The morning of the transit strike in New York, I told a colleague that I expected a rash of stories about the benefits of telecommuting. There hasn’t exactly been a “rash” (whatever that is), but the New York Times did one over the holidays — which I first noticed because my friend Mark Evans blogged about it. It’s a good piece, because it points out that tele-work hasn’t really caught on as much as many expected it to, despite the widespread adoption of high-speed Internet connections.
Why? As the article notes, the main obstacles are psyschological. For example, lots of bosses assume (or at least suspect) that if a person working for them isn’t at their desk, then they are goofing off. Technology isn’t much help in that department, unless you include things like keystroke-loggers and similar types of monitoring, which is pretty Orwellian. And on the other side, there are benefits to being in the office that are impossible to duplicate over an Internet connection, even with instant messaging — you can’t bump into someone, which then jogs your memory (or theirs) or go for an impromptu cup of coffee.
Those intangibles are important. And as Mark notes, working at home takes discipline (a friend of mine actually put on a suit to go down the hall to his at-home office, so he would be in the right frame of mind). But at the same time, the benefits of working at home are undeniable — lack of commuting stress being just one of them. Another friend who does both says he works at home a couple of days a week because he gets a lot more done, but goes into the office a couple of days a week so that he can network with his colleagues.
And that’s why a little bit of both is the perfect mix, I think: a day or two at home, a few days in the office. The best of both worlds. Stuart MacDonald makes a good point in a comment on Mark’s post — a blend of both works fine in many cases, provided everyone is on the same page goal-wise (in other words, no bosses counting who’s at their desk and who isn’t).