Monday, February 11, 2008

Until We're All Working for Best Buy

As a telecommuting advocate, I'm a huge fan of the results-only thing that they're doing at Best Buy primarily because it refocuses management on what actually gets done and its effect on the bottom line, and everyone has to meet those expectations -- whether you're a telecommuter or a Real Office worker. Unfortunately, most of us don't work for such enlightened workplaces, and so we operate in environments where showing up and looking busy are still a part of how we're measured.

That's one reason why telecommuters might should ignore Cali and Jody's advice in this post from their blog. They argue that all the typical advice about telecommuting (regular hours, have a quiet space just for work, keep the kids out, get dressed) is jive. You're just making the beauty of telecommuting like the grind of the regular office, so what's the point? And I can see that, but there are some valid reasons that telecommuters are wise do these things:

1. Often, you're one of a handful of people who are allowed to telecommute, and most of your coworkers and clients are still working traditional hours in a Real Office. You better believe the folks back in the office will become annoyed and resentful when they can't get you on the phone during the day. (Of course, if everyone is free to come and go as they wish and all are equipped with mobile communication tools and expectations (e.g. if the work cell phone rings, you answer it), then this isn't an issue. But most places aren't like this yet.)

2. You do have to actually work at some point. If your home is always filled with toddlers who want you to put together puzzles with them, you're not going to get much in the way of results-only. Without a place you can go and hide and actually work, you'll be an exhausted shift worker in short order: Get up at 4 am so you can have some quiet time to work at the kitchen table before the kids get up, then chase them around all day until bedtime, then start working again until you drop off to sleep at your laptop. That really doesn't work.

3. If you want to deduct your home office space from your taxes, you have to have an exclusive, dedicated space. Worse yet, if you telecommute for a company in New York, you have an additional series of hoops to jump through, so your home office really does have to be a work temple.

4. Working at home can be a slippery slope of sloth, and because you're away from the Real Office, it may take them a while to notice. But notice they will, and then you may be in trouble. Being rigorous with yourself about working on a regular basis and taking it seriously can help you avoid starting down the path of ruin.

5. You really ought to get dressed if you're going to be videoconferencing with folks. Seriously, nobody wants to picture you naked from the waist down during a meeting. And successful telecommuters should have tools that let colleagues and coworkers pop in on them visually throughout their work day -- so it's best to be somewhat clothed.

6. Many telecommuters are freelancers, and their livelihoods depend on them getting lots and lots of work done, and prospecting for more. Having separate office space and keeping regular hours actually helps them set limits on how much they work and also helps with balance. Even if you're not a freelancer, you may be a workaholic, and having the door to shut at the end of the day (or when you achieve your results) can be a helpful cue to stop.

Don't get me wrong, I think that there should be flexibility in your days, whether you're working at home or in the Real Office. Do some laundry. Run an errand at 3 in the afternoon. Throw the ball for the dog for fifteen minutes. But during this transitional in the U.S. workplace, you have to give some concessions for the privilege of working in your slippers on the cutting edge of workplace policy.

No comments: