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Is telecommuting a perk or a necessity?

Categories: Career, Making Time, The Juggle, Uncategorized, Working? Living?


I knew it was time to leave my last job when my boss told me that she didn’t believe that I was actually working on the days I worked from home.

I had been with the company for more than 15 years — a decade longer than she had, in fact — and had negotiated my one-day-a-week work-from-home schedule with her boss more than a year earlier. The deal was that I would take on a lot of extra work that wasn’t part of my job description in exchange for being allowed to telecommute once a week. To hear her say that flexibility was “a perk reserved for outstanding employees” and she wanted to “take it off the table” in order to better monitor my performance made me wonder: For parents who work outside of the home, is telecommuting a perk or a necessity? And how does taking away an employee’s flexibility encourage productivity?

As I’ve written before, I had a crazy-long commute; not having to get in the car once a week saved me about three hours, and I was willing to use that time to do the extra, unpaid work. It also made it easier for me to do more for my family (volunteering at school, staying on top of the laundry, chauffeuring small people here and there), since I could use my downtime more constructively. I rarely called in sick because I would work from home when I was under the weather, or when my kids were. And, just as those studies show, I was actually far more productive on my telecommuting days, since I would essentially work around the clock.

But, apparently, the fact that I was getting all of my work done (and all of the extra work done) wasn’t enough to prove to my boss or co-workers that I was actually, you know, working. It was a textbook case of being penalized for using the perks — or, in this case, non-monetary compensation — I was entitled to.

When the job is one that can easily be done from anywhere (in my case, writing and editing), flexibility is a perk that costs very little to give — and can reap huge benefits for a company. The employee is using her own resources to get the work done for you. You get more productivity for the same amount of salary. And you end up with a happier employee, who has better work-life balance and is more likely to invest more of herself into her company and her work than one who feels unsupported or unappreciated. Work has a lot to do with your work-life balance, after all.

So, is telecommuting a perk, or a necessity? It depends on your job, of course. But I’d argue that in certain fields (and with technology being what it is in this day and age) there’s little reason to insist on a traditional, chained-to-your-desk-from-9-to-5 work day just so you can monitor what your employees are doing.

I remember looking my then-boss in the eye and telling her that her decision would make it very difficult for me to stay at the company; I left a few months later.

Are you able to telecommute? If not, would that kind of flexibility make you a better employee, or would it not make much of a difference?

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6 comments so far...

  • Let me first say that it sounds like you had a terrible boss. She probably did not deserve her position. I would have quit too.

    I work mostly from home, even though I have a desk in our downtown office. I’m in an entrepreneurial business where the boss-partner doesn’t view the day as being broken into work hours and non-work hours. Every available minute is potentially work time. Hence all of us see the value in avoiding a commute if there’s no good reason for it. In addition, I’ve noted that when I’m in the office with others and their frequent loud conference calls, I can’t concentrate as well on my work.

    But yes, I do get accused of not being productive when I’m not being “watched” (since my work often involves long-term deliverables). I see that as a boss personality / culture thing: (a) boss believes she’s working 24/7 (even if she isn’t) and (b) boss thinks cracking the whip is gonna scare or shame people into working more.

    The problem is that the whole “account for every minute” mentality, used on a creative employee, only makes us crave freedom even more. If I’m being “watched,” it makes me more likely to check the internet or get coffee whenever I can, because I feel like every break in surveillance will be the last chance. (Though, maybe if my workday wasn’t defined as “whenever you aren’t sleeping or intensively caring for your kids,” this would be less of an issue.)

    SKL  |  March 20th, 2011 at 3:27 pm

  • How horrible! What a nasty boss! I can completely understand how you feel. When I was 9 month pregnant, I had an hour and half commute to work and the trains were so packed, I had to stand out in the vestibule in order to just get on! I worked in NYC and commuted from NJ. I cried every single day.

    Even on the days when I was able to get into the train, no one would let me take their seat. On top of it, I was soooo huge, it was hard to miss. My daughter was born at 10 lbs 2 ounces.

    It was crazy!!! I quite that job shortly after I gave birth. I just couldnt bear a 3 hour commute back and forth per day.

    Now I work from home for an online baby company and definitely do not miss the daily corporate grind or commute. It’s just not worth it.

    So for all you working moms out there, there are options!

    Emma @  |  March 21st, 2011 at 2:52 pm

  • I loved the flexibility to work from home because my work always could be done that way. 90% of deliverables were electronic, 90% of the work to create the deliverables were electronic resources.
    I now have a position where one has to be in the office for it to be considered work time though the deliverables/resources used haven’t changed. And it honestly makes me think how long I can keep working for a company like this.
    Is it a “perk”? No, I think it is a negotiated part of salary/benefits package and when it is taken off the table, it is like cutting salary and a good employee then decides if they wish to stay or go with a reduction in salary/benefits.

    Mich  |  March 21st, 2011 at 3:09 pm

  • Working from home would not be a perk. I’m an accountant and can work from anywhere. I’m fortunate where I have the ability to work from home if my kids are sick or for some reason I have to be at the house. My husband is a CFO so he works long hours and I’m usually the one to stay home with the boys. If I didn’t have the option I would have left a long time ago. I also manage a staff of 5 and I look at their work not the # of hours they work or if they are at their desk doing the work. I’ve had the displeasure of working with people who log 10 - 12 hour days but produce nothing. You know the type…the ones who take work home with them but it’s the same thing they been bringing home for the past week. I’d like to work from home on a permanent basis at least 2 - 3 days a week. I’m trying to come up with a plan to present to my boss. Wish me luck.

    Kelly  |  March 21st, 2011 at 6:27 pm

  • I had a baby 9 months ago. I did not consider staying at my job basically because they are not flexible in the least. I would have considered staying there if they let me work part-time or 1-2 days from home. Flexible work schedules are needed for women (or men) who are the primary care givers to young children. It is still viewed as a perk and something you have to negotiate. I find it sad that we are still fighting this battle. The message corporations are sending is if you want to work here, you need to choose work over your family. I think we need the concept of work/life balance. Working mothers have a lot to offer and shouldn’t be penalized because they have other commitments outside the office. Unfortunately, I find corporate America still of a boy’s club with a few exceptions. I hope by the time my daughter grows up, this will have evolved. Good luck to all the moms who are trying to negotiate their schedules! You are a valuable asset and should get what you want!

    KA  |  March 22nd, 2011 at 1:34 am

  • My company is not flexible. They’ve fired people for working from home. They say that we can do it at our own risk. I was working from home one day a week every couple of weeks in cases where I was sick or my son was sick. I have a customer that is very demanding and I had projects that needed to be completed so taking a sick day/PTO was not an option. One of my co-workers was working from home one ill fated day and he was fired. Reasons were not disclosed to the rest of the team, but it scared the crap out of me and I haven’t worked from home since that day. I was working an early shift to accommodate my customers in NY and my boss made me change my schedule to 8:30 to 5:30, forcing me to get daycare for the 2 hours between when my husband goes to work and when I get home. (Yes, we never see each other because I work days and he works nights) So, now I have to pay $20 a day to have someone watch my son and I don’t ever see my husband. All flexibility has been taken from me. I also used to workout after work, but now that is NOT an option. I did it last night and I was able to see my son for about 1 hour. Not the way I want my relationship with my son to be. So, I’ve been working out during my lunch break. Well, now my boss is giving me dirty looks for wearing gym clothes at work (I do not interface in person with customers - ever!) and he has even had his boss ask me about it. I should say that a majority of people in my office wear jeans everyday and some even wear gym clothes everyday. Why I am being singled out is a mystery to me! Needless to say, I hate this company and have no motivation to be productive. It is so sad that my company treats people the way that it does (I have way more stories about how they mistreat their employees, but I won’ go into details now) and there is not surprise when people are leaving left and right. I will be surprised if the company will have any legacy employees in the next year.

    Marcia  |  March 23rd, 2011 at 3:23 pm