Telecommuting Is About Productivity, Not Pajamas

A company called CareerBuilder “the U.S.‘s largest online job site,” sent out a news release this month with the headline “Nearly One-in-Five Americans Who Work From Home Spend One Hour a Day or Less Working, CareerBuilder Survey Finds.” The question CareerBuilder tried to answer is whether telecommuting enhances or kills productivity, and they say you can interpret their findings either way!

This is so wrong on so many levels that I hardly know where to start.

  • That headline is misleading and insulting. It suggests that almost 20% of telecommuters slack off when they’re working from home. Yet they don’t define telecommuting; they are likely mixing telecommuters with people who take work home from the office. Taking work home is not telecommuting. Telecommuting is substituting communications technology for going to the office to do your work. CareerBuilder says that 17% of their survey worked from home an hour or less a day. Those folks could be reading their e‑mail to get a jump on their days. That is not telecommuting, and so the headline is wrong.
  • CareerBuilder says 35% of their sample telecommutes eight or more hours a day, and 40% telecommutes four to seven hours a day. Those are telecommuters. They are working from home rather than going to the office. But we don’t know whether all the people they define as “telecommuters” are supposed to work remotely eight hours a day. Some could work four 10-hour days at the office, and attend a meeting by phone on their days off. That is telecommuting, but it’s not slacking off. 
  • The article gives more space to distractions at home than to explaining telecommuting. To be fair, they have to match the lure of housework against the coffee break, the birthday parties, the “Hey, how ’bout them Steelers!” discussions, the “can I just call you into this meeting for a minute” hours that lure workplace workers from their work. Many people work from home because they can get more work done, not less.
  • The subject and verb do not match in the headline (just as the subject and the conclusion don’t match in the press release).

Perhaps the worst part of the article is its focus on what a telecommuter wears. CareerBuilder says 30% of teleworkers work in their pajamas, and they they repeat that tired advice about getting dressed as if you are going to the office when you work from home.

Such advice just perpetuates the idea that you are only working when you look like you’re working. One big advantage of telecommuting is that you can be judged solely by what is important: whether you deliver what you are expected to deliver, whether it is a quality product, and whether it is on time. And how much time you spend in your seat, in front of your computer, or on the phone doesn’t necessarily correlate to your productivity — in the office or telecommuting.


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