Happy 20 year telecommuting anniversary to me. I remember the start of my remote writing career like it was yesterday. It’s hard not to remember as it was marked by a loud screeching sound: The annoying tone of a successful dial-up connection to the Internet. I rejoiced as I transmitted my first story from my home office in Los Angeles (which doubled as a baby nursery) to my editor, who was located in Washington, D.C. That transmission took about an hour.
Fast forward to 2016. The rise of high-speed wireless, cell phones, social media and a myriad of technology apps make telecommuting a breeze. But some things haven’t changed a bit: I work best when I have utmost flexibility. This sometimes means getting work done at night instead of during the day or ducking out to go to the gym midday without anyone questioning me.
Telecommuting on the rise
Whereas telecommuting used to be reserved for freelancers or specific types of jobs, like writing or outside sales, it is now an accepted norm for many careers.
According to a 2015 Gallup Work and Education Poll, 37% of American workers say they have telecommuted for their job, up from 30% in 2005 and 9% in 1995. Most of these workers say they are just as productive when telecommuting.
To this end, telecommuting job listings increased by 36% from 2014 to 2015, compared to a 26% increase from 2013 to 2014, according to Flexjobs, a leading job search site specializing in telecommuting and other flexible jobs. The top companies with remote jobs this year span across many industries and include LiveOps, Teletech, Amazon, Sutherland Global Services and UnitedHealthcare. By opening up jobs to telecommuters, companies all over the globe have greater access to talent and can appeal to those who, like me, don’t want to deal with a long commute or office politics.
With so many technology applications at your fingertips, it’s no surprise that telecommuters have countless ways to communicate. When I first started telecommuting, a landline phone conversation was the only way I could effectively talk to a co-worker or client. Not so anymore, thanks to free teleconference tools like Google Hangouts, e-mail applications, Skype calls, and internal chat apps like Slack.
Is working remotely right for you?
Working remotely – especially from a home office – may seem appealing. But it’s not for everyone and it certainly has its share of challenges. Here are a few difficulties I’ve experienced:
The feeling of isolation
If you’ll be working from home, can you deal with the potential isolation? Telecommuting can be lonely, even if you’re part of every video conference call and Skype four times a day with your boss. Trust me, I’ve gone through periods when I crave gossip around a water cooler.
Being your own motivator
Are you a self-starter? This is a biggie. If you thrive on working with people in groups or need validation often, telecommuting may not be the best situation for you. I’ve worked full-time on staff as a telecommuter and as a freelancer and in both situations, I often fly solo and make decisions on my own. If you’re not comfortable with this, working onsite may be a better fit for you.
Focus, focus, focus
Can you focus 100% on a work-related task? This is easier said than done. Trust me on this one. As I write this, I’m staring at my laundry that desperately needs to get done. I’m thinking: "Do I keep plugging away on this story or do I throw that load in?" This is the type of stuff that you’ll deal with constantly if you work from home. In most instances, you’ll have to learn how to ignore distractions until after you’ve powered through the work day or at least tackled the project in front of you.
Other options for telecommuting
To help recruit and retain top talent, some employers now offer telecommuters the option of working from a shared coworking space. These communal office spaces, popping up all over the country, are designed to accommodate independent workers and small companies seeking a professional and collaborative work community. Joining a coworking office means you’ll pay a monthly fee (sometimes covered by employers) and the amount will vary depending on how much space you want and how often you’d like to use the office. Coworking spaces include companies like the international chain WeWork and regional firm Workbar, with offices throughout the Boston area.
Indeed, a coworking space – complete with live human interaction – is an appealing concept, but so is my non-existent commute. So, I’ve made a pact with myself: As soon as a coworking office opens within a 10 minute walk from my house, I will sign up right away. Until then, I’ll have to break up the monotony of my day with daily walks to Starbucks for coffee talk with the baristas.