Is telecommuting just another "let's live under the sea!" solution?
May 19, 2010 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Have telecommuting jobs helped anyone's personal projects gain momentum?

I know three software developers that telecommute. They all have small children, and they use the flexibility that comes with telecommuting to take care of their kids during workday hours.

I work a full-time job. I don't have kids, but I do have a couple of projects on which my progress is not satisfactory. I often want to work on them during the workday, but I can't, except for a few minutes during lunch.

When I get home, I try to make sure that I put in some work on my projects, but getting an extended, concerted effort going is often rough because I'm tired after working all day, coming home, making dinner, and sometimes working out. My projects are important to me, ostensibly more important that my full-time job because they could hold the key to my future. Yet, at the end of the night, it's too easy to consider them optional.

I end up feeling like work steals my day.

I was thinking, what if I telecommuted and worked on my own stuff during the day, along with work stuff, then finished up whatever remaining work stuff I had at night? I don't think I could shrug off official work even if it was the end of the night because it's paying work. So I'd get that done, but I'd also use some of my "best" hours on my own stuff, theoretically.

There's other reasons I find telecommuting attractive, but this would be my main motivation for making a job change. I'd like to hear about your experiences with this sort of scheme.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a software-developing (well, web-developing mainly) telecommuter. I've been to my company's offices precisely twice in four years; I spend my days at home in an room overlooking the garden. I do have kids, but I we're pretty good about organising things to I'm not bothered during work time.

Yes, it can be done. But a certain amount of self-discipline is required. It's pretty easy to let things slide so that you start work at 10:30 and finish at 4, or end up pottering around the house all day or browsing MetaFilter. The other danger lies in the opposite direction - you can find yourself working too many hours.

I'd suggest defining specific times of day during which you work on company work or on your own projects. But try not to neglect your need for time doing other things - working 12 hours a day is no good for you even if some of it is stuff you enjoy.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:06 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

This sort of thinking is what gives telecommuting a bad name among employers: you're literally describing spending all your time on personal projects, then rushing through the bare minimum for your day job when you're tired and out of it.

Yeah, your boss is sure gonna love that plan.

If your personal projects are really more important to you than your day job, switch to part time or quit altogether. Don't kid yourself that you'll be able to somehow squeeze a full time job into a few hours before bed.

They all have small children, and they use the flexibility that comes with telecommuting to take care of their kids during workday hours

I am a longtime work-from-home freelancer, have a small child, and am very skeptical that your friends are doing fulltime childcare and working simultaneously. On non-daycare days my wife and I trade off childcare, and can both fit an hour or two of work in during naptimes, but that's it; it's not possible to get work done (especially software development, which requires concentration) and take care of a child at the same time. Being in control of your own schedule does make it more convenient to run errands etc when needed, and saves you some time that would otherwise be consumed by commutes -- but it doesn't give you more hours in the day.
posted by ook at 7:15 AM on May 19, 2010

I telecommuted for a couple of years, and due to the nature and quantity of my work, I would not have been able to mix childcare into my work hours. I did it occasionally when my child was home sick from school, but would not be able to do that on a regular basis. Additionally, it was policy at my workplace that telecommuters need to have pre-schoolage children in daycare during the workday, I'm sure to prevent this very problem you're seeing with coworkers.

Telecommuting with good time management can work, if you limit your work hours to 8-9 hours a day of 'duty time', rather than letting your work time creep into the rest of your personal time... that's the problem I had; I ended up working way more hours as a telecommuter than I ever did in an office, where there was that solid boundary between being 'at work' and being 'at home'. If you work from home and limit your work time, the hours you save not having to physically commute to an office should be 'free time' you can use on your personal projects.

If you attempt to work on personal projects routinely during work hours, your work will suffer, people will notice, and the situation will not last. You also risk screwing up a good telecommuting situation for other employees in your office. My advice is, don't go there.
posted by 2xplor at 7:46 AM on May 19, 2010

Work isn't stealing your time; work is BUYING your time. That's why they pay you. Working from home is still work.

I telecommute full time, and my schedule goes like this: I put my kid on the bus in the morning at 8:45, an hour after my husband leaves for his 45 minute commute. Then I walk the dog. On full workdays I generally work 9:30-5:30. I usually have to get dinner started before everyone gets home at 6, otherwise we don't eat until it's time for my son to go to bed at 8.

I have lots of stuff I'd rather be doing in the daytime, like gardening, art, cooking, correspondence, home improvement, but I'm expected to work 40 hrs. You'll notice this schedule doesn't leave time for a long lunch, folding laundry, or running to the bank. On days when I have errands I have to make any lost time up after 9 PM, which is tough to do after I've spent a day of running around, and then my partner might even like to talk to me.

Any side projects I might have generally wait for weekends or days off.

/data point
posted by mneekadon at 8:03 AM on May 19, 2010

I feel like I'm the lone voice of dissent here, but maybe my job and my side interests were just very different. I used to work from home as a technical writer. I found that in between assignments I could often get in 10 or 15 minutes here and there to work on something -- a painting, some sort of fiber project -- and then get back to work.

I didn't feel as used up at the end of the day, and I could spend my breaks productively, rather than goofing off looking at LOLcats or whatever. I wish I could still take little breaks to do art; I think my work would benefit.

If you can try it, why not go for it and see how it works out? I think it does take a certain kind of mentality to work from home and be productive, but I have it, and you might too.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:10 AM on May 19, 2010

I worked from home for six months. Since most of my office jobs have involved a commute of 45 minutes-1 hour each way, saving that time made a noticeable difference. On the other hand, I felt more tied to my work, not less: my job was never more than ten steps away, so I couldn't really leave it at the office. A long to-do list was like an itch I had to scratch: I was starting early, working late, or putting in a few hours on the weekend. And I am the opposite of a workaholic.

However: my schedule was 11 to 7 rather than 9 to 5, due to the time zone difference. If you feel particularly motivated to work on your own stuff during a certain time of day, you might be able to find a telecommuting job with a schedule that leaves those hours free. If you're switching from a 9:00 start time to an 11:00 start time, though, you still have to make yourself get up early; sometimes that "I'd rather be working on my own stuff" feeling I get at work is just "I'd rather be not working on this current project," and if I actually had the time free I'd be sleeping instead.

Ideally you could find a job where your boss says "we don't care when you work, as long as you get things done on time," but I don't know whether or not that's a common attitude in your field or in telecommuting gigs in general.

Otherwise, if you could live with a little less income, part-time or short-term contract work could be the answer. Your job might be buying your time from you instead of stealing it, but past a certain point you don't need to sell all of it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:18 AM on May 19, 2010

The thing with working at home is that many people just can't do it. They don't have the motivation, they're lazy, easily distracted, or just flat out doing other things instead of their job. I worked as a freelance programmer for 2 years and then was offered a fulltime telecommute position by one of my clients. I worked with this client as a contractor for a full year before they offered me the job (out of the blue) as a result of me producing quality work and not needing a manager breathing down my neck to stay on task.

If you start working from home and your productivity goes down, your superiors will probably notice. Instead of trying to figure out a way to swap your work time with your project time, narrow your projects; if you have 5 things your working on, cut them down to 2 and but the others on the back burner till the first ones are complete.
posted by Scientifik at 9:22 AM on May 19, 2010

I telecommute for part of my full-time work week, and I think the first answer has it: it is doable but not easy.

Another drawback not yet mentioned: When I work from home, I use my not-blazing-fast home interweb connection, or else coffee shop wifi, and all my apps for work are delivered to me over Citrix. I spend a LOT of time waiting for windows to redraw. I love working in pajamas, but it's a drag that I am literally not able to get nearly as much work done at home as in the office. I would ask for more at-home days, but I would really feel bad about the instant productivity drop.
posted by clavicle at 10:46 AM on May 19, 2010

I telecommuted at my previous job. Three days in the office, two days at home. The CEO hated that I didn't have my butt in the office chair every day. Even though I was just as productive, he saw an empty chair and saw me as slacking. Some bosses are just like that. YMMV.

There were issues with having to VPN in for things. And, when you work at home, there are always needs cleaned...take the dog to the vet...make the bed...etc.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:55 AM on May 19, 2010

As someone who's worked from home for three years now... it's really just trading one set of problems for another. Working from home is FUCKING AWESOME, but productivity-wise it can be very difficult.

Aside from the constant presence of distractions like the laundry (which I'm doing today) and FUCKING ASK.ME WHICH IS THE WORST TIME SINK EVER AND YET I CANNOT RESIST, it takes a lot of internal motivation to stay focused. Many people get dependent on the external motivation of a hovering boss, coworkers peeking over your shoulder, etc. If I want to sit here and play Sims 3 all day long, no one will be the wiser (except my bottom line).

If there are specific projects which you need to be able to focus on, then my recommendation is to find a way to go into the office at off times. Is the office empty on Saturdays? Could you swap say Saturday for Thursday? Could you start coming into the office very early, or showing up late and working very late?

Just being in an office (and wanting to finish work so you can go home) is a pretty great motivator.
posted by ErikaB at 11:41 AM on May 19, 2010

The thing about working from home is that the work is never done, from what I hear. As opposed to having an 8-5 job where after 5 p.m. your time is your own. This is not how working from home works.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:41 PM on May 19, 2010

Well, one job I could remotely access all the servers and everything from the laptop provided. So, I could drink beer and BBQ comfortably from home.

Now, I'm more into freelance, can still do the same if I wanted, but bad habits and lack of benefits dig into you I find. I can work when I want to, but kind of miss the regular schedule of going to an office.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 3:18 PM on May 19, 2010

I agree with the other posters that telecommuting is unlikely to give you more time to work on your projects, unless you have a long commute that eats up a lot of your time (which you didn't mention).

But if being too tired and unmotivated at night is your problem, have you tried getting up really early to get in an hour or two on your projects?

I think a number of novelists have used the early mornings to get their first books written while they were still working a day job.

Also, set aside time on the weekends. If your projects are potentially more important than your paying day job, they're surely more important than whatever else tends to fill your weekends. Commit to 3 or 5 hours of project time, first thing, on both Saturday and Sunday, and that should make a real difference in making progress.

Good luck!
posted by kristi at 11:05 AM on May 22, 2010

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