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OT somewhat: Do you telecommute? What do you wish the boss understood about it?

P: n/a
For a lot of IT people -- everyone from software developers to tech
writers to network support folks -- telecommuting is the best personal
option. They get a flexible schedule, they aren't bothered by noisy
cube-mates, they can code during whichever hours work for them (with
the help of IM and email), and so on. Many of us are lucky enough to
live this lifestyle; I include myself in this set, as I've been a full
time telecommuter for several years.

So I proposed to my boss that I write another in my "5 Things the CIO
Should Know..." series (along with "5 Things the CIO Should Know about
Fighting Spam" [http://www.cio.com/article/101475] and "...about
Software Requirements" [http://www.cio.com/article/29903]), this time
about telecommuting. He was enthusiastic about the idea, and I'm
anxious to get started.

My question has two parts:

* If you telecommute, full- or part-time, what *one* thing do you wish
the CIO or IT Management would understand that they don't currently
"get"?

* If you don't telecommute, the question is the same -- what do you
wish the CIO would understand about telecommuting -- but I expect the
answers will be different (such as "they should let me do it"). Or
perhaps you want to tell management something about the difficulty of
dealing with telecommuters ("I really hate that THEY always seem to do
email during teleconferences but nobody would let us get away with
that in person.") Note, though, that most of my attention will be
given to the people who DO telecommute because my context is "if
you're going to do this, we'll tell you how to do it right."

There is, of course, a manager's view to the same question. (I can
imagine a manager saying, "Telecommuting doesn't mean you can stay
home and play with your baby. You still need to get your work done.")
But mostly I'm trying to represent the concerns of the telecommuter
herself.

I realize that you may have more than one "...and THEN I'd say...!"
item. But I ask people to keep it to one answer to help me clarify
priorities.

As you can probably tell, I will collect opinions from a wide variety
of people who work in IT, over the next week or so. I'll collate the
results and then turn them into a <modest coughbrilliant essay which
will be published on CIO.com. I promise to post the URL when the
article is posted, too.

I'm happiest when I can quote someone specifically ("Esther Schindler
is a programmer at the Groovy Corporation") but it's okay to have an
indirect reference too ("Esther is a programmer at a financial
services firm in the midwest"). I can even accept anonymity if
necessary ("a programmer named Esther said..."). You can write to me
privately if you like, but I suspect the question is of interest to
the larger community, so feel free to respond to the thread here. (It
does help if you cc me so that I see your message sooner.)

Esther Schindler
senior online editor, CIO.com
http://advice.cio.com/taxonomy/term/34

Apr 30 '07 #1
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P: n/a
estherschindler wrote:
* If you telecommute, full- or part-time, what *one* thing do you wish
the CIO or IT Management would understand that they don't currently
"get"?
I'm not currently telecommuting but last year I had a telecommuting job
for half a year. What I would want to say to all future employers
considering to hire telecommuting personnel is : Don't let the
telecommuter pay the extra costs that are caused by telecommuting. And I
don't mean only the financial aspects, I also mean the immaterial costs.

For example if one is working at home it can be hard for an employer to
check whether the work is still progressing and if there are no
immediate results there can be some suspicion that the employee is just
sitting at home watching television or is out shopping, because hey,
there's no way to check that anyway and people tend to become lazy if no
one is watching them? So the employer can become tempted to find ways to
check upon his employee by other means. Why not let him write a daily
report of his activities even if you never read it? Why not ask for an
open MSN chat window at all times so that one can check how fast the
employee is responding? Is he at his desk *right now*?

These are all things that are not usually asked of the people sitting in
the main office and create an extra burden for the employee. In fact the
employee gets burdened with the costs of the employers insecurities. If
one doesn't trust the employee then don't hire him or don't let him
telecommute in the first place!

Then there are other aspects. For example sometimes I had to use an
expensive mobile Internet connection when I was on the road or when the
Internet connection at home didn't work. It was some account that lets
one use some amount of megabytes for free but after that was used up
there were high costs for each further megabyte. It was certainly the
wrong kind of subscription but sometimes it's hard to determine whether
one buys an expensive flat rate subscription with the risk of all this
money never being used because one is using the home Internet connection
all the time. On the other hand things can really get expensive if one
has the cheap fixed megabytes type of account and the home Internet
connection fails for an extended period or if one has to be on location
often.

So sometimes the wrong business decision was made. But if someone at the
workplace has a HD crash or some other costly error happens this is
normally not something the employee has to pay for. If one is informed
about the costs and one doesn't read the emails but just says "fix that
server malfunction *now*, don't mind the connection costs" one should
not be scolding the employee for the large bills that appear one month
later.

Then there are things like travel costs and hotel costs, say we want the
employee to be present at the office for a few days each month, the
employee can pay for it in advance and the employer will reimburse him
later on. Normally employees get a fixed paycheck each month and there
are few extra costs involved and things can get arranged quickly.

However the extra costs for the telecommuter are highly variable and so
there can be a situation where one has payed in advance out of ones own
pocket and one has to ask more than once to receive the money back. If
one has to ask too often this can be highly demoralizing, because this
is time and money spent on the company without earning anything.

The employer maybe starts to think: "Hey this guy is living in an
expensive hotel and eating in restaurants while other people go there to
have a vacation, so why should I have to pay for that?" Well for the
employee it's a completely different story, hotel rooms aren't fun if
one arrives late at night and leaves early in the morning and cities
remain tantalizing mysteries if one never has the time to do some
sightseeing.

There is also the idea that working at home is some luxurious privilege
that the employee should be thankful for. I can tell you that even the
nicest home can become a prison if one has to be there all the time. In
fact any escape can be a relief so one is thankful to spend some time in
a hotel room ... But that doesn't mean it's vacation! No way. It's just
that other people get out of their homes normally at the beginning of
the day, a telecommuter *has* to go out for a walk or go bicycling for
half an hour or so during lunch break just to keep fit. A normal
employee can integrate that into his routine of coming to work and
having lunch at a nearby restaurant.

So all in all my conclusion is, if one wants the employee to be happy
and loyal, don't destroy his good intentions by letting him pay for all
kinds of luxuries that he didn't ask for and that aren't even much fun
anyway. Even though such things might seem the most desirable working
environments for those having to work in a crowded office where they
have to go to each day, sitting alone at home or being in anonymous
hotels in big cities and eating at restaurants is *not* as good as it
seems when one has to do it in someone else's time.

Then there is the disadvantage of not being informed adequately of what
is going on at the main office. If there is a blame game going on for
something that went wrong, those in the distance are always last in line
that can distance themselves from the problem, and anyway, electronic
communications don't work as well as face to face contacts. Be aware of
that too and don't let your telecommuters always be the ones who get
blamed by the nearby workforce. You'll end up hiring and firing
telecommuting workers at a regular basis and knowledge about the company
and its software will *not* be preserved, to your own detriment.

So have a little faith and pay those extra expenses in advance, trust
your distant workforce to not watch television and accept that they too
must go out of their homes now and then. If you accept all that I think
that things will go extremely well because a distributed work force can
mobilize a lot more diverse assets than a single main office.

But that last point would be a topic for an entirely different post. I
just wanted to end this dragon with a positive note :-)

A.
May 4 '07 #2

P: n/a
Oh! what a lovely response -- and I agree with almost all of it.

I just handed in the article, and hadn't seen your message, but you'll
be glad to know that I ended up with a whole sidebar about the costs
that a telecommuter may bear. That didn't include the travel and hotel
outlay, though it might have, since I just spent $400 on plane tickets
to Boston for next month, and I won't be reimbursed for them until
after the trip. (The devil's advocate piece of that, however, is that
I don't pay for gas to commute to-and-from the office, either, which
never is reimbursed. One side effect of telecommuting is that I have
to put fuel in the car only once a month.)

Anyway, my sidebar focused on the more direct questions of "what does
the company cover?" Many of them don't have right or wrong answers,
but there ought to be a policy in place before either the telecommuter
or the accounting department have a fit. (If a telecommuter wears out
her office chair, who pays for it? The usual answer is "the
telecommuter" but is that really fair? If I had a cube in the office,
they'd get me a chair. Maybe a junky one, but there would be a
facilities budget to cover it.)

I think you can tell that I liked what you wrote. I'll be sure to let
you know when the article is published.

Esther

May 5 '07 #3

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