While at the gym recently, I was chatting with a close friend of mine (we’ll call her Tracey) about a situation she was facing at work. Tracey, a high achiever and the director in charge of all the training and development within her large organization, is now reporting to a new boss.
It hasn’t been the first time she has had to adapt to leadership changes, so, that fact alone didn’t really cause her any concern initially. She wasn’t fazed by his arrogant “surfer dude gone corporate persona” or his giant ego, either. In fact, she was sure to impress this guy, like all the bosses before him. That was, however, until he came in to talk to her about his concerns regarding her “telecommuting situation” that he needed to address.
Tracey, like a lot of women who still go to work in a traditional corporate setting, does the constant work-life juggling act – and she does it quite well. Three days a week, she is in there early, works through lunch, and stays late. Two days a week, she gets there early, works through lunch, and then finishes out the last 2-3 hours of her work day at home. She made this arrangement to accommodate her elementary school-aged daughter’s demanding dance schedule. It turns out her daughter has a real gift for dancing and absolutely loves it. So, two days a week, Tracey leaves work early in order to facilitate her daughter’s transportation from school to the dance studio.
So, this was the “telecommuting situation” her boss was struggling with. I almost tripped on my treadmill after she explained it to me. And the thing that I thought was most troubling about it was that he came to this conclusion without any analysis of whether her role would be conducive to a telecommuting arrangement, without any measurement of her work performance while working virtually, or without any feedback from the colleagues who may or may not be affected by Tracey’s current arrangement. He just didn’t like it and thought she should be in the office. I could not believe that her boss did not see all the major BENEFITS this telecommuting arrangement could ultimately provide.
It was for this reason that I decided to do a little digging and see what the latest research had to say about the pros and cons of telecommuting.
The most recent report I found was released in September 2010 by the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI), an organization established by Congress in 1991 that specializes in policy studies related to surface transportation. The report, titled Facilitating Telecommuting: Exploring the Role of Telecommuting Intensity and Differences Between Telecommuters and Non-Telecommuters focused on individuals working within a variety of different organizations/fields in the Silicon Valley. They attempted to survey telecommuters, non-telecommuters and supervisors who worked in the same departments. The questions centered on the differences between their degrees of …
1) organizational commitment
2) life satisfaction
3) job satisfaction
4) turnover intentions
5) the supervisors’/managers’ overall attitudes toward telecommuting
The findings were consistent with what they have seen in a variety of studies conducted over the course of the last 5+ years.
Organizational Commitment & Life Satisfaction
In the area of organizational commitment, the studied revealed that telecommuters reported being more committed to their employers than the non-telecommuters. And, interestingly enough, the amount of time the employee worked from home each week had an effect on their level of commitment. Telecommuters were more committed if they were what the study deemed as “moderate telecommuters” (as opposed to extreme telecommuters who spend a very high or very low amount of their time telecommuting). In the area of overall life satisfaction, the study also revealed that telecommuters rated higher in life satisfaction than non-telecommuters. They were just happier overall.
Job Satisfaction & Turnover Intentions
The study also revealed that they did not see any significant difference between telecommuters and non-telecommuters in their degree of job satisfaction (the job function itself) and the employees’ turnover intentions (whether they were more apt to leave the organization in search of another job or not).
Supervisors’/Managers’ Perceptions of Telecommuting
The report revealed that the Management Teams’ perception of telecommuting had more to do with whether they themselves were also telecommuters than their leadership role within the organization. Managers who were telecommuters thought the organization supported a remote workforce, felt that the technology and training was readily available to telecommuters, and were less likely to think that there organization needed them to be onsite in order to be effective than their non-telecommuting counterparts. But both telecommuting and non-telecommuting managers, more than 50% of them in fact, believed that employees must be high performers in order to effectively telecommute.
In the case of my friend Tracey, none of this is really earth shattering information, nor does it necessarily make her desire to continue telecommuting more palatable for her new boss. So, how does one make the case to their boss to consider a virtual work arrangement?
How to Make a Case for Telecommuting
1) Do your homework
A rationale, statistics-driven, written proposal that details what you are requesting (schedule, needed equipment, etc.) and the potential benefits to the company (not yourself) will help your boss to take your request seriously.
2) Be realistic about the pros and cons
While there are a lot of “pros” to both the employer and employee in a telecommuting arrangement, there are some real, credible “cons” involved too (to the business and to the employee—both professionally and personally). Take a minute to truly weigh the pros and cons and make sure that you can accept the things you may lose (being passed up for that big promotion everyone is jockeying for, time at home that can’t necessarily be dedicated to your family, etc.).
3) Evaluate your role, personality and family situation
Be honest with yourself. Does your specific role within the organization really lend itself to a telecommuting work arrangement? Do you have the personality it takes to work virtually (you are not easily distracted, very self-directed, work well under timelines/goals, etc.)? Do you have what it takes to stay connected and visible to your organization and colleagues even though you are not physically there? Or, is your family situation conducive to a telecommuting arrangement (it is extremely difficult to attend to small children or elderly adults who need full-time care while also working full-time simultaneously).
4) Review your home office set-up
Let your boss know that you have the right equipment to work from home: a dedicated, quiet spot to do your work and detail the various ways you can be reached while working remotely (dedicated office phone, cell phone, email, text messages, instant chat, etc.).
5) Suggest a trial run
A temporary arrangement over a specific amount of time in addition to pre-determined accountability measures will make it easier for your boss to give it a try. That way, he/she doesn’t have to make a permanent commitment to the arrangement and you are both clear on how your success during the trial will be measured.
As for Tracey, she has decided to try to make other arrangements for her daughter and bypass her afternoons telecommuting while she decides if she is willing to let it go completely, and go for that promotion she has a chance of landing, or if she should find a new boss, I mean job that will be more flexible and committed to work-life balance.
Share your work from home success stories! How did you convince your boss to allow you to telecommute? What resources did you use to make your case? What telecommuting research have you found to be helpful? What changes did you have to make in order to make your virtual arrangement work? What mistakes have you made that you can help others to avoid?
“She wasn’t fazed by his arrogant ‘surfer dude gone corporate persona’ or his giant ego, either.” I hate to say this, but this situation isn’t going to be driven by efficiency. This kind of supervisor/manager will be even more “miffed” if Tracy’s able to maintain efficiency while managing a work/life balance, because it’ll cast a shadow on his own “life choices”, and not-so-hidden resentments.
People who see being successful as requiring the “sacrifice” of freedom and autonomy, will expect the same level of “sacrifice” from their employees, whether it’s valid or not.
This is only re-enforced by the “arrogant” factor – arrogance will mean that the supervisor/manager absolutely cannot allow an alternate perception to take root, because it will speak to their own hidden insecurities and resentments about the decisions they’ve made.
Long story short; Tracy needs to make sure her chances at promotion are not reliant on this individual, as all he’ll do is put higher and higher hoops in her path, with no reward at the end of it.
My advice: find champions in other areas, and make a lateral move if need be to get out from under “Surfer Boy”. Depending on HR’s policies regarding telecommuting, and the size of the company she’s working for, it may indeed be necessary to find a position elsewhere, or, looking into her future with a gifted child who’s needs may become even more time-consuming, simply “hire herself” (the ultimate tele-commute!).
I spent years going through variants of this situation before making the jump to full-time self-employment; my biggest regret is that I didn’t do it even sooner!