Last week I went to a meeting. In an office. Shocking, I know.
I haven’t been to my own office in almost a year, but I was invited to join a company here in Middlebury for a conversation about (what else!) telecommuting. It’s always a pleasure to talk with other people who work remotely. Lots in common.
As part of the discussion, we were asked to list the benefits of telecommuting. Most of us listed the usual “work/life balance” and “time and money saved on commute.” But one person in my group got more specific. He listed “welcoming the kids home from school.” I love this. ‘Balance’ sounds like something you talk to HR about. But being the one to fix the after school snack, even if it’s during a quick ten minute break from the office, is really what this is about for most of us.
It’s easy to explain what we gain by telecommuting. But being in an office for the afternoon also reminded me of what we give up. Even proponents of telecommuting can’t deny the fact that there are costs, both professionally and socially. Being away from the main group takes away a little of the ease of interaction between colleagues — the camaraderie and connection with other people. The stimulation of their ideas and energy. The personal relationships that happen over coffee, but not over email. Even the ebb and flow of office politics is a lot harder to keep up with over email. You have to make a deliberate effort to do things that come naturally when you’re face to face.
For me, telecommuting has absolutely been worth it. With eleven years under my belt, I’ve had plenty of time to come to terms with both the pros and the cons. But for people who are considering a remote location, it’s important (I think) to be clear that there are pros and cons. It isn’t a walk in the park, and doesn’t come naturally to most people. I’m in favor of having a telecommuting option, but one that is approached with open eyes.