Image of a person at a desk in a house.It’s called many things: teleworking, telecommuting, working from home, working remotely. Whatever you call it, it’s on the rise. According to the Telework Research Network, about one in five Americans work from home at least once a week; this number is expected to increase over 60% in the next five years. Teleworking is a growing trend in the workplace because there are many upsides. Teleworkers often report among other things: increased productivity, fewer interruptions from colleagues and more flexibility over the management of their time. While we know you may not be able to do research at home, it is likely you may telework to write papers, analyze data, or think about new project directions.

Teleworking doesn’t only benefit the employee. Employers also benefit from teleworkers. According to Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, the government saved about $32 million last winter when federal employees worked from home during official snow days. Not all companies are on board with working from home though. Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer, banned telework — an announcement that was widely considered controversial. Best Buy followed Yahoo’s lead and ended their flexible work program in 2013. Mayer recently defended this decision by acknowledging “people are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together.”

An article “The psychological impact of teleworking: stress, emotions and health” was published in the journal, New Technology, Work and Employment. This article notes some of the benefits of teleworking including: better balance of home and work life, increased flexibility, reduction in commuting, reduced overheads for employer, increased skill base for employer, and increased productivity. On the other hand, the article also details some of the challenges that come with teleworking.

Telework Problems

  1. Social isolation
    One of the most commonly cited disadvantages to teleworking even with technological tethers like IM, email, phone calls and Skype.
  2. Presenteeism
    Meaning not just an increase in working longer hours but also working when sick as well. Presenteesim is an issue for office workers who feel pressured to come to work when sick, but this can be an even bigger challenge for teleworkers when co-workers can’t ‘see’ how unwell they are.
  3. Lack of support
    The article specifically mentions technical support in this section since technology is the key for successful teleworking; however, support could also mean supervisory support in decision-making as well.
  4. Career progression
    The importance of face time has been perpetuated through the years and through different sectors of employment. Turns out it might be true since people who worked from home were promoted at half the rate of their office worker colleagues.
  5. Blurring of boundaries
    Traditionally, the commute from work to home allowed for a role transition to occur. There is often a spillover effect for office workers who transfer both negative and positive emotions from work to home, but this can be an even bigger challenge for the teleworker.

Anybody who works remotely will also disclose another secret disadvantage: guilt. This teleguilt comes from a fear that your co-workers or your boss are thinking that you aren’t pulling your weight. You can feel this fear while sitting at work, but the teleworker often fears that everyone thinks they are lounging around their house in pajamas and not putting in enough hours. This guilt and fear often fuels teleworkers to work even more hours to “prove” that they are working. This makes the traditional long hours that scientists log even worse!

How can you combat teleguilt? In general, some strategies for reducing work guilt include:
1. Prioritize work items and immediately take action on the most pressing items.
2. Develop a system (time management/task organizer) that helps keep you consistent.
3. Recognize when you have done all you can for the day/week and then move on.

As you progress in your career, even as a scientist, the options for telework increase. So, keep these strategies in mind as you gain more and more options to work from home. Just remember the sign-off from Garrison Keillor in the Writer’s Almanac, “Be well, do go work, and keep in touch”...sounds like a good mantra for all who work from home.

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