Is Telecommuting Right for You? Pros & Cons


Millions of people are changing the world of work by telecommuting, also known as remote work or teleworking.

What is telecommuting?  First, telecommuting means that you can work anywhere.  Furthermore, telecommuting only requires a computer, a phone, and a skill.  Finally, telecommuting gives you flexibility.  To see if telecommuting is right for you, think about the benefits and drawbacks.

How Will Telecommuting Benefit Me?

Benjamin Franklin once said “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”.  Here we have the man himself, courtesy of the Library of Congress:

I will not promise wisdom, but telecommuting can make you healthy and wealthy.  In fact, there are several ways that telecommuting can improve your work and personal life.  Read on to find out how!

Telecommuting Makes You Healthy

First of all, telecommuting improves your health.  I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out.  For one thing, skipping the daily commute saves you from the stress of driving.  It also saves you time.  The average American takes 26 minutes to get to work.

By telecommuting, you save 52 minutes per day.  You also decrease traffic for other drivers who do not have the option to telecommute. (Maybe they just haven’t asked yet!).  When you avoid the commute, you do your part to prevent pollution caused by driving.

Use this time to take better care of yourself.  For example, you can get a great workout in 30 minutes.  Consider a home workout with body weight exercises!  In addition, you can eat better.  It only takes 5-10 minutes to cook eggs instead of buying a quick doughnut.  Finally, you can meditate.  Studies show that meditation can be more restful than sleep.  You can meditate once per day, or more often if you like.

Of course, you can pursue a combination of these.  I have a suggestion for spending the time you save by telecommuting.  Use 50% for exercise, 20% for cooking, and 30% for meditation.  You can adjust this for your own situation.

Example

If your commute takes 30 minutes one-way, then you save 60 minutes per day by telecommuting.

Invest 50% of that time, or 30 minutes, doing body-weight exercises at home.

Spend 20% of that time, or 12 minutes, cooking a healthy breakfast.

Devote 30% of that time, or 18 minutes, meditating.

An added health benefit of telecommuting is that you are sick less often.  First, as mentioned above, you reduce stress when you lose the commute.  In addition, you avoid contact with coworkers who are sick.  Taken together, this means less work time lost to illness.  That is a benefit to you, your coworkers, and your employer!

Telecommuting Makes You Wealthy

Telecommuting also gives you a nice, fat wallet.  Show me the money!

Once you see how much money you save by telecommuting, you will be dancing for joy!  Consider how much you spend on your daily commute.

First of all, you are spending a small fortune on gas.  The average commuter drives 30 miles a day to get to and from work.  Assume your car gets 30 miles per gallon.  Then you would use one gallon of gas per day.  This comes out to 5 gallons per week, or 250 gallons per year (assume two weeks’ vacation).  At a cost of $2.80 per gallon, you would save $700 per year by telecommuting!

You also need to consider the hidden cost of depreciation (wear and tear) on your car.  The more you drive, the more repairs your car will need.  If you drive in stop-and-go traffic, your car will see even more damage.

Finally, you must think about the costs associated with the modern office.  You need to spend money on clothes for the office, which can cost $600 per year or more.  Dining out can also take a toll on your wallet.  Just one meal per week at $20 will add up to $1000 per year.  All told, the average telecommuter will see over $2300 per year in savings!

Helpful Hint

Telecommuting means you put fewer miles on your car.  In this case, you may be eligible for a low-mileage discount on your auto insurance.  Just call your insurance company and ask!  This is another way that telecommuting can give you even more savings!

Remember that many of the expenses you incur in your home office are tax deductible.  The rules vary, depending on whether you are a W2 employee, a 1099 contractor, or a small business owner.  Talk to your accountant for details about what you can deduct.  Here is a list to start with:

  • computer (as long as it is for business only)
  • printer, paper, ink (ditto)
  • ergonomic equipment (standing desk, mouse, keyboard, headset, microphone)
  • paper, pens, pencils, staplers, paper clips, and other office supplies
  • filing cabinet

Telecommuting Builds Your Career

First, telecommuting gives you the flexibility to work from anywhere in the world.  It also gives you the flexibility to work for anyone in the world, as long as they hire telecommuters.  This means that you will have more opportunities, since you have widened your pool of potential employers.

Also, as discussed above, work flexibility makes you healthier.  Better health means better performance at work.  In time, this improved performance will lead to raises and promotions, if you are an employee.

If you are a contractor or small business owner, your reputation for solid work will precede you.  Soon, you will have more requests for work than you can handle!

In addition to being more productive, you will be more engaged in your work, which you do on your terms.

Choose Your Own Technology

As a remote worker, you have some leeway in the equipment you use.  You are not stuck with a PC at the office if you prefer a Mac.  You can also use your choice of comfortable headphones and microphone for taking and making calls.

Perhaps most important is the ability to choose your own mouse and keyboard.  This helps you to setup an ergonomic office, which is important for working efficiently and avoiding injury.

To learn more about some of the equipment I use as a telecommuter, check out my resources page.

Telecommuting Improves Your Relationships

Telecommuting can improve your relationships.  As we saw above, telecommuting can give you more time, more money, better health, and less stress.  All of this taken together will make you a better person.

You will also have more resources to devote to family and friends.  For example, say an old friend is in town on business during the week.  As a telecommuter, you can invite him to stop by during the day.  You can then make up the time later in the day.

Also, if your spouse or child is sick, you can be flexible in providing care.  Finally, you can go out to drop off or pick up the kids from school or sports.

What Drawbacks Does Telecommuting Have?

Thus far, telecommuting sounds like all fun and games!  However, telecommuting has a few negative aspects, which we will discuss below.

People Might Have the Wrong Idea

When you work from home, your boss, coworkers, and even family and friends might have the wrong idea.  They might assume that you are not really working.  Worse, they might assume your work is “fluff” that you can do alongside laundry and a soap opera.

Your boss might have the wrong idea if he thinks that you spend less time working than you would at the office.  Even if you complete your work and do it well, this possibility still exists.  In this situation, make sure that you communicate your schedule and work plans to your boss.  I will give an example of this.

Even if your boss knows that you do solid work, your coworkers might not know it.  If they do, they might still be jealous that you work from home!  In this case, there is not much you can do, especially if your coworker can never do his job remotely.

The best you can do is to express appreciation for your coworkers who have to go in to the office.  If applicable, make sure that they also know what you are up to during the day.  If they know you are working hard, this can reduce the feelings of jealousy and resentment.

Last but not least, your family and friends might think that they can stop by, or interrupt you, anytime.  Make it clear that your work hours are really for work, not soap operas and random visits.

If you always work from home, make sure that your loved ones understand that you really do work.  It might be heavy-handed, but you could leave out work-related papers.  (Don’t do this if the papers are confidential!).  That way, you can communicate that you don’t have time for random visits, without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Telecommuting Makes You Less Visible at Work

First of all, remember the saying “out of sight, out of mind”.  When telecommuting, you have less visibility with the boss.  You should communicate with your boss and coworkers often.  Give them an update on your schedule, projects, and priorities.  You can also ask your boss or peers to review your work.  Make sure to note what you have done during the day.

Example (email to coworker or boss)

Hi Jake,

I wanted to give you an update for today.  The Axiom account is ready for you to review.  Thanks again for looking it over.

I will be available until 4:30pm if you have any questions on Axiom.  My plan is to have lunch 12pm to 1pm.  Feel free to leave a voicemail if you need me.

I plan to work on the Baker account the rest of the morning.  I will work on the Clover account in the afternoon.

Best,

Jonathon

You should also volunteer to help other employees once in a while.  It never hurts to have someone at the company rooting for you.  Besides, you might find that you will need help at some point.  A person you have helped out is more likely to help you out!

In addition to being less visible at work, you might also have difficulty on collaborative projects.  This does not mean collaboration is impossible.  Rather, you will have to put in some extra effort.  You will need to coordinate with other remote employees for meetings on Skype, Slack, or by phone.

In addition, you should make sure that expectations are clear.  Good communication is a key element when setting expectations.  If the email sounds confusing to you, it probably will be confusing for your coworker.  Call instead, and make sure to communicate clearly.

Telecommuting Exposes You to Distractions

Another concern is the distractions you face at home.  You will need to resist the temptation to watch television while working.  No binge watching Netflix!  Sometimes, you must work inside on the most beautiful day, when you would rather get a tan in your backyard.

If you have young children at home, caring for them can distract you from your work.  Noisy neighbors can also be a concern.  Be sure to eliminate distractions, or at least control them.  Noise cancelling headphones might be a good investment!

Telecommuting Blurs the Lines between Work and Home

Finally, telecommuting can blur the lines between work and home.  The IRS makes strict rules, but they do have one good idea.  You should make sure to use your home office only for work.  It should not double as a living room or game room.

I like to think of my office as a separate location from home.  This allows me to get “in the zone” when working, and to let go when I finish work.  You should make sure that your family understands this.  Do not allow toys, games, or clutter in your working space.

In addition to separate work and home spaces, you should keep separate work and home hours.  Make sure that friends and family understand this as well.  Reserve your working hours for work, with rare exceptions (sickness or injury, etc.).

Telecommuting – The Right Move For You?

I have already outlined the pros and cons of telecommuting.  These may help you to make your decision.  However, remember that you should also consider personal factors.  These include your personality, discipline, work style, and job type.

Personality

First, reflect on your personality type.  An introvert may do well working alone at home.  An extrovert may need constant face time with coworkers.  A good test: think about the last time you were alone for 4 hours or more.

At the end of this time, did you feel refreshed?  Were you going crazy from a lack of human interaction?  There is no shame either way, but remember that this will impact your decision to telecommute.

Discipline

Next, think about your discipline.  I already talked about some distractions at home.  The question: do you have the willpower to resist them?  Do you have the discipline to work during your scheduled hours, when your television, hot tub, or pool beckons?

Discipline also applies to family.  Will your kids play in your office and leave toys everywhere?  Can your spouse let you work in peace on days when you are both home?  Remember that these factors will not distract you at your employer’s office.

Work Style

Also, consider your work style.  Do you need directions to start, and guidance along the way?  Can you think with a strategic mind to outline tasks and decide on priorities for a project?  Do you have good time management skills?  Can you work well alone, or do you work best with others?

Job Type

Finally, remember that your job type will have a huge impact on your decision to telecommute.  Do you have a creative job and need rapport with coworkers to generate great ideas?  In that case, you might need to go in to the office.  On the other hand, if you write software for small companies, then telecommuting can allow you to ditch your commute.

Technical and Troubleshooting Skills

Maybe you are a whiz with operating systems and internet protocols.  If you know how to fix any tech issue yourself, then more power to you.  However, some people need a helping hand from the more technically-inclined folks among us.

If this describes you, then you might want to have tech support lined up.  This could involve calling someone at your company in the IT department, or at least someone more knowledgeable than you.  It could also involve calling a friend, child, nephew, or whoever has the technical chops that you lack.

Make sure that you have a tech support go-to and also a backup, just in case.  This can reduce your downtime during technical emergencies.  It can also help you to avoid these problems in the first place.  Sometimes, you can’t get the help you need remotely.  In that case, it might make sense to continue commuting until you can find your go-to and backup.

Final Thoughts on Telecommuting

Personally, I telecommute, and I enjoy it overall.  Since I am an introvert by nature, I enjoy working alone.  I do regret that I do not get to see my coworkers as often.

However, there is nothing stopping me from inviting them out to lunch in-person.  In fact, I have done this many times.  It helps to build rapport, and it keeps me in the loop at work.

I hope that this post will answer your questions about telecommuting.  If not, please leave any questions or comments below.

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