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Telecommuting can be great

— but don’t completely disappear from the office if you care about your career

The Province and CanWest News Service
September 10, 2006
Wendy McLellan and Alexandra Lopez-Pacheco

With rising gas prices, long commutes and the trials of balancing work and home life, telecommuting seems like the perfect remedy for a hectic schedule.

Thanks to the plethora of electronic devices, setting up a home office is a fairly simple task. The challenge is figuring out how to work at home without disappearing from the office — and slipping off the career track.

“We talk a lot about the talent shortage, and telecommuting is one thing employers can offer to attract and retain people — and it may have a place for some positions,” said Lisa Kershaw.

“But does it affect your career in the long term? No, as long as you remain highly visible inside and outside your workplace. If you went home and disappeared, you may damage your career.”

Kershaw said telecommuting is becoming more popular with both employees and companies. Employees like the flexibility of working from home and employers can save money by reducing office space.

To be sure you don’t disappear completely from the office, and your employer’s sight, Kershaw suggests coming to work for team meetings rather than participating by phone, and regularly making time to meet face-to-face with the boss and co-workers.

To maintain connections with others in your industry, she suggests using some of the time saved on commuting to network and develop contacts.

“As fun as it might seem to stay home and have coffee in your PJs, it may be better for your career to have that coffee with your boss or your colleagues and network so you seem actively engaged in your profession,” Kershaw said.

Lisa Fried, division director for the Fraser Valley office of OfficeTeam, which specializes in placing administrative professionals, said candidates often say they would prefer working from home, particularly those with young children.

“Telecommuting is definitely beneficial, especially given the gas prices and commuting time in the Fraser Valley, but it depends on the position. A lot of administrative work requires daily contact in the office,” Fried said.

“Working from home can increase employee satisfaction, and it could improve retention if employers can offer a better work-life balance. With such a tight labour market, companies have to come up with programs to entice good people.”

Without the distractions of the office, productivity could be improved, she said, and some tasks, such as writing reports, may be better accomplished from home. But employees should ensure they retain connections to the office.

“It’s a bit of the out-of-sight, out-of-mind syndrome,” Fried said. “Managers may equate the quality of work with how often they see the person — and that could be a drawback. You may miss out on good projects if you’re not visible.”

She suggests employees interested in telecommuting develop a plan to present to their manager outlining the benefits to the company and what work can be done effectively from home. It may be more attractive for employers to begin by telecommuting once or twice a week rather than jumping in full time.

Henry Goldbeck, president and founder of Vancouver-based Goldbeck Recruiting, said most employers still want senior leaders and managers to be at the office the bulk of the time. He frequently deals with candidates interested in positions in Toronto or Vancouver but they don’t want to move away from their own community.

“Almost always, the client is not interested,” Goldbeck said. “They want their people to be communicating and have access to each other at their facility on a daily basis. They want to deal with them in person.”

The exceptions are employees such as sales managers, who traditionally do a lot of their work on the phone and can just as easily be at home as in the office.

Telecommuting does not have to be an either/or situation. The key, Goldbeck says, is finding the right balance.

“In any area where your results are clearly defined, such as a special project, it won’t hurt that much to work from home,” he said.

“If it’s harder to show excellence, employers will obviously promote the people they know.”