attend meetings virtually and be effective, and I certainly couldn’t attend meetings via phone from home and take really good notes. It’s much harder to tell over the phone who’s talking, for example. But I’ve seen the benefit of building some occasional telework into the schedule and the work culture. There are benefits to both, and if you can get them, why not?
Some people argue today that offices are obsolete, an archaic product of the industrial revolution that’s outlived its usefulness. Technology is making centralization less necessary. But it could be that a hybrid approach is the ideal for the information age. It’s still a bit early to say that for certain, but from what I can see, the approach works for now.