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?