Downsides to flexible scheduling/telecommuting

The thread may be useful for anyone who is considering working from home or having a flexible schedule (e.g., working four ten-hour days instead of five eight-hour days a week). I know why these options are appealing, especially for someone who lives a busy life outside of work. But I’m noticing something happening in my office. I want to see if my observations are accurate and whether others have seen the same thing.

I have a coworker. Let’s call her Clarisse. The two of us know GIS quite well, but unlike me, her job title is “GIS specialist”. She has formal training in it. She’s pretty good in it. I’m pretty good at it too, but my job duties are much broader. So I’m not the GIS expert in our office. My expertise is something else.

Clarisse works four tens. She’s never in the office on Fridays. I work a normal 9-to-5 day, five days a week.

For the past couple of months, our office has been dealing with an environmental disaster (literally) that has kept our boss on his toes. If the press calls with a question, he runs to whomever is at hand to help him with a response. For some reason, this keeps happening on Fridays. I know not to stray too far from my desk because of this. I’ve been called upon to do some some nifty GIS work that Clarisse would normally be tasked with. It’s been fun stuff and my boss has been generous with kudos. I’ve also gotten a token “bonus” out of it. But every time I’m doing a task in this arena, I start thinking about Clarisse.

So now that my GIS skills have been showcased, coworkers keep coming by to help with their projects. I’m a “GIS guru” now. And I’m loving it. I love making maps and I love that people like how I present their information. I like the professional connections I’m making with others. But I also feel guilty.

Clarisse once told me she feels underappreciated. I hate to say it, but she’s got good cause to feel this way. She used to be the one person on the floor who knows GIS. But now she has competition–someone who works Fridays.

So I guess I have seen the downside of working a flexible schedule. If you are not around when the boss needs you the most, you might as well not even be there. I guess if I was advising someone on whether they should work four tens or not, I would tell them to make sure there’s no one who can steal their thunder.

Have you noticed any other downside?

In our office the people who work four tens work 40 hours, the people who work five eights work 45 hours. Because when something “comes up” at 4pm that needs to be done today, if you are supposed to leave at 5 you leave at 7. And if you were supposed to leave at 7, you leave at 7. Vanishingly few things come up at 6 that need to be done today, because 90% of folks have either left at 6 or are too busy dealing with a fire drill that started earlier.

Ironically what is called a flexible work arrangement is the most rigid. Everyone else can be made to work at any other time, but not the ones who have a a 4X10 of 6am-3pm schedule instead of the normal 8:30-5:30.

If you are the only person working from 6-8:30am in your area, you will not be interrupted. The problem is that being interrupted is part of the job content. A lot of “quick hit” stuff ends up going to the folks who are working at the same time as their colleagues and managers. And those are some of the most challenging and visible assignments. Need to be done fast, on the customer’s timeline and collaboratively.

This is one thing that irks me when co-workers are clocking in at dawn when they could be starting at a more conventional hour. The work is not the same. There is going to be more fires to put out later in the day than in the earlier part of the day, especially if you’re on the east coast and you deal with issues that occur in more western time zones.

This unfairness used to bother me, until I realized that by putting out more fires than my early bird co-workers, I was able to rack up more accomplishments than they were. So if you have a job that rewards people for doing more than just showing up, everything balances out.

It doesn’t work out too well if the flex-timers are quick to complain about not getting opportunities to shine because of gender bias. I have known only one male flex-timer, at least that I can recall. The rest were all women. A few years ago HR and Legal thought the best solution was to discontinue the flex-time option. The sisterhood was incensed. The company backed down.

Another downside comes during RIFs. People who are seen every day in the office are seen by the boss. The boss knows they “work hard” (heck, even some of them whose screens have Facebook up all day - he sees THEM, he doesn’t see their screens). You have more of a personal relationship with them.

The RIF comes and its “what does Bob do again, I haven’t seen him in months.” IF your accomplishments are really strong, you might stay, but if your accomplishments are towards the average, don’t be surprised when you are the one cut against other average coworkers.

One of the companies I used to work for was really bad about this in particular. People who spent a lot of time working from home were always at a much higher risk during a down cycle. Even if they were good people doing good work.

I’ve always wondered if the extra two hours per day actually produce two actual hours’ worth of quality work.

There’s always the suspicion of slackers using “telecommuting” as a cover. Do any of the jobs being done by not-physically-present workers have metrics which can and ARE used to make sure they don’t have bots to keep their sessions busy?
If you are supposed to be producing a unique contract, that’s an easy metric.
If you’re supposed to be writing a document substantially like any number of others, google, copy, paste will get the same result.

I am especially wary of mommies telecommuting - little ones need lots of attention - and are much more engaging than a computer. And the fact that, any time anyone suggests requiring employees to actually be present, the first to scream are women holding up “mommies” as some sort of protected class who are guaranteed a salary even if they refuse to report for work.

I sincerely hope that the people who take their jobs more seriously get more attention and raises and promotions than those who don’t.

There is another downside which is, basically, in my situation I had to set aside a certain amount of MY HOUSE that is now dedicated to work. I need a place where I can work uninterrupted so it has to have a door and I need a certain amount of room for things like a printer and scanner and storage for the manuals and originals of certain software (other software is checked out from the company website). I had to make some alterations to my internet service as well. And then I had to write up an insurance rider for all this stuff saying that if my house burned down my company would get reimbursed (this didn’t cost me any extra, but if it had, the company would have paid).

It is still definitely worth it not to have to commute 2 hours a day, commute through the snow ever, and I spend a lot less on clothes (unfortunate but true).

Of course there are “metrics.” There is work that has to get done and it’s easy to tell if the work has gotten done. There are still performance reviews and all that.

The downside is that much of my work is performed by teams of people. While everyone is reasonably trustworthy to get their work done, having people working remotely makes it difficult to work together as a team. Emails and WebEx conferences typically don’t cut it.

Sometimes it’s the reverse. I worked weird hours that left me largely free from interruption. I could turn out a lot more real work than I had been in the office at more conventional times. If I had been present , I would have gotten stuck fighting fires that look important at the time but don’t add up to much. Perhaps this is different in other businesses. Where I worked, you needed to be able to distinguish yourself by creating and implementing products. So if you were stuck in a fire drill for a few days, you’d get behind on what really counted. Being good at being present only took you so far; you’d get a lot of pats on the back and no promotions. So working flexibly was a great way to work on high-profile projects without getting pulled into other things that might delay their delivery.

Again, YMMV.

I hate teleworking. I need the structure of getting dressed and going out the door, I like the social aspect of work, and I do think face time is important. I think a lot of creativity and subject matter expertise come from the small interactions in the office, and that is what you read miss.

It would depend on the job. Mine was pretty isolated and self-contained. Many days I came in, went down the hall and waved at my boss to let her know I was there, and then didn’t speak to another person for four hours. Not always–there were occasional chats that went on and on. But this wasn’t unusual either.

Now working remotely I am much less likely to call someone up and consult about some kind of usage than I was to walk down the hall and do the same thing. We were already a remote office with the majority of the people in the company in another state so there was not a big sense of community. Since I didn’t have it in this job anyway, I don’t miss it. (Sometimes we do get together and have a lunch meeting, but not very often.)

In my career it hasn’t been the telecommuters that are bulk of that issue.

The job I had for most of my SDMB membership my teams were in Thailand, Malyasia, China, Ireland, Amsterdam, Massachusetts, Colorado and California. I seldom had a team where anyone I was working with was in the same TIME ZONE much less location

My last job, London, Bangkok and Bangalore - a little New York. Again, seldom in the same time zone.

I really prefer face to face meetings, but I’ve seldom had that luxury even if there were no telecommuters. You learn to cope and adjust. The time zone and language barriers tend to be bigger than the remote nature of the work.

I find that dismissive and rude. I am a parent who has telecommuted since before my kids were born. I, like any responsible parent, had child care set up for them. The worst fake teleworker we ever had didn’t have kids.

I can’t imagine not telecommuting. Love the flexibility, the lack of having coworkers cough on me, the expense of trains, the time involved in going to the physical office (where few if any of my teammates would be, anyway). The comfy clothing!

The only minor downside is having to take conference calls in the evening or early morning on occasion, but the benefits greatly outweigh them.

One of my GF’s friends, who has a young child, recently switched from 4 days to 5 days because she was still expected to do the same amount of work in that time and was monumentally stressed.

Another work-at- home mother found herself with constant visits from people who thought working from home meant not working. She also found herself bearing the brunt of her parents’ care, even though she actually was working. She actually emailed her schedule to her siblings to prove that she was just as unavailable as them.

The companies I’ve worked for have all had the “no kids at home younger than eight (or something) if you have a regular telecommute schedule” policy. When kids are sick, they’d rather have you dial in than not work, and understand that you won’t get in a full eight or ten hour day if you are taking care of sick kids. But if you are telecommunting on a regular basis, you are expected to have young children cared for by someone other than yourself - AND keep pet disruptions reasonable (nothing like a conference call with someone with a very barky dog).

HOWEVER, I’ve “met” a lot of moms out in the great internet looking for a telecommuting job that will let them avoid daycare and stay home with their kids. Its a naive fantasy that I don’t think translates very often into reality. “I can make all this money AND stay home with my kids AND not have daycare expenses.” There are some jobs and some kids where that MIGHT work out, but not many.

I’ve known parents who work from home who have between 5 and 10 year olds at home with them during work hours. Those people ruin it for the rest of the folks who don’t take advantage of the system.

I tell my teams that if they work from home, I expect them to be as available as if they were in the office with no exceptions. I shouldn’t know the difference. If I do, then they aren’t working from home any longer. If I don’t notice, then I could care less where they work.

That being said, I think it’s understood that work from home people aren’t on the same career track as the others who are in the office each day.

Sometimes the kitchen is too close to the desk, if you know what I mean.

I work 7 - 3:30 (I’m also in GIS by the way).

It’s true if something comes up after I’m gone, a co-worker will handle it.

On the other hand, I do a bit of sys-admin stuff, and it is appreciated that I can handle it early in the morning.