Making Remote Work, Work
So is there any way to maintain a full or partial telecommuting or remote work arrangement without feeling out of the loop, isolated and that you cannot turn work off when it's time to be with your family? Experts say that depends on the person, the manager and the arrangement at hand, and that there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution."A lot of it depends on the individual and the job," Estes said. "There are a lot of positions-in sales, for example-where being in the office isn't that important. It gives the average employee more flexibility, such as if they're sick but not so sick that they can't log on for an hour or two." However, when Estes does see a remote work policy implemented, there are almost always controls put into place, ensuring that an employee's face is seen in the office at regular, predictable intervals. To combat isolation, Mulki suggested that employees take deliberate actions, including using technology, utilizing their own personal social networks and increasing opportunities for face-to-face interactions to increase informal communication. Managers should play a role, as well. "Our results suggest that managers should provide support, mentoring [and] training and work on developing community activities to help remote employees address isolation issues," Mulki said. "It was specifically recommended that the manager should meet face to face with each remote employee at least once every year." The difficulty that some have maintaining a work-life balance while working from home, however, is seen as a more personal challenge. Mulki's study showed that remote employees found it more difficult to disengage from work and tended to work longer hours due to the lack of boundaries between work and home life. He suggests that remote employees set routines and make clear to managers when they are not available. However, others note these are often the same workers who had trouble disconnecting even when they didn't work from home. "If you're wired 24 hours a day with a BlackBerry, it can be hard to resist the temptation to check your e-mail during dinner or on vacation. This can happen to anybody," said Estes. In the end, Estes notes, some people may be better at telecommuting than others, depending on how good they are at self-managing, and because of this, remote work won't be taking over the world just yet. "In the long run, I think it will enhance workers' experiences, but it won't be the revolution people once talked as if it was going to be," he said.
"Full-time telecommuting is one of those things that can sound better than it actually is," said John Estes, a vice president at Robert Half Technology, who said that the practice is far from pervasive right now.