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The Pros and Cons of Telecommuting

Sitting in the basement all day doesn’t sound all that great, but as a new telecommuter, I’ll take it!

The alternative is getting stuck in commutes, scavenging for parking spots, and paying too much for average corporate cafeteria food because I was too lazy to pack a lunch.

Maybe after I put the laundry in the dryer, I’ll come back to finish this post and rant about the pros and cons of telecommuting. Don’t worry – they’re mostly Pros!

Never mind the fact that I should be retired by now. At least I’m one step closer! Just last month I had the opportunity to apply for permanent telecommuter status, and I jumped on it. Working from home became an acceptable option at my company “thanks” to the pandemic. Yippee!

The Hybrid Work Arrangement Is Doomed to Fail

Before the lockdowns in early 2020, telecommuting was highly discouraged. After all, the company had invested millions in fancy shared, open floor-plan workspaces. Some of our campuses even had a ping pong table. Nowadays, the buzzword is “Hybrid”.

With the hybrid work model, there are no more assigned cubicles, so leave your family photos and plants at home. Once you find a spot to hunker down for the day, plug in for your back-to-back calls with colleagues two time zones or half a globe away. Repeat two or three times a week to meet the badge-swipe requirement, and…

See, the problem with the hybrid model is that many colleagues have already secured full-time telecommuter status. So there are fewer people even showing up at the office now. Compound this with the fact that everyone is showing up on different days to meet their 2-3 day per week quota, and the odds of face-to-face collaboration have tanked.

Hybrid models put a strain on families trying to adjust schedules around child care, school, kids’ activities, and more. Knowledge workers got used to the full-time work-from-home flexibility these past few years have offered. Taking that flexibility away is just creating bigger headaches for everyone, and putting a dent in worker productivity to boot.

The company I work for is trying to make its hybrid model more appealing. Some departments are rolling out free snacks and sugar-free sodas. There’s even a happy hour and food trucks once a month. Free drinks and lunch! What’s not to love about that?

What’s to Love About Working In an Office?

In fairness, once I’ve braved a crummy commute and secured a precious parking spot (they’re harder to find when summer road construction surrounds the work campus), a good day at the office can be had.

If you’ve got some good people you work with sitting nearby, it’s great to be able to chit-chat about things. (“Seen that new ‘Barry’ show on HBO??”)

During my brief two-month stint in Hybrid, I appreciated the banter about office politics, sharing ideas and problem solving, and trivia about personal lives. Cubicle survival depends on good relationships at the office, first and foremost.

We’d even go to lunch as a group, which wasn’t something anyone did in my department before COVID. It was almost exclusively that taboo of eating lunch at the desk. Blech…

Meeting with other colleagues face to face or on a walk around the pond is also better than Zoom, in my experience. There’s positive energy you get from those interactions, unless the conversation is contentious, or you happen to meet with a sour puss. (Better save sour puss meetings for Zoom, I’d argue.)

The other benefit about showing up to the salt mine? Happy hour! Yes, especially in summer, we need a drink or two to top off a solid day of “hard work”. I’ve missed these casual gatherings. We might get to the pub once a month at best, but it’s a fun excuse to share office gossip and unwind.

The Pros and Cons of Telecommuting

The most obvious pro is not having to go to work on Fridays. Especially in the summertime, everyone is just tuned out and ready for the weekend. Here in Minnesota, the highways start clogging up at noon for cabin destinations up north. Who wants to bother with a commute, when you could be using your lunch break to hitch the boat trailer onto your truck?

And after a long weekend up north, you can’t beat working from home on Monday to kick off the workweek. That’s a nice way to stave off the Sunday Scaries. I’ll get more work done from home on Fridays and Mondays, as these tend to be more task-oriented days of the week. It’s a win-win for the employee and the company.

While on the subject, wouldn’t it be great if employers offered summer hours to their employees? More and more I’m reading about half-day (or whole day) Fridays off from June through August.

I believe this would be a huge retention win for companies and costs little since very little work gets done after lunchtime on Fridays anyhow. (Share in the comments if you disagree!)

Another reason to love telecommuting? Small breaks are good for concentration and focus on work tasks. When we’re at home, we have a good balance of distractions to give us those short 5-10 minute breaks every hour or two.

Go get a load of laundry going. Load the dishwasher. It’s just a few minutes, and it gets enough blood flowing and forces you to get your butt out of that chair.

At the office, you don’t have anything compelling you to get up, other than pee breaks, right? Many management types pick on these at-home distractions, but they are better for your employees than having them sit comatose in their office chairs all day.

There’s also the benefit of getting out on walks. I can be outside within two minutes when working from home, and head in any direction for a nice neighborhood stroll. These walks are incredibly important for productivity, as it frees your eyes from the screen for 10, 20, or 30 minutes.

This is when the ideas emerge that you can apply when you get back to the keys. I’ll also take 1:1 calls with my handy AirPods fired up. Getting your steps is a lot easier when you’re starting from home base vs. the cubicle farm.

The biggest cons are simply missing being around people, and sometimes, the office space is set up better than your home basement corner. Also, consider that it’s harder to get promoted if you’re never putting in face time at HQ!

The Verdict on Telecommuting

Since the lockdowns of March 2020, I’ve effectively been a full-time telecommuter. I only made it official last month after the company started dropping the hammer on badge swipes.

I still plan to come into the office now and then, maybe even twice in a given week, if I need to. But I appreciate the ultimate flexibility of being able to align my work days to best suit what I feel makes me most productive and collaborative with my colleagues.

The benefits of working from home are amazing if the option is available. Not every wage earner has this luxury.

I’d still make it a point to get into the office to maintain face-to-face connections. Keep your network strong, and avoid missing out on those COVID-Free happy hours.

I get the sense we’re evolving further away from the Office Space antics that dominated our 9-5 workaday lives, pre-pandemic. That’s a great thing. The environment will be better with fewer cars on the road and fewer textiles produced for work “uniforms”.

As for early retirement, telecommuting offers a small off-ramp of sorts to help me get a feel for what it will be like to not have an office environment to occupy my life for five days and 45+ hours a week. That’s pretty cool. Now, back to pondering those dividend stocks…

 

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