Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Full time telework – one year later

It’s been a little over a year since I transitioned to full time telework and based on the popularity of a prior posting on the topic I thought I would reflect on my experiences.  For better or for worse, our organization is a big supporter of teleworking.  I add the “for worse” part as in my work interactions I often see instances where I question whether the individual should be teleworking perhaps I may tangent some additional thoughts relating to this later, but I will begin by focusing on my experience.  I was a gradual adopter of telework – first starting a stint where I teleworked once a week and then moving to teleworking a few days each week and then finally taking the plunge about a year ago to full time telework.  Just to be clear when I am referring to telework in my instance I am referring to working from home.

My motivation for taking the plunge to full time status was due to the rumblings of another re-org (realignment, restructuring, aka chaos).  My observation from an earlier re-org was that the re-org seemed to more adversely those who were in the office than those who were full time telework.  I have hopes of perhaps relocating at some point and permission for relocation from my employer would seem much easier to procure if I were a full time teleworker as the underlying message to any supervisor is that “this employee can work anywhere.”

Second to wanting to set myself up to be able to relocate, I assessed the advantages of going into the office.  In thinking this through, it became clear to me that there wasn’t any compelling advantage and many of the advantages that existed at one time had dwindled over time.  First, for many years I have not had a supervisor on site.  In general, I think “face time” with the boss is an important thing; however, in my situation this was not happening whether I went into the office or not.  Second, I think face time with team members is also an important feature.  Once again, in evaluating my current situation, my entire team is geographically dispersed so there was no advantage for going into the office.  Lastly, there are those who you may work with on the periphery or colleagues who inspire you or provide informal support.  In this instance there were a very few interactions with others in the organization and many of the colleagues who once inspired me had already transitioned to full time telework so this outside layer did not provide a compelling to continue scheduled days into the office.

I will confess that there was some trepidation in taking the final leap to full time telework.  One of my concerns was reliable network connectivity.  Security is a big concern for most large sized employers and ours had become much more complex over the years.  IT support was also a concern as sometimes it is much more difficult to obtain service when you are remote as opposed to when you are in the office and a tech staff member can just stop by your desk.  In this regard, I think that my transitional time of working part time in the office and part time telework helped.  During this time, I was able to learn the ropes.  Unfortunately, our organization is very liberal in regards to granting telework.  I think most employees (and employers) would benefit from a step down to full time approach (as opposed to going from full time in the office to full time telework as often happens in our organization).

I was also concerned with missing the social aspect of going into the office.  Ok, I’ll fess up, if there is office gossip to be heard, I’d prefer to hear it… depending on your perspective, this may also be called networking.  While the folks that I interacted with when I was going into the office weren’t critical to completing my primary assignments, I enjoyed their company and we all provided mutual support to empathize with one another through the daily chaos.  One co-worker who had previously attempted full time telework remarked that she had experienced what she referred to as clinical depression.  This was a concern to me as I am no stranger to depression and so isolation could pose a challenge.

Knowing that isolation and depression could be an issue to me, I am sensitive to take steps to alleviate these potential issues.  Since starting full time telework, I make sure to get out of the house to take a walk during my lunch – this is rain or shine (or snow).  I don’t think I’ve missed many days since going to full time telework.  Second, I make a point to get out of my chair often.  This may even mean unplugging my computer and running it on battery while standing at the kitchen counter.  I’ve also purchased Tai Chi DVDs to get ideas in regards to movements I can do throughout the day to introduce a range of movement into my day.  While it may not be the same as face to face interaction, I have made an effort to make use of the telephone and Instant Messaging (IM) to make informal contacts and foster relationships.  Another point that I will make note of is the importance of maintaining personal hygiene.  This means daily showering and shaving as needed and while I dress more casually than what I would wear to the office, I refrain from going full piggie.  This helps me to feel good about me and in turn ensures that I am fully effective in the workplace.  Another point to be made in regards to depression and mood is the vast improvement in environment.  While working in the office, I experienced many spaces that were dark or lit by offensive fluorescent lighting.  Many office spaces were dusty and often I was exposed to significant neighboring noise (construction) that was unpredictable and outside of my control.  In contrast, I have chosen a work area at home where I can control the sound and where I get a nice dose of natural lighting.

My favorite perks of full time telework is not having to drive to work.  I was surprised at how much stress has been alleviated from my day just to eliminating the need to drive into the office.  In addition to the stress of fighting traffic, there is also the time savings.  My commute was beginning to average a little over 35 minutes to travel a mere 8 or 9 miles.  This savings gives me back an hour each day.  I love it… in fact I am also fortunate to be able to work a “compressed” schedule so my 9 hour work day now consumes the same as my 8 hour work day did in the office… plus I get an extra day off!

Full time teleworkers should be careful in regards to food and weight.  When you work from home, your kitchen and pantry is always close by and maybe too convenient.  It is very easy to grab something to eat on the way to the bathroom and I could envision this being an issue for some.  I have tried to be mindful of the kinds of food – eating more frequently isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’m trying to fill up with healthier choices and this means stocking the house with healthy options – yes, there is a bag of apples on the counter and some yogurt in the fridge.  Aside from nutritional concerns, there is potential for greater savings as it is much easier to consume leftovers or purchased food as opposed to going to the office and purchasing food.

While there is dietary temptation in the work from home situation, one big perk which I think has greatly improved my health is the ability to avoid others who have contagious conditions.  Yes, we’ve all had to deal with co-workers who will not take a sick day; these are the ones who think it is virtue to show up to work no matter how sick they are and regardless of whether or not they may infest the entire office.  Second to co-workers, my workplace was in a hospital which included outpatient clinics and undoubtedly some of those patients you meet in the hallways may be sick.  I have definitely felt that I’ve experienced less cold and sinus related conditions since going to full time telework.

In judging my productivity, I would assess that it is about the same.  This is the ideal and one of the basic precepts of telework is that you should be able to do what you do in the office at home.  As someone who traversed to the office many years while others teleworked, I am super sensitive to issues where assignments are given to certain staff “because they are in the office.”  I have had a colleague remark that she found herself doing more due to creating an environment where she was always at work.  True, if you work from home you’re at your workplace because they are one and the same, but this does not mean you should be “at work”.  I strongly recommend setting up a separate telephone line for work.  This does not need to be an expensive extra expense; I use Google Voice and Obihai.  While I believe that it is important to set limits while you are in the office or working from home, I would say that in moderation I am willing to give a little more due to working from home.  For example, if something is brewing around quitting time I am more likely to leave my computer on and check in for 20 minutes or so past my scheduled end time when it is in my home as opposed to babysitting chaos by staying late in the office while still facing a stressful drive home.

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