Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Home Office Is Like the Real Office

People believe that telecommuters are more productive because there are fewer interruptions, and I think that in general this is true. However, if you're doing it right, there are just as many opportunities for interruption, long meetings, and all the other things that can distract you from getting the actual work you're paid to do done. Not to be too contrarian, I think that one of the key reasons I'm successful as a full-time telecommuter is because I am interruptable: my coworkers know that they can call, email, pop in on the webcam, or IM anytime that we're all working, and they should, generally speaking, expect to get me.

I think it would be very distracting if I was not so rigid, in fact. I'm not a contractor, I'm a regular ol' employee, and if other people in my office aren't free to sit in coffee shops at eleven in the morning sipping a latte whilst casually checking in on their email, then I am not free to do that either. I try to treat my home office like a genuine extension of the Real Office, and govern myself accordingly (jaunts into the kitchen to make myself coffee-based beverages notwithstanding). I show up on time, I take a reasonable lunch time, I work extra when I have to go on a spree in the middle of the day.

Today was a typical day in that it was very like a day one might have in the Real Office. A few emergent problems derailed my plans to get a few malingering tasks kicked out first thing this morning, then a customer called with an urgent need, then I spent three hours in meetings (important meetings, but still time consuming).

The net result? Very much like being in the Real Office: I didn't get the things done I'd set out to do. I feel a tad exhausted. I'm looking forward to tomorrow when I only have one thing scheduled, and the rest of the day is mine to organize around the assorted projects and tasks that I have on my plate.

Managing tasks, projects, interruptions, meetings, and so on, is a challenge for workers in all milieux, I think. I'm finding that spending time actively thinking about how I'm working -- a sort of metawork practice -- is quite helpful for renewing my attention to everything in my work world. I think viewing telework as a potential cure to in-office distraction is like thinking that using a PDA is going to make you more organized. If you can't use a a paper-based calendar/planner, a Palm-Berry won't help you get stuff done -- it's just a new place to not write things down and busy yourself rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic of your daily work schedule. Likewise, if you can't re-orient yourself after a meeting, phone call, or IM interruption, then working at home probably isn't going to help you get more done.

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