Culture

The telecommuting wave ebbs again

Published 7.16.2017
This is a bit of an odd topic for the Arena, but it's an area that I've written about occasionally because for the past few decades I've worked from home. I have never telecommuted, however, and the two are not the same.

I have worked from home both as an independent contractor and as a business owner. In both cases, my time and scheduling was my own. I had deadlines to meet as a contractor, but how I met them was up to me. That might not always be the case, but the word independent means just that. I was no one's employee, I was responsible for any taxes to be paid, benefits to be funded, etc.

Telecommuters are employees that work remotely— perhaps at home, but definitely outside the office. IBM is ending its remote worker program. IBM had been a huge supporter of the work from home model, and had touted it— an sold the software to make it work— to other companies. In the past up to 40% of IBM employees worked remotely.

Many telecommuting IBMers are not happy, and a percentage of them have chosen to leave the company— which may, in fact, be part of the reason the company is ending the program. It's a way to voluntarily shrink employment rolls.

IBM is not alone, Yahoo did to great outrage but other companies have pulled the plug on their telecommuting program with little fanfare or upset.

Companies began offering generous remote work policies because they expected large savings in office and real-estate costs, said Jennifer Glass, a University of Texas professor who studies telecommuting and advises companies on remote-work strategies. Those savings haven’t materialized, Ms. Glass said, so workers are being called back to the office.

Relocating offices or asking employees to move can sometimes be read as layoffs in disguise, since a certain percentage of workers won’t be able to relocate.

As noted, this is telecommuting, rather than working from home. You may have clients, but in the end you are the boss. I have never telecommuted, but there are real benefits (pun intended) to telecommuting versus working for ourself because you have the protections and benefits of being an employee.

If you want true freedom to choose our work space, you need to work for yourself.


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