Telecommuting opinions (especially from single people)

So here’s the background: I moved here a year and a half ago for work, I couldn’t find a job in my industry where I was. It’s a tiny job field and if you get a good job you want to keep it. I currently live 2.5hrs from my friends and 4hrs from my family, and I’m perpetually single.

I’m looking into the possibility of telecommuting from the city 2.5hrs away. I joke that I left my heart behind there, but really, I have nothing tethering me here other than work. I have a telecommuting coworker across the country, so I know my boss will consider it and won’t look to get rid of me if the topic comes up.

There’s two big issues keeping me from going for it, and I’d like some opinions on how to deal with them:

  1. Isolation. I mean, I won’t be with my friends 7 days a week if I move back, so I could easily go 2-3 days without any in-person contact or leaving my place. I’m an introvert, but I still need a little bit of socialization during the day.
  2. Space. I can’t afford a two bedroom apartment, so I’d have to cordon off part of the living room and make a mini-cubicle. I’m afraid I’d go stir-crazy in such a small space.

But then I look at the pros and I’m so confused. I rarely go out here, just to work and then grocery shopping on the weekends. I’m feeling myself slip away from contact with my friends, Facebook alone cannot sustain friendships. My niece was born last year and I want to be more than just the aunt that shows up on holidays. My parents are getting old - Dad turned 70 last weekend.

There is, of course, the possibility of a trial telecommute. I could always try a couple of weeks here in my apartment or at my parent’s place.

My office is 110 miles from my house. I didn’t intend it that way; it’s just the way it worked out since my friend wanted to sell his house, and it was in my price range. I telecommute two days a week.

I have a three-bedroom house, and the smallest bedroom is tiny. I was using that as an office, but I decided I like working in the living room on my PowerBook instead of using a desktop computer. (And I have a roommate now whose bedroom is the little one, pending renovation of the middle one.) I lived and worked alone for a long time. She works nights and is working on her BS in Nursing, so when I’m working she’s either asleep or doing her homework in her room. So it’s like being alone. (Her cat does keep me company, and he’s learning that he’s not allowed on the couch when I have a computer in my lap.)

One great thing about telecommuting is that I can work when I’m sick. Generally I catch a cold twice a year. I don’t want to infect the office, but I’m not feeling lousy enough to not work. So I can keep on top of the datalanche by working from home. I can also work from home when weather prevents me from going down to Seattle. I like cities (I lived in L.A. proper for 17 years), and I do get a little ‘cabin fever’ if I work from home too long. It’s not so bad, though.

As far as space, I do have the house. But when I’m working I stay on the couch. I have the ever-present coffee cup within reach. My folders (which I don’t really need, as I have electronic files – it’s nice to have the paper though) are on the couch next to me. Really, my workspace is smaller than my work-box at the office.

I don’t hang out with the people I work with. I’ll occasionally take an afternoon break to go for a walk with my officemate, and sometimes I can talk the boss into going to a pub for lunch. My best friend, from whom I bought the house, moved to South America. My filmmaking cohorts have moved to Texas (the Army got him) and San Diego (better acting opportunities closer to L.A.). Of course I have my ‘imaginary friends’ here at the Dope, and I have my former fiancée living with me. If I really start feeling closed in I can go for a walk or run an errand. And there’s the cat.

It’s a long haul to the office. Fortunately I’m averaging about 47 mpg in the car. The commute gives me time to drink a bowl of gruel on the way in, and to listen to NPR for a couple of hours. I live in a sleepy seaside village where many people only live in the Summer. I’m just up a small hill from the beach. Except for celebratory occasions such as The Fourth of July (when it sounds like a war zone) and New Year’s Eve (when it sounds like a war zone), it’s pretty quiet. From my couch I can look out the French doors and see squirrels, birds, neighbourhood cats, and the occasional raccoon. It’s all very nice. When I go to the office I have the many food establishments for lunch, and I can take walks to Pike Place Market for a nice one-mile (r/t) jaunt. I have friends in Seattle, and we occasionally meet up for lunch. I have a standing invitation to sleep over, in case I want to do something nightlife-y. (Haven’t done it yet, though.) So I have my nice, quiet home, and also access to the city.

I don’t think you’d have to cordon off a workspace in your home. Just make it a multi-use space like I do. If you need to go into the office, do. With the price of gas being so high, I might request another telecommuting day and only go into the office Mondays and Fridays. You might see if you can do that.

And now it’s time to shoo the cat off the couch and start crunching the data.

Something else about telecommuting: No chatty coworkers! I like to log in, get my coffee, and get to work immediately. My coworker likes to be social. She’ll go on and on about what celebrities are doing (‘Oh, I don’t watch those shows. But you can’t avoid hearing about [whatever].’), work policies (I tell her not to worry about them), relationships, and so on. ‘Why do men do [insert what men do]?’ ‘How does that make you feel? I feel [whatever].’ If I make a comment (i.e., sharing a bit of information) it turns into a conversation/dissertation. It’s all very distracting.

At home I can just sit and work. I tend to get more done. (And I can slip over to SDMB for a quick post – and still get more work done.)

I’m not single, and I don’t live hundreds of miles from either my friends and family or the company offices, but I telecommute full time. Oh, I’m supposed to go into the office every 60 days or so, but I actually don’t bother very much.

Isolation Sure, it’s easy to feel isolated. I make a conscious effort to get together with friends and family on weekends, and to have a hobby that is social and gets me out of the house now and again. I also try to get at least a short walk around the neighborhood at lunchtime, but that doesn’t seem to be happening as much as it should be.

As far as work, I actually wish I were a little more isolated. Through the magic of technology, though, anyone in the company can contact me at a moment’s notice via IM, in email, or on the phone. I maintain contact with all of my coworkers and all of my clients this way full time, so I actually end up spending my whole day “talking” to other people, which honestly sometimes gets in the way of doing my actual job.

Space I have a desk here which has the displays for my work and personal computers side by side. It doesn’t take any more space than it did before I was telecommuting, and the size of the room doesn’t matter when I am focused on keys, mouse, and display.

If you’re going to do this, get a good desk and a good chair. Pay attention to ergonomics. Don’t compromise other routines just because you’re not going to be seen “in person.” Sure, wear jeans instead of slacks, but do keep yourself neat and clean even if you’re not going further than the mailbox.

Missed the edit window.

If you spend any time at all on the phone for your work, get yourself a headset for whatever phone you will be using. I use a Plantronics CS50, but that’s because it is what the company uses, not because I have any special love for it. It does work well, though.

The last time I was hanging around my apartment all the time was when I was laid off and looking for work. I was definitely starting to feel isolated, but OTOH, I wasn’t even talking to anyone else. Telecommuting I’d still be talking with my coworkers online.

I guess I’m just feeling worried I’d get ‘environment fatigue’ - stuck in the same place all the time.

I don’t telecommute, but it seems to me that another one of the biggest advantages is time saved. I waste more than an hour just going to and from work. Over the course of a week, that’s a lot of time that could be spent doing other things and easily free up an evening or two to go spend time with friends or family. Hell, you’ll save plenty of money on gas and car maintenance too.

And as for stir crazy, even in a small space, you can get up and move around as often as you feel like. When I’m actually at my desk at work, while I have a good amount of space, I really don’t use it. My desk at home is smaller, but I’m still more comfortable there because the entire apartment is mine. At work, if I get saturated and need a break, I either have to find someone to socialize with or maybe browse the internet, but at home, I could easily watch TV, get some quick chores done, or whatever. Hell, if you can flex the hours some, maybe you can use your lunch break to go for a walk in the park or to the gym or something to get out of the house.

I’ve telecommuted and I do find it lonely.

But I know other people who work from home and there are some hints. You’ll have “time” in your day from not chatting with coworkers. Use it to your advantage. Take lunches - and once or twice a week meet a friend for lunch. You’d be moving back home to sustain those friendships anyone - a regular lunch date will help maintain that, and keep you from being lonely. Or on a “lunch” take a yoga class at a community center - again, you’ll see people. Or call the local school and read to kindergartners. In other words, force yourself to take time DURING YOUR WORKDAY to leave the house and see people a few times a week. That will help with both the isolation and the space.

On the space front, invest in a system that allows you to have your desk and stuff against a wall in a format you can hide. That way, you close cupboard doors and fold the laptop behind the desk and have your life without your job sitting there. Something like this (although this one is kind of pricey In a small space, once you “leave” work on Friday afternoon, you don’t want it staring at you until Monday morning.

Ooooh, that’s a great idea. raids IKEA’s website

I telecommute and I love it. It started off as a two day a week thing in lieu of getting a merit raise, but I liked it so much I kind of stopped going in (luckily my boss didn’t care). Then they offered to make me and everyone else in our office an official full time telecommuter. So many people took them up on the offer that they closed down the office. The good part of that is I got to take my 24" monitor home so I wasn’t just working on my little 15" laptop, and I also got to take my chair and IP phone. The bad news is that I can’t go into the office even once and a while, as I found the occasional change of scenery refreshing.

I like being able to open the windows and get some fresh air, along with getting to take a minute or two to play with my cats when I need a quick break. Having the kitchen just a few steps away was a distraction at first, but I got over that pretty quick. I work 7:30-4:00, which means I get to wake up at a very reasonable 7:00am, much better than having to get up at 6:00 so I can drive in.

I recommend that you try to face a window, or at least one one in your peripheral vision, and open it often (weather permitting). I schedule a lunch break in my work calendar to make sure I don’t forget to take it, as I can get pretty focused and before I know it I’ll have been working 7 hours straight without moving. Which reminds me, learn to take advantage of being home. On a conference call where you just need to listen? Put you phone on mute and do the dishes or dust. I like the suggestion earlier to have a standing lunch date with a friend once a week or so, if only to get out of the house.

Most importantly, enjoy the fact that you’re at home around your stuff. You can set the temperature to whatever you want, play whatever music you want without having to worry about bothering the guy in the cube next to you, and wear whatever you like. Remember how much money you’re saving on gas and eating lunch out every day (if you do that sort of thing). You’re also saving on commute time. I can’t remember the last time I saw rush hour traffic. It’s awesome.