By Addie Courington | January 21, 2014
Why Telecommuting is (The Best) The Worst

Why Telecommuting is The Best The Worst

By Addie Courington

In my first job out of design school I worked for a company with a newly established Atlanta office. The office was so new in fact that it did not actually exist. As the first employee of this “office”, my boss and I each worked from our homes 60 miles apart, communicating all day via Skype, ichat, telephone, email, Facetime, and the occasional in-person meeting.

In that first year, I enjoyed all the typical advantages of working from home. I rolled out of bed every morning and got dressed as if I was going to work, but went straight to my desk in my living room. I was always sneaking in lunch time errands and a tank of gas could last me almost a month.

“Wow, you’re so lucky!” all my friends said. And in the beginning I did feel very lucky. However, as time went on the “glamour” of working from home wore off quickly. I found myself having really long conversations with the grocery store clerks at check out, desperate for a few extra seconds of human interaction before returning to the isolated work den I called home. The ability to stay self-disciplined became more and more difficult and my productivity started to wane. Whenever I became stuck on a project, I had no idea how to get un-stuck just sitting alone in my living room. It started to take a psychological toll. After a year of working from home, I sat down with my boss and BEGGED for an office.

Today I work for the same company, but in an office with 5 other people. In the ongoing debate about telecommuting, there are strong opinions for and against the issue. As some one who has lived on both sides of the debate, I understand both ways of thinking and I do not believe that one work lifestyle is necessarily better than the other. For me, it is all about weighing the sacrifices.

Fewer Interruptions v. Less Creative Dialogue

Meetings that go an hour longer than they should, the temptation to socialize, co-workers that don’t understand that headphones on means you really don’t want to talk — all of these things are definitely productivity killers.

Working in an office, there are times when I think to myself, “I wish everyone would stop coming to my desk so I can just get this thing done.” However, I am willing to sacrifice those uninterrupted work hours in exchange for the countless impromptu conversations that lead to new ideas I would have never had on my own. As a social person working in a creative field, I understand the true importance of human interaction to fuel my creativity and push me to be a better designer. Sure I get distracted at work, but it sure beats working in a silo.

Flexibility v. Fewer Boundaries

Working from home means you can sneak out in the middle of the day and go for a run. You can do your laundry, pay your bills, go for a walk, the list goes on and on. However, when you have a flexible schedule, you also have fewer boundaries. The divide between work and home becomes very blurry when you don’t have that drive in your car at 6 pm to mark the end of the workday. Sure you were able to sneak in an afternoon yoga class on your lunch break, but look, now it’s 7:30 pm and you’re still answering emails.

Of course I sometimes miss sneaking in an errand or two in the middle of the day, but it’s a small price to pay in order to come home at the end of the day with the warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing my work is where it belongs, at work.

Healthier Lifestyle v. Healthier Office Culture

Working from home means you also eat most of your meals at home. The ability to get up from your desk, walk into your own kitchen, and throw together a healthy meal from last night’s leftovers is one of the work-from-home perks I miss most. But I will tell you what I do not miss — having a long distance relationship with my co-workers. Working from home meant my boss and I had to schedule lunches just to make sure we made direct eye contact at least once a week.

Inside jokes, ongoing pranks, knowing what was going on in everyone’s lives, that did not exist when I worked at home. Today I am part of a team. And while having all of the comforts of home at my fingertips was great while it lasted, the psychological benefits of being on a team is irreplaceable in my mind.

Just as everyone has different learning styles, I believe work styles vary from person to person. In many ways, telecommuting is expanding our ability to have our cake and eat it too as far as work-life balance is concerned. However, if you can I leave you with one message it is this: The next time some one tells you they work from home, please do not tell them how lucky they are. Chances are they think your work situation is pretty lucky too!

AIGA encourages thoughtful, responsible discourse. Please add comments judiciously, and refrain from maligning any individual, institution or body of work. Read our policy on commenting.
  • sarahjon

    Interesting read and very insightful!

  • John Rockefeller

    Smart words from a talented designer…

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