Office Politics 101: Working from home

There are great benefits, but you need to stay focused.

Q: My supervisor has recommended I start working at home, initially part-time. I like the idea as an unhappy commuter, but a colleague warns this may be a sign I will be laid off. What do you think?

A: Telecommuting is growing in importance, especially in North America, although only a small fraction of those office workers who could work from home are actually permitted to do so.

There are a number of significant benefits to telecommuting, which no doubt makes it desirable for you. The elimination or reduction of long-haul commuting, of course, is probably the most attractive feature.

Fuel and maintenance costs would be reduced significantly and your car, with less mileage, will last much longer.

The flexibility and convenience is especially positive. Plus, from an altruistic perspective, the environment receives a breath of fresh air with one less internal combustion engine on the highway.

There are some downsides that need to be acknowledged. If you’re easily distracted and have difficulty getting motivated, working from home can be problematic.

Social contact is severely limited although with Skype, teleconferencing and corporate Facebook accounts, you’d still be able to communicate regularly with your supervisor and colleagues.

The sense of community — which is often under-rated as a benefit of a welcoming workplace — is also compromised with virtually no opportunity to relate to others more closely and even make friends.

As for your colleague’s concern that this initiative may be a precursor to being laid off, I would not be at all worried.  This would seem to be speculation on his part and not based on fact.

In reality, a recommendation to telecommute is much more of an indication of his confidence in your capacity to work independently: it is compliment to you.

Ultimately, you will need to contemplate this decision on two levels: first, you should consider whether it will be a good career move.  And, second, you’ll want to examine your character and work style to determine if you are suited for telecommuting.

If there are co-workers who have also been asked to consider this option, approach them and seek their advice.  Their suggestions could help you make an intelligent choice.

Working from home isn’t for everyone; but, if after careful reflection, you’ve decided to accept this opportunity, make it for a trial period – of  say six months – to determine whether it is appropriate for the long-term.

Simon Gibson is a university professor, marketing executive, corporate writer and civic leader. He is a graduate of four public universities, including Simon Fraser University, where he earned his doctorate in education. He also also holds a degree in journalism (honours) from Carleton University. His email address can be found here.