August - September
Pros and Cons — From the Trenches
by Joseph V. Lillie
I have worked for
BellSouth for 28 years. For the past two and a half of those years, I
have worked from my home. I am a telecommuter.
is a key requirement of a successful telecommuting
experience. Establishing a daily routine early on will go
a long way toward having an overall positive work-from-home
The BellSouth policy
calls telecommuting "the partial or total substitution of
telecommunications technology for the trip to and from work. BellSouth
will utilize telecommuting as a means to provide cost savings to the
company; promote cultural change; increase employee satisfaction and
efficiency; demonstrate our role as a telecommunications leader; and
confirm our commitment to the environment."
During my time as a
full-time telecommuter, I have identified both advantages and
disadvantages of this work arrangement, which is gaining ground in
companies across the nation.
Distance May Not Be
An Issue, But Your Set Up Is
telecommuting experience requires an appropriate at-home work
environment. This environment must not only be adequately equipped, it
must match the needs of your work assignment as well. I support the
Outside Plant Engineering and Construction work groups for Bell South in
Louisiana. I work out of my home in Lafayette, while my immediate
supervisor is in New Orleans, some 130 miles away. Because I do not have
employees reporting directly to me, colleagues don't rely on my physical
presence in the office.
I communicate with the
groups I support primarily by telephone and e-mail, although I do visit
their offices regularly. In fact, I spend almost equal amounts
of time at home and on the road. Many telecommuters work at far greater
distances from their employers and clients. But because we have access
to so much technology, distance has become less and less of an issue; in
fact, in most successful telecommuting arrangements, the notion of
distance ceases to exist altogether.
In order for me to
stay informed and feel "connected" to the BellSouth office
environment and culture, I have found access to the corporate network is
a must for me. I have equipped my home office with an ISDN line. In this
way, I have the same corporate network access that I had when I worked
in the office. Most telecommuters find that a separate business
phone line, fax line, and laptop computer with a docking station are absolute necessities as well.
The Advantages of
Telecommuting Are Many
arrangements are only successful when they offer advantages to both the
employer and the employee. From my perspective, these are some of the
advantages telecommuters enjoy:
- Reduced travel time
and costs — Since we do not have to drive to an
office location, we save both personal time and costs associated
with making this trip.
- Productive work
environment — The telecommuting environment is free of
disturbance from coworkers and visitors. There's no "break
room," no water fountain and no peer discussions about issues of national
importance to keep us away from our work.
- Flexible work
schedule — While telecommuters must be disciplined to start
and end work on time, we enjoy some flexibility in our working
hours. Completing tasks on time is the priority, not the time of day
the work gets done.
- Privacy — As
telecommuters, we do not have to be concerned with discussions about sensitive issues
landing on the wrong ears.
- Reassignments do
not always mean relocation — Engineers used to relocate
relatively frequently, moving where the jobs or project assignments
took them. Telecommuting has reduced — in
some instances eliminated — the
need for engineers to pack up and move, especially when they only
have to meet with other staff or clients infrequently.
From the employer's
perspective, the company saves on office space, custodial services,
parking facilities, and other support required for on-premises workers.
These savings offset the costs of providing telecommunications and computer
resources at home, if companies offer such resources.
The Flip Side to Telecommuting
enjoy many benefits, we must endure several disadvantages as well. These
- Lack of social
contact with co-workers — The lack of daily contact with
coworkers could take us "out of the loop" relative to what
is going on within the company. This lack of "inside
knowledge" could affect our advancement with the company.
- Working alone — Telecommuting
is a one-person show. We generally have no support staff, and we
can't easily call on coworkers to help us with short-term tasks or
to provide guidance and consultation on the spur of the moment.
- Fewer in-person
meetings — For many telecommuters, most face-to-face meetings
are handled by conference call instead.
- Longer work hours
— Telecommuters are often tempted to work longer hours,
generally because the work is always present. We must discipline
ourselves to start and end the workday appropriately and to
separate work time from personal home time as much as possible.
- Office visitors — Some
telecommuters avoid meeting with vendors or clients at home.
Instead, many of these kinds of meetings have to be set up at other local
offices, libraries, hotel meeting rooms, or even coffee
- Office mail
delivery — Interoffice mail systems do not deliver to
telecommuters' offices. We must make arrangements to ensure that our
mail gets delivered to us regularly and
Employers who offer
telecommuting options face disadvantages as well. A lack of clear
understanding about what the off-site employee is or should be doing
sometimes exists. Employers also sometimes find they have to deal with the potential for inadequate task
management on the part of telecommuters, which could
affect project deadlines and outcomes. Some are also concerned that
their "remote" employees
not disciplined enough to devote adequate time to the job.
I have found
telecommuting to be a rewarding experience and ideal work arrangement,
and I'd recommend anyone with the opportunity to consider it to do so.
If telecommuting is an available option for you, first consider
the environment you could create in your home. Then weigh the advantages and
disadvantages of the arrangement carefully. Telecommuting is not
for everyone, but it may be for you.
Editor's Note: A
related article on telecommuting appears in this month's edition of IEEE-USA
Policy Perspectives. Click
Here to read that article. And for
additional resources on telecommuting, visit IEEE-USA's Self-help
on Telecommuting web page.
Joseph V. Lillie is
an area manager for BellSouth and is IEEE Region 5 Director.