It’s All About Style – Making Telecommuting Work

Long-term distance telecommuting (LTDT) continues to become more common across industry (as well as for Beaconfire). I have heard numerous tales of both unqualified successes in telecommuting as well as disastrous failures. There is no doubt that success or failure hinges on numerous factors, including the nature of the work, the culture of the organization, the motivation of the telecommuter, and the cooperative spirit of their coworkers. Complicating it further, it is not that there is necessarily a single path to success here – much comes down to the alignment of all of the factors. Predicting success or failure is difficult because of this dynamic.

Being a LTDT myself, I have put some thought into what makes such an arrangement successful. It occurs to me that perhaps to strongest correlation is the alignment of the telecommuter’s style with the company’s needs. If the style doesn’t align, it is almost guaranteed that the situation will not be successful for both parties.

What do I mean by styles? I have come to think of telecommuting styles in three basic flavors:

  1. Compartmentalization.  The telecommuter works a set schedule that aligns with the office hours of onsite personnel. They maintain a dedicated room or workspace within their home from which to work (or co-work). Overall, this style functions the most like a satellite office.
  2. Layering. The telecommuter divides their day into pockets of work time and personal time. Pockets may or may not be consistent from day to day, and work hours may or may not align well with the work hours of onsite personnel. The telecommuter may or may not have a distinct workspace, but this style is more likely to involve working on the move.
  3. Integration. There are no clear lines around a telecommuter’s personal and work times. They address personal activities and work activities ad hoc as needed. While they may be at their child’s swim meet in the middle of the day, they are just as likely to be on a work call at 3:00am with a client across the globe. Little time is likely spent working from a structured, dedicated workspace.

Each style may be appropriate to a different business, function, or situation.

From a company’s perspective, Compartmentalization makes sense for more traditional jobs that operate within standard business hours and with a customer base that follows a similar schedule. Layering may make sense for companies that require access over a prolonged work day, but not necessarily instant or synchronous access. Integration may make sense for people involved in global business that crosses numerous time zones, or for companies with 24 hour operations.

For a telecommuter, Compartmentalization makes sense when the purpose of the arrangement is so that they can live in a city where the company does not have an office. Layering could appeal to a busy parent that must juggle recitals and swim classes with work throughout the day. Integration may suit active single employees that like the freedom to travel and try new things and don’t mind going with the flow, providing service on demand and capitalizing on personal time when not needed.

It is fairly evident that some company needs and telecommuter styles could align well, while others would not. It is important that both a company and telecommuter recognize what they really need from the arrangement before it is agreed upon and that the approach (style) required is made explicit in contractual form. No one benefits if the expectations are misaligned and the situation is destined to failure.

For me personally, I follow the Compartmentalization style. My standard day is set to the normal working hours of Beaconfire, and I have a whole separate floor for my office. I close the door and it is very much like I am working onsite. For me personally, I have signed on to this arrangement because I want to live in a different city where we do not have an office and I like working for Beaconfire. It suits me quite well, and so far (3.5 years and counting) seems to mesh well with the needs of Beaconfire.

I would love to hear about other telecommuting stories and opinions on this framework for thinking about it. If you feel compelled to share – the good, the bad, and the ugly – please do!


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