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

Discussion in 'Python' started by estherschindler, Apr 30, 2007.

  1. 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

    * 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

    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

    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 cough> brilliant 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
    estherschindler, Apr 30, 2007
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  2. Re: OT somewhat: Do you telecommute? What do you wish the boss understoodabout it?

    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

    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

    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

    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 :)

    Anton Vredegoor, May 4, 2007
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  3. 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.

    estherschindler, May 5, 2007
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