17 Telecommuting Pet Peeves

Despite all the benefits of working at home, telecommuting also has its disadvantages. Before you set up your home office, be aware of these 17 rotten bits about telecommuting--both its minor annoyances and the bigger telecommuting problems nobody likes to talk about.

By Esther Schindler
Tue, December 30, 2008

CIO — Telecommuting is great. I've been doing it full time for most of 20 years. But it isn't perfect. Working at home has its own set of irritations, some of which aren't well understood—particularly by those who don't telecommute.

Some telecommuting frustrations are minor things that seem too petty to complain about, especially to those who are stuck in rush hour traffic. Others are major problems that can affect your career. This article lists some from each category, provided by real telecommuters who have entirely too much personal experience.

CIO.com has plenty more information on improving the telecommuting lifestyle. Start with Seven Things the CIO Should Know About Telecommuting and then see the rest of the articles in our telecommuting resource guide.

Telecommuting's Trivial Annoyances

Are these minor? Sure. Would they keep you from telecommuting? No. But they sure do add up.

1. No free food. During tight deadline crunches and at team get-togethers, the office brings in lunch for in-person meeting participants. People who work at home are excluded from the free pizza, office donuts and holiday potlucks. Considering the generally poor quality of such food, and a telecommuter's freedom to toddle down the hall to the kitchen, this may not sound like a big deal. But it works to exclude the remote team member from the community. Also, telecommuters can be motivated by pizza as much as anyone else is. (Besides, the kitchen can present its own danger. Many new telecommuters put on ten pounds because it's entirely too easy to snack.)

2. Technology gets in the way. You can't count on coworkers or clients to have the PC skills or hardware necessary to set up a remote meeting with screen sharing, webcams, etc. A lot of time is wasted sorting out those issues. Nor is this problem limited to others: When your own Internet access gets flaky, you can't get your work done.

3. You need to create a go-to-work routine. For some, telecommuting is difficult because there's no ramp-up time driving to the office, coffee in hand, during which a worker plans out the day.

4. You have no reason to dress up. One telecommuting advantage is that you can work all day in your bathrobe. But it also means you never have an excuse to wear make-up or jewelry. And nobody compliments you about your beautiful new sweater. (It's red.)

5. You miss the "meeting after the meeting." You see it all the time when you're in the office: The meeting is supposedly over, everyone says their farewells, and the folks in the office hang up the speakerphone. Almost immediately, the conversation continues around the conference table in a far less inhibited way than it did when everyone was involved.

6. You find out about relevant events too late. Team members can schedule events (such as training classes) so late that it's difficult for telecommuters to arrange to travel to the office. Often, it's too expensive or seemingly pointless to try to attend.

7. People fail to recognize time zone differences. If the home office is on the east coast, some people assume you are on the east coast. So they will blithely call someone in California in a home office at 6:00am, thinking that it's 9:00am. ("Oh gosh, sorry I woke you. But can you still answer this question for me?")

8. The many teleconference inadequacies. Oh, there are so many! Few people understand teleconference etiquette, and telecommuters spend a lot of time on conference calls. For example: the annoyance of people who lead teleconferences (with a half dozen participants) and start out by saying, "Who's here?" Doing so makes everyone on the phone wonder if it's their turn to speak up; or everyone talks at once. Instead: If this is your weekly meeting, just go around the table and take a roll call ("Joe?" "I'm here." "Steve?" "Yup." And so on.).

We could list several ways in which people could stand to improve their teleconferencing skills. (And in fact we have, in Running an Effective Teleconference or Virtual Meeting.) Here are a few more specific to telecommuting:

  • Being subjected to terrible music-on-hold. Worse, when you start to sing along... and that's when you suddenly find yourself belting out Kenny Loggins' songs in the middle of the teleconference. Uh... Hi, Boss!

  • People who send a dial-code without regard to someone's ability to read or type it in. Send 800-123-4567, please, not 8001234567.

  • Organizers who show up late. Telecommuters are stuck listening to music-on-hold for ten minutes, during which they wonder, "Was today the right day? Did I miss the meeting?"

  • People who mumble, talk very quietly, or otherwise don't direct their voice to a mic; no one on the phone can hear them. Or those who rustle stuff right by the mic, so nobody on the phone can hear anything. How many times is it polite to interrupt and say, "Hey, speak up!"?

  • People who don't mute their phones when they're in a noisy environment, so the entire team learns which plane is boarding but cannot hear each other speak.

  • People who refer to a lot of visuals without bothering to send the file to telecommuters; and then they don't refer aloud to the data they're pointing at.

  • Meeting organizers who forget to conference in the remote people for the meeting.

And that's the minor problems.

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