the end of the no-pants era (or, how I stopped telecommuting and learned to love the office)

I telecommuted 1,865 miles to work, full-time, for three years, three months and three weeks before starting a new (in-person) gig at a place that’s 2.5 miles from my house.

My transition to telecommuting coincided with an even bigger experiment: moving from a big city in Texas to a small town in California. I was lucky to be able to keep my job of three years when we moved, going from being the person who cracked inappropriate jokes IN the office to the person who cracked inappropriate jokes on conference calls WITH the office.

Though I consider both experiments to have been successful, I learned some valuable lessons about telecommuting that I’ll keep in mind if I go down that road again. If you’re considering making the transition, maybe something here will help you.

  • Stay in the same general location as your employer. That way, you can pop into the office for important meetings, meet new coworkers in person and attend the occasional boozy after-work function (the cornerstone of any successful team-building effort).
  • Lean on your friends. Whether you like your coworkers or not, you’re still getting a certain amount of human interaction from being around them 40 hours or more a week. Once you’re working alone in your home office, you can quickly feel isolated. Hit your friends up for the occasional coffee, lunch or happy hour so you don’t go full-hermit.
  • Break for lunch. Though you might have fantasies that your at-home lunches will be a rainbow of healthy foods, freshly prepared, the reality is you’ll probably grab whatever’s easiest to munch on and eat it at your desk while continuing to work. Regardless of what’s on your plate (or, more likely, wrapped in a napkin), taking a real, 30-minute lunch break is important for your mental health. You don’t have to leave your house–just get far enough away from your desk that the crumbs that fall from your mouth don’t land in your keyboard.
  • Ignore the haters. No matter how much work you crank out, there will always be someone in the office who thinks you roll out of bed around 11AM, smoke a bowl, watch cartoons and occasionally call in for meetings in your underwear. Because that’s probably how they’d do things. As long as the person who signs your paycheck knows how much work you’re doing (and you never miss a deadline), you’re good.
  • Take a shower. Though being able to go an entire week without putting on “real” clothes can be wonderfully freeing (you’ll be surprised at how quickly you grow comfortable having calls with your coworkers while wearing a startling lack of clothing), keep up your commitment to your morning toilette. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself on the back end of a long, busy day feeling gross that you haven’t gotten around to bathing yet.
  • Find safety in numbers. The more telecommuters at your workplace, the more comfortable everyone feels. If there are a handful (or more) of you, the people tethered to the office get more used to the idea and roll with it. Your telecommuting coworkers are facing similar challenges, so check in with them to lend and gather support.
  • Keep it professional from the waist up. If you have video calls on the regular, you don’t have to go full-professional. A nice shirt and clean face can pair just fine with shorts. Just remember not to stand up in the middle of your call.
  • Hide your desk/computer. Your office is part of your house, which means your job is always just kind of there. Lurking in the background. If there’s a way to put work to sleep for the night and weekend, like shutting the door to your home office or covering up your computer, do it. The stronger the division between work and personal life, the happier you are with both.

There are some great perks to working from home, from the mundane (not having to take time off when the cable guy is scheduled to show up) to the meaningful (being able to take good care of an elderly, ill dog). I did the best work of my career so far working at a cramped table in my kitchen nook, and I’d absolutely consider telecommuting in the future. But for now, I’m enjoying the ebb and flow of in-person officing. Surprising even myself, I like being part of a team.

I’d love for this to be a resource to future telecommuters, so if you have experiences you’d like to share, please leave a comment.


3 responses to “the end of the no-pants era (or, how I stopped telecommuting and learned to love the office)”

  1. More like a first cousin to telecommuting – I freelance; tutoring, copy editing, grant writing, college & grad school admissions consulting. The taking a shower part, leaning on friends, & safety in numbers are essential for morale. Self-respect & presentation are key in this biz, and you’d be amazed how insane these upper-middle class parents are, it’s like a page out of clientsfromhell-dot-net sometimes – though I’ve been very lucky, I’ve only fired two clients and only been fired by one, over the course of almost ten years.

    Good luck with the gig & hope it doesn’t turn out to be Dilbertland. Probably won’t, people in CA are pretty reasonable (while being nuts at the same time). I always look forward to your posts, yours is one of the few blogs I still follow from ‘way back in the day!

    • Hi, Ron. Thanks for sticking with the blog all this time. It’s on life support but still slowly trucking along.

      The new job is great so far. The vibe out here is very different from every other place I’ve worked. Not sure if it’s a California thing or a coastal thing, but it’s all just a lot more laid back and lower stress. So far, anyway. Hope it lasts because it’s a nice change of pace.

      I was a grant writer for many years and found it crucial to make time for creative writing projects too. Do you have an outlet for that? If not, you could always start a blog…

      • Actually the blogs where the posts show up every 2nd-3rd day can get exhausting – I prefer once a week or less, especially since I subscribe to like two dozen.

        You’re definitely right that the vibe is completely different. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my first CA company (and all the later ones) organized the directory by first name; this not only wouldn’t happen in Boston, but a sizable minority of the previous (MA) company would’ve been indignant at the suggestion. Everyone in Boston had something to prove (grad school parties were like an SNL skit of one-upmanship) while in California they all seem to have read I’m OK, You’re OK.

        I just might take you up on the blog challenge – but I’ve been a determined lurker since the days of Tech Bubble 1.0, and I was there when the words “blog” & “hoodie” were invented – having moved from Boston to SF in 1997. (And back in 2008 – economic & family disasters both). I’d want my blog to be random book reviews & alien-visitor observations (like yours) rather than the single-topic ones I read most often.

        Fun fact: I first subscribed here because I saw a Fight Stupidization bumpersticker somewhere in MA or CT way back in twennyleven. Even five-six posts a year is fine, keep it up, I’ll still be reading!

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