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Teleworking is Great. Most of the Time.

“You’re so lucky you work from home!” is a response I hear frequently when I tell people about my recent switch from a traditional office arrangement to a teleworking (aka telecommuting) schedule. I think people envision me lounging around in pajamas, making gourmet lunches and working whatever hours suit my mood.  

Myriad research supports the benefits of working from home. Here are a few recent articles: Making Telecommuting Work (BusinessWeek, October 17, 2008); Telecommuting Improves Health (Network World, October 14, 2008) & Telecommuting Improves Productivity, Lowers Costs, New Survey Finds (CIO, October 7, 2008). I have to admit, teleworking full time is different than I expected, and much different than working from home occasionally – but, I can’t complain. After all, wasn’t I the one who swore that nothing could be worse than my daily commute? I used to spend my long train rides daydreaming about the time I could have been spending at the gym or taking leisurely strolls with my dog if I wasn’t stuck in a moving vehicle three hours a day.

Although the flexibility of working remotely can’t be beat, there have been some bumps along the way. It took me a few weeks to adjust to my new schedule and surroundings. Organizing my home office involved jamming furniture in places where it was clearly not meant to go, a lucky drive-by acquisition of a filing cabinet someone had retired to the curb, the ordering of a chair that still hasn’t made its’ debut and a lot of wiring (phone, computer, router, printer, fax, etc.). Setting boundaries with my family was rather simple: When the door is closed, pretend I’m not even here! It’s the boundaries I have to set for myself that are the hardest to follow (more on this later).

So here’s my beef with telework (not to be interpreted as complaints, but merely observations)…

24/7.

When I receive an email at 10 pm, even though I know it can wait until morning, I usually answer it anyway. When my phone rings after hours, I know I don’t have to pick it up, but it’s much easier than waiting till morning, retrieving the voicemail and tracking the person down (I mean who would knowingly instigate a game of phone tag if you can avoid it?). To me, this is the “cost” of flexibility. Then there’s the money I save on commuting and making my own (not quite gourmet) lunches.

Cabin Fever.

Your physical work environment, no matter how nice of a setup you have, gets old quick when you spend ten plus hours a day there. It only took me three days to start feeling claustrophobic. I never felt this way working from home occasionally, but when it’s 24/7, it just gets to you. This is actually where those walks I dreamt about come in handy – a quick trot around the block with my trusty Labrador is quite reviving, the fresh air does us both good, and the best part is it doesn’t take more than five or ten minutes out of my day.

Separation Anxiety.

I miss my team. Even though we do an excellent job of staying in touch by email and phone, it’s just not the same. I’m grateful I got to know my team and coworkers well enough on a professional and personal level before I left so that our communications are not awkward. I also appreciate the institutional knowledge I gained that wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t put my time in at the office before making the switch. Still, it’s hard to be so far away and I can’t help but feel like something is about to happen and I’ll miss it because I’m not physically there.

Social Isolation.

I miss chatting with my coworkers in the hallway and listening to funny stories about their kids, but it’s more than just being separated from my team. I’m separated from everybody. It feels like I’m on an island of isolation somewhere that doesn’t have ferryboats. I miss the seemingly transparent “Hello, how are you?” I got in the elevator, and my favorite receptionist’s smile in the morning. Although I don’t miss waiting in line for the microwave at lunchtime, I do miss those brief interactions that let me know life exists outside my office. It’s pretty hard to get that at home during work hours.

Solutions?

I came across these tips on how to work around some of the downsides to teleworking that are pretty useful, but for now I think I’ll just continue to do what works for me and hopefully my insights will help others. Thankfully, tasks like dishes and laundry aren’t appealing enough to me to be distracting (oh, if we could all be so lucky), but I do take quick breaks from the computer every hour by doing something constructive like reading the newspaper or wall push-ups (sometimes you have to get creative, and it’s better than climbing the walls). I often seek refuge at Starbucks and as a result, I have gotten to know my local baristas quite well. Working in a different environment can spark creativity and it’s fun to be around someone other than my dog (sorry Max!) for at least part of my day, plus the caffeine probably contributes to the productivity boost.

For me, having a plan is key, and sticking to it is essential, but I shake it up day-by-day to keep things interesting. I make it a goal to always wake up early, get out of my PJs, eat a balanced breakfast and organize my to-do list before diving into my work – this helps me focus. Then to prevent boredom from setting in, I vary the rest of my routine. Sometimes I’ll exercise in the morning, other times it’s a quick afternoon jog, I try new places for lunch if I do eat out, and I usually start earlier on Fridays so I can shut down mentally before the weekend begins. Don’t get me wrong, working from home is great, but it’s important to be aware of the potential challenges and find ways to work around them. The last thing you want to happen is to burn out on telework. That would give you way too much to complain about and you wouldn’t be able to hide your smirk the next time someone asked you about working in your jammies.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jessica McKenzie, MS published on October 31, 2008 9:44 AM.

Are Wellness Programs Working? was the previous entry in this blog.

Will Time Off Be the Next Thing To Go? A ‘Flexible’ Alternative is the next entry in this blog.

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