by Thomas Wailgum

The Dirty Little Secrets of Telecommuting

Jan 22, 20074 mins
Enterprise Applications

No, this post is not about abstaining from daily showers when you telecommute from home. And this is not about wearing your pajamas all day long. And this is most definitely not about slacking off while away from the watchful eyes of those at headquarters.

No, this is about respect. Or, actually, a lack of respect.

That’s because in the year 2007, higher-ups and bigwigs in Corporate America still believe that telecommuting is not a good activity for their workers’ long-term career plans. Put another way, if you’re outta sight and outta mind, you may be outta job.

The proof comes from a recent Trends@Work survey that was administered by Korn/Ferry International, a global talent management provider. The Trends@Work data revealed that 61 percent of surveyed execs believe that telecommuters are less likely to advance in their careers when compared with employees who work in the traditional office setting. That’s almost two-thirds of the 1,320 respondents.

I’m a telecommuter, and I work out of my home. With ease, I can tap into every system back at HQ — just like everybody else. And the thing is, I’m far more productive working out of my home office than I ever was when I worked out of CIO magazine’s offices. (I also have an extra hour and a half every day because I don’t have to slog through Boston’s notorious commute each work day.)

What’s so fascinating is that the results from the Trends@Work survey validate my (and many other telecommuters’) claims: According to the survey, the vast majority (a whopping 78 percent) of respondents said that telecommuters are either equally or more productive than those who work in offices.

So what’s the deal? I guess the deal is that telecommuting has yet to shake the stigma of being a very bad thing to do — meaning, in many people’s eyes, telecommuting is just an opportunity for slackers and lazy employees who want to goof off all day long. Which is just so frustrating because many telecommuters are exponentially more productive when they have the opportunity and technological ability to work from wherever they feel they’ll be most productive. Maybe it’s a home office. Maybe it’s a local Starbucks. Maybe it’s a customer’s conference room.

Perhaps the problem also has to do with a lack of “face time.” That is a legitimate concern, but there are easy ways for telecommuters to overcome that problem. I, for one, work the phones quite a bit, use e-mail religiously, and just started IMing. Also, any time a telecommuter can get back to corporate for a day or two, just to show the face, that really helps.

And lastly, maybe the issue is a generational thing. Senior management, in most companies, tends to be older and less inclined to accept newer ways of managing and that whole “work-life” balance thing.

But here’s the burn for all of this: Of those executives surveyed, nearly half of the respondents said they would consider a job which involved telecommuting on a regular basis. So, while they think that others are committing a career-limiting move (or CLM) by telecommuting, half of the respondents would do it themselves, if given the right situation.

Get it? No. Here’s a quick recap: Senior executives say those employees who telecommute are committing career-suicide, yet those telecommuters are just as or more productive than office dwellers, and if given the option, many of those senior executives would give telecommuting a try. So is the problem telecommuters can’t brown nose the bosses or suck up to senior managers? Is that what’s missing?

In the end, like most everything inside a company, senior management’s view of telecommuting and those workers who regularly take part in flexible working arrangements will affect — both positively or negatively — everyone else’s attitudes and the overall culture. Back in August, I profiled Capital One’s new flexible working arrangements, which have been a huge success. Naturally, management has been behind the future work processes from day one, and there’s no stigma attached to those who utilize the flexible work arrangements. In fact, employees are dying to take advantage of the program.

So what’s it going to take to shake the stigma surrounding telecommuting? I wish I knew. I hope it happens soon, though.

What about you? What’s your take on telecommuting? Go here and let us know.