Telecommuting is great for productivity (but possibly bad for families?)

As I have been saying for 17 years, the benefits of a telecommuting workforce are both numerous and obvious. Now there is significant scientific evidence. I’m not sure that there is only one study showing the effectiveness of telecommuting, as this Slate article implies, but it is certainly the largest study I’ve heard about.

As I said when TCG won the Metropolitan Council of Governments Commuter Connections award for Telecommuting, any company that doesn’t allow telecommuting is headed by an idiot.

That said, another study from the Journal of Business and Psychology seems to show that people who work from home are more tired. Why? Because they don’t really like spending time with their families, and doing so on a daily basis makes them more aware of and prone to engaging in conflict over their time spent working.

My reading? Families have to be as prepared for the parent/spouse to telework as the parent/spouse is. There has to be a location physically separated from the minute-to-minute needs of the family (no offices in the kitchen, basically) and there have to be separation rituals from the family when it’s time for “work” to be done.

I, for example, have my home office in the basement, in what I believe is the smallest (usable, excluding the laundry “room,” for example) room in the house. This is perfect for me, as I am rather messy and any space I had available would fill with the detritus of work — papers, cables, random bits of fluff, and the like. Because it is in the basement, and therefore out of the sight of my kids, they tend to forget I am here and go on with their lives. I hear them stomping around or riding their various riding toys, but I generally can’t even hear them crying. The soundproofing is working very nicely. And when I leave to “go work” I make sure they know where I am going, and that I can’t talk to them while I’m there, but that I’ll be back soon to have lunch/snack with them.

My wife, of course, is very understanding, since I have been telecommuting since we met. There’s no expectation that I’ll be out of the house. So the stress level doesn’t increase at all if I’m home. That said, there is some increased stress if I’m NOT home. It’s difficult for her to plan when I say I’m going to come home right away but there’s one more thing for me to do. When I’m working from home, if I say I’m going to come upstairs right away, it’s much easier to do so, knowing I can always go back to work later (after dinner, after the kids are asleep, or just lying in bed doing remote desktop from the ipad).

My suspicion is that once today’s kids grow up with telecommuting parents, they will be able to approach their own telecommuting adulthoods much better, with less strife just from the fact of being home.

Or, at least, we can hope.