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Confessions of a Telecommuter

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Every modern professional dreams of telecommuting. But is avoiding office drama and the freedom of being alone with your laptop really as good as it sounds?

When I was interviewing for my current job, I heard the magic words: “ability to work from home.” I thought it was almost too good to be true, even though my division was already half virtual, so I didn’t even bring it up until I’d worked there for six months. Then I approached my boss and asked about working virtually.

She agreed and I eased into telecommuting, working from home two or three days a week.

Initially, the benefits of being part of a virtual office were all too apparent. Without a notoriously stressful and expensive morning commute in Los Angeles, I can start my workday fully relaxed — even before 9am.

In the comfort of my own apartment, I attend conference calls, check emails on my work laptop, and go about my day with the confidence that my company trusts me enough to give me this form of freedom. My dog is ecstatic to have me around, and I save money by never being tempted to go out for lunch. If I feel stir crazy I can simply go outside or run a quick errand. There is no negativity, no office gossip, no strict dress code, no bad coffee. It’s just me and my work.

But it’s not all smooth sailing, and there are days where being shut in my home alone with no coworkers can feel isolating.

Other stuff comes up too. There was the day when my Internet was down and the printer broke. I had to scramble and find another place to work. On another day, my neighbor was playing loud music while I was on a conference call. Sometimes it is hard to manage the freedom that comes with working virtually, and it is easy to misuse your time. There have also been times when I’ve had to go into the office unexpectedly, and the commute wastes valuable on-the-clock time.

Now, faced with expensive office space and less face-to-face client interaction, my division is going the way of becoming fully virtual. What I had previously cautiously asked for will now be an inevitable everyday reality of the job. On the plus side, the company will probably pay for certain expenses, such as my Internet, work cell phone, printer, etc.

Overall I’m not sure whether this is a desirable situation for me. On one hand, it is very convenient and the freedom of not being locked in an office from 9 to 5 is a perk. On the other hand, I am an extremely social person, and not interacting with people may not be the best thing for me, personally or professionally.

In any case, I am thankful to still be employed in this economy — with or without an office. But I guess the grass can always seem greener on the other side.

Kristen Creager is a Gen-Y marketer and musician in Los Angeles. You can find her on Twitter or her website.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.gradmeetsworld.org Amanda

    I actually have a similar situation. I work part-time as a language instructor which requires me to come into the office. Then I telecommute from home (or Starbucks, or where ever) as a freelance writer.

    Sometimes I find myself doing both at the same time. Other times errands around the house go undone or relatives randomly show up. But mostly I just have a difficult time knowing when I can stop working.

  • http://www.riendemoins.com Julie

    I know what you are talking about. Last Fall, I started my own business with number one goal being : freedom. I wanted to work from home, take a break or go for a walk whenever I wanted, work from the coffee shops and outdoor terrace, and so on. Except that sooner than later I started to feel disorganized – and I am a very well organized person. Being my own boss and only responsible for the money coming in, I started to work long hours and feel guilty when I took time off instead of networking online to find new clients. I spent more time on my computer than ever before. Then I got to accept a long-time collaboration for 3 days a week with a local startup. I now work 2 days from home, and 3 in a non-traditional work environment that allows flexible schedules and a laid back, collaborative work culture. I feel like I have the best of both worlds. Reality clearly offers me less 100% free time that the fantasy version of my freelancer life. But as you said, the grass is always ALWAYS greener. At least, now I get to do what I love, in an environment that reflects my value and allows me the freedom to chose the projects I work on.

  • http://www.printinginabox.com Justin

    These are really good points. When I started working freelance from home, my biggest problem was not getting work done, it was never feeling relaxed, as if I should be working at all times. Working from home often ends up being a matter of productivity rather than just being there (as it might in an office setting), which can make it hard to be officially “off” without having to worry about work that could be getting done.

  • http://www.symantry.com Theresa Christiani

    I have worked from home for the last 10 years. I follow rules and have routines as if I was going into a commercial office.
    1) Always dress for work – sometimes you need to get out the door to meet up with a client or contractor at the last minute and you can’t do that in your PJs.
    2) Start at 8, lunch (or run errands) at noon and stop at 5.
    3) Unless you are under a huge deadline, DO NOT work on the weekends. You need that time to regenerate.
    4) Try to book yourself time out of the office for networking, client meet ups, or just lunch so that you can stay connected. It can get pretty isolated in your office alone.
    5) Practice good nutrition and exercise. When I first started working from home I stopped going to the gym and realized that I wasn’t eating properly. Now, I make sure to have meals at appropriate times and after I am finished for the day I do some sort of exercise.

    • http://www.whitneymayparker.com Whitney Parker

      Theresa: These are great rules! I just started working from home full time and I have been looking for advice on how best to manage my schedule to ensure I don’t overwork myself and stay healthy. Thanks for the tips!

    • http://www.farrahfarrah.com Farrah Hoehne

      Theresa- Awesome rules for working at home.
      I have been doing it now for almost 2 years and I love it. I now have a 9 month old and I have a nanny that comes to my house every day. Not only do I get to see my daughter on my breaks but I can also get work done and be productive. It is more of an incentive to get things done. I love it and although I am a very social person as well, I wouldn’t change my situation. It works perfect for me.

  • Mary

    Kristen- As a newbie in telecommuting (almost 5 months now), I know the excitement and fear that comes with working from home all day, every day! I’m also a very social person, so I was scared about that lack of interaction. I find it’s been a lesson in really focusing on myself — how I operate and function best. If I frame it as a learning experience, I don’t really get lonely. I joined a gym and love reaping the benefits of going off hours! Some people say they need to keep a normal 9-5 routine at home, but I’ve found the opposite. I rarely get dressed as if I were going to an office — you’ll find me in yoga pants all day. The more comfortable I feel, the longer I can work! I usually work early in the morning (6 am-10 am) and late at night (10pm-2am) and keep the days for errands, gym time, and working on personal projects. I do work some weekends — in fact, I find Sunday afternoons a great time to work. The hardest part is not feeling guilt for these indulgences in freedom. If you can get comfortable with making your work schedule your own, you can recognize where your naturally productive hours lie. Best of luck and enjoy!

  • http://kristencreager.com Kristen Creager

    Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It sounds like most people are treating the situation as a learning experience, which is what I am also trying to do.