According to a recent UC Davis study, telecommuting can be harmful to your career. I agree.
Terms have a narratives associated with them. The narratives that come with “telecommuter” sound something like these: “As a special thanks for your loyalty, we are allowing senior-level perssonnel to telecommute two days a week”. “In order to cut costs, a new telecommuting initiative is in effect”. “During the inclement weather, a liberal leave policy is in effect, and employees may opt to telecommute”. “Telecommuting” is almost always viewed as a perk, a cost-cutting measure, or a concession to circumstance.
As the word itself suggests, a telecommuter is expected to remain a spiritual commuter. She gets up in the morning, has breakfast, and then transports herself virtually to the office for the next eight hours. There she must to fit into the existing office culture and coordinate with the physical office schedule. She may not ask her boss or coworkers to make too many special adjustments to accommodate her remote status; rather, she needs to make accommodations where necessary.
As I’ve gone through the process of creating and publicizing this site, I’ve deliberately avoided the term “telecommuting”. I believe that term suggests a model of remote work which is still as much like traditional 9-to-5 office work as possible. And that’s not the kind of work I want to build a community around.
If I contracted with an artisan woodworker to build me a set of custom chairs, I wouldn’t tell him “oh, and as a special perk, you can spend two days a week telecommuting from your fully-equipped workshop, and the other three days in my garage”. We don’t expect artists to do their best work from a cubicle. One might prefer a secluded cabin; another, a studio shared with fellow artists filled with the tools of the trade, still another might want to spend time at the site of the final installation. The same is true of software developers, designers, copywriters, and other creative professionals.
In talking to numerous remote workers, I’ve found that for many of them, a big part of the reason they are remote is so that they can work in the way which is most effective and satisfying – and therefore, productive. Remote workers aren’t just looking for perks; they are building ideal spaces and schedules for their own creative processes.
I firmly believe that dispersed teamwork is an entirely new model of work, with its own rhythms and dynamics. As remote workers , we should seek out organizations which are able to recognize and respect this new model. Someone hiring a “telecommuter” will never be as satisfied with that person as they are with an actual commuter. But employers and clients who are ready to embrace the unique strengths of a distributed team will reap the benefits of work done by individuals who are satisfied, inspired, motivated, and who bring diverse perspectives to their creations.