The Digital Sorceress

Five Things I've Learned While Telecommuting

I've been fortunate enough to have a job that has allowed me to telecommute for the past two years. It's a long story, but the gist of it is that I was lucky enough to have had the following conversation with my boss:

ME: "Um, boss, what would the chances be that I could move 500 miles away and keep my job ... you know - telecommute?"

BOSS: ~thoughtful look for a moment~ "I don't see why not"

ME: "COOL! Thanks. Do we need anyone else's approval?"

BOSS: "I'll double check with ~general manager~. but he shouldn't have a problem" ... next day ... "You're good to go"

Two two years later, I do not regret it for a moment... and neither has my boss.

Don't get me wrong, it's been work - a lot of work. What surprised me most was how much work I had to do on myself. You see, I'm a bit of a workaholic. I'm the type of gal who gets a great deal of my sense of personal satisfaction from feeling that I do a damn good job at what I do. This caused me to have to do a bit of mental adjustment and self-monitoring to avoid over-stressing... to strike a proper balance between work and life.

Anyone who works in a field where it is possible for folks to work remotely has probably had ~that co-worker~ the one who says they're "Working from home" when they're really "Working" (intentional use of quotes there) from home.... or to put it bluntly - fucking off.

Well, when you're full-time telecommuting... even when you're actually working your arse off, there will always be those who assume you're not actually working. Either because they're jealous, or because they would just use it as an excuse to goof off on the company's dime.

So long as those with that attitude are not your boss and are not in your immediate chain of command, you're generally ok ... but surprisingly, there's one person who you would never expect to feel that way about you ... and that's you.

Yep, because:

Telecommuting Makes You Feel That You Need to Constantly Prove Yourself

I spent the first 6 months of my telecommuting job never taking a lunch break, and never, ever actually logging off work "at quittin' time" I would regularly end up "staying late" and checking up on work stuff at all hours because I felt I had to prove how much I was working.

I've always done that to some extent as it's my nature as a Type-A personality - I worry, but I kind of went into hyper-self-critical mode thinking I wasn't working hard enough that everyone was going to think I was screwing around.

It took my boss pretty much ordering me to take care of myself - to take lunch breaks and relax, to trust that she would tell me if she had an issue with me before I finally got the message and reached a good place in my head so that I stopped burning myself out.

That being said,

Staying "Part of the Team" Takes Active Effort

In a regular office environment, just showing up at the office every day - grabbing your coffee, taking a bathroom break - others see you (note to self: proximity of "bathroom break" and "others see you" may not be the best mental image); they know you're there.

Also, it's amazing how much input/feedback you get from simply passively hearing the office chatter and from seeing who is talking to whom or who has been in the bosses office with the door closed for the last 30 minutes.

That office gossip and the environment is full of useful information that we make use of... but being "out of sight" can mean "out of mind"... and if you're not careful to actively participate, there's a danger of being left out.

My coping mechanism for this was to use Google Hangouts to keep an active conference with my boss and the two other engineers on my team (another of whom was also a telecommuter) we basically made our own little virtual office, and that really made a huge difference. Even with the sound off, my co-workers and I could see when the others were on a phone call or were away from the desk - not in a big-brother kind of way, but in a way that mimics a traditional office.

When all you have is Email and IM, it's hard to get a feel for someone's presence and current state... if you IM them or email and they don't respond right away - are they ignoring you? or are they on a call ? or are they on lunch? In a meeting? Having a chat with someone who is stopped by to ask them a question? abducted by aliens? Who knows?

With that video conference, my co-workers could see me talking on the phone, and I could see them having a conversation with one of the sales reps who stopped by to ask them a question - just kind of getting that visual feedback we take for granted when we are in the same office.

However, it goes beyond that - it means always making sure to keep an eye / ear out for an IM or email coming in and trying to give quick feedback (to the others in the office who may not be in the hangout) so that you don't leave anyone sitting around waiting for you to get back to them.

There are some really big benefits to working remotely - for you and for your co-workers. one of the most surprising was

Telecommuting Reduces Sick Days

This happens both because you can "tough it out" without worrying about spreading the ick around (which means ~they~ don't get sick... continuing the chain) and it also means that you are likely to miss out on the latest plague that everyone else who IS in the office trying to tough it out keeps passing around.

Your average office is a veritable Petri dish... because far too many folks are either afraid of getting yelled at or they're saving their sick days for when it's important (Monday morning hangovers) or for taking their sick kid to the doctor (after politely bringing the ick into the office)

Working remotely, you get to break that cycle and it's amazing - Other than an occasional migraine attack, I've not needed any sick days... EXCEPT FOR THAT WEEK I ENDED UP IN THE HOSPITAL WITH A COLLAPSED LUNG AND PNEUMONIA BECAUSE I GOT THE OFFICE PLAGUE FROM A QUARTERLY TRIP INTO THE OFFICE yeah that was fun. I can legit say that my job "tried to kill me" that one time.

Still, that week of my life (Actually, I pretty much lost a month to that plague, but only missed about a week of work), I have gotten back more time because...

No Commute Means You Get WEEKS of Your Life Back

Personally, the longest commute I ever had was a 45 minute drive each way (no traffic) that would regularly turn into a 1.5 hour drive due to traffic... and the shortest commute (aside from my current Telecommute) was about 15 minutes each way which never had any traffic... On average, over my career, I'd guess that I spent about 7 hours a week commuting. That's ~350 hours or 8.75 work weeks a year. That's twice as much as my vacation accruals.

Okay, so I do drive 7 hours each way to visit the office once a quarter but that's still 1/15 of the time I spend telecommuting - and since it's a business trip, I get paid mileage and per-diems on my travel days - hell, I ~could~ fly, but I am the "fly only if it's more than 8 hours driving" type - I kind of ~like~ road trips where I'm not stuck losing my mind in bumper to bumper traffic...

Oh yeah and that's one down side:

You Lose Tolerance for Even Minor Traffic

Nobody really likes being stuck in traffic... well, I'm sure Rule 34 even applies to that , but ewww... but most normal people will understand that traffic sucks.

However, one of the things I though would happen when I started telecommuting was that I'd be less annoyed on those occasions when I did encounter it simply for the fact that "at least I don't deal with this every day"...

NOPE.

It's turned out to be exactly the opposite. I've gotten very very used to not dealing with traffic every day - you might even go so far as to say "spoiled' because OMG! WHY IS SHE DRIVING SO SLOW!!!!

Yep I'm even less tolerant. I guess I should have seen it coming - I mean I've been a user of ad blocking browser add-ons for ages... so when I sit down at someone else's PC (like doing tech support for my partner or my mom) ALL I SEE ARE THOSE GORRAM ADS! because I'm so used to NOT seeing them that I have lost the ability to mentally block them out.

Well, traffic is just like that to me - any little bit of it gets to me because I'm completely spoiled by not having to deal with it every frigging day.

On the whole, I think I've managed to find balance. I have been able prove my worth and to maintain the self-discipline needed to make telecommuting effective for both me and my employer. However, I never lose sight of just how damn lucky I am to have a boss as open to telecommuting as mine has been.

Here's hoping my luck will continue.

--The Digital Sorceress