When Leonor Deutsch completed her maternity leave more than three years ago, she worked from home "some days, here and there" in addition to working from her office at Merrill Corporation in St. Paul. Little did she know that it was a trial run for full-time telecommuting.
Soon, however, a family situation made it necessary for her to move to Arizona. She gave three months' notice, knowing that her knowledge and skills would be hard to replace. The company asked her to try a telecommuting arrangement for three months after the move. Almost three years later, she's still at it. Her job as a Senior Administrative Analyst involves primarily training and documentation within the information technology department. "It's a mishmash of things," she said.
Merrill allows occasional telecommuting for employees who live in the Twin Cities. In addition, Deutsch noted, it helps that Merrill has offices all over the world. "I've trained people in London," Deutsch said. "They don't know where I'm at; they don't care as long I get my work done."
According to information from the Telework Research Institute, 20 to 30 million people in the U.S. currently work from home at least one day a week. Almost one in four employers announced plans to allow telecommuting the last time gas prices spiked in 2008. With prices at the pump soaring again, the popularity of telecommuting may ratchet up another notch.
Deutsch believes she actually gets more work done as a telecommuter than she would if she were in the office full-time. "In the office, you tend to talk to co-workers. You go on break and it takes longer to get back to work. Because of my knowledge, people would come into my cube and ask me questions."
She gets back to company headquarters a couple of times a year, including a two-week extended visit with her husband's family in December 2011. "People make a point to take me to lunch or happy hour," she said. "I gained weight while I was there."
What tips would you give for negotiating a telecommuting arrangement?
Before you ask to telecommute, make sure that you have all the tools you need. Determine that there are no applications that you can't access, which would hinder your ability to do your job. If you're not moving out of town, maybe you could propose telecommuting half time. If your employer sees that you're actually productive at home and at the office, they might see it as an opportunity. Show that you're reliable and loyal to the company -- that's key.
How do you keep yourself productive while telecommuting?
I have a designated work area, with a desk and computer and two monitors. It looks like an office, and it feels like an office. When I work, I don't leave my desk, except to get coffee and have lunch. There's never a time when my boss couldn't ping me and ask questions.
What are the main benefits of telecommuting?
You save on gas, and you don't spend a lot on clothes. I take my three-year-old to daycare, and that's my break. Companies could consider telecommuting privileges as a bonus plan.
Is there any downside to not being in the office?
The only time I feel left out is when I see the potluck invitations come through on my e-mail. I think everyone who works away from the office feels that way.